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Abortion Clinics Forced to Close

Women's legal right to abortion restricted
by anti-abortion terrorist tactics.
Where is the "Pro-Choice" outcry

by Bridget Evarts,
Greensboro Gazette, acting editor


When the lease on the Woman's Pavilion expired last year, the search for a new space frustrated executive director Sarah Naff.

"We just searched forever," said Naff, but no realtors would rent to the clinic, which provided abortions to Triad women. "It was definitely because we were an abortion clinic, no question about it." The clinic's owner was not in a position to buy a building, said Naff, and the clinic closed in May 1997.

As the Woman's Pavilion closed its doors, another local clinic was forced to close temporarily. Arson destroyed the Piedmont Carolina abortion clinic in Greensboro.

In just one month, access to abortion in Greensboro was severely curtailed, with only a slight outcry from residents. Perhaps because Piedmont Carolina has since reopened and a new clinic has moved into Greensboro, not much has been heard publicly from the city's pro-choice movement.

"Abortion clinics and the people who work there feel very isolated," said Naff, who now works for Planned Parenthood in Winston-Salem. She recounted how the Woman's Pavilion was picketed on a regular basis, often twice a week, by anti-abortion protesters.

Though the clinic received private encouragement from Planned Parenthood and many area physicians, the anti-abortion presence dwarfed any public support from pro-choice factions or individuals.

"All we had were anti-abortion activists," said Naff.

Statistics from the National Abortion Federation report that there were 166 incidents of violence against clinics, abortion providers and staff in 1997—the most since 1993, when there were 437 reported attacks. The most recent publicized attack occurred in Birmingham, where a bomb explosion killed an off-duty police officer working as a clinic security guard and permanently maimed a clinic nurse.

Since the early 1980s, trends point toward a growing militancy among the anti-abortion movement. But while a strong pro-choice movement has mobilized in cities where clinics and abortion-providing physicians have been attacked, Greensboro has yet to see a consistent presence of pro-choice supporters.

Greensboro is home to the state's Right to Life offices, which may explain the high profile of local anti-abortion activity. The city also recently hosted "North Carolina Pro-Life Day '98," held March 14. The event, touted by NC Right to Life as "the biggest Pro-Life training day in North Carolina," provided workshops for anti-abortion activists.

As of late, most local activity aimed toward protecting women's choice has been limited to the immediate: escorting women past protesters into abortion clinics.

Not all pro-choice factions have been silent, however. Following the fire at Piedmont Carolina, a small group of area women mobilized to protest the attack. About 15 people joined the picket line initiated by members of the local Socialist Workers Party, and an editorial by protest organizer Karen Kopperud appeared in the daily newspaper.

"People were really happy that something was going on," said Jane Roland, a member of the SWP and protest organizer. "Something had to be done." Roland believes that the pro-choice sentiment is present in Greensboro, but feels the area lacks a cohesive organization to direct potential activists.

"The traditional women's rights organizations spend all their time trying to get candidates elected," said Roland,whose activism for abortions rights predates Roe v. Wade. "We can't rely on politicians for anything."

Reliance on traditional political channels can isolate supporters of choice, who may feel their voice can only be heard in the voting booth. "The pro-choice movement [in Greensboro] is behind the scenes," explained Naff. Without the public support of organizations such as the Women's Resource Center, who maintain a neutral position in the abortion debate, most opt to remain quietly supportive.

"It's a big choice to be involved in it at all," said Naff. "It's requiring a lot more of everyone."

Many may also feel that other issues take precedent over abortion rights; many activists' energies have been directed toward countering the campaigns against the poor in the recent attacks on welfare.

More often than not, though, restrictions against abortion disproportionately affect the poor. The current cost for an abortion can run to almost $400; since the Hyde Amendment in 1977, federal money cannot be used to obtain an abortion by women on Medicaid.

Until recently, North Carolina was among the few states that provided public funds for low-income women seeking abortions. But in 1995, the NC General Assembly cut the $1.2 million fund, created in 1977 by Gov. Jim Hunt, to $50,000. The legislature also restricted the fund for abortions only in the case of rape, incest or threat to the mother's life.

The NC House will soon vote on two bills pertaining to abortion. One, called the "Right to Know" bill, would impose a mandatory 24-hour delay for women seeking abortions, and would require that women receive "biased" or anti-abortion counseling before undergoing the procedure.

"In reality, 24-hour delays can often result in much longer delays," said Dan Besse, public relations officer for Planned Parenthood in Winston-Salem. "It's nothing more than a naked attempt to pressure women on their decisions about choice."

Besides interfering with women's personal decisions, those kind of restrictions could negatively impact women from rural areas, who must travel many miles to the nearest clinic, and low-income women, who may have a hard time arranging time off from work and family commitments.

"When access is made more difficult, the poor always suffer," said Naff. The other bill would restrict all abortion procedures in North Carolina except for those sought in the cases of rape, incest or when the health of the mother is threatened. (The second bill is being contested by Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups because they feel the language regarding the mother's health is too lenient.)

"The real extremists are so unconcerned about women's health [that they would fight this bill]," said Besse. "That's outrageous."

Though such legislation would seriously affect women, most mainstream news outlets have failed to report on the pending bills. The result may be a complacent, uninformed public, unaware of political efforts to chip away at choice.

Besse feels many pro-choice supporters are somewhat ambivalent about taking a public stand.

"People want abortion services available but they don't want to have to think about it," said Besse. But activists and choice advocates, such as Roland and Naff, think those who support choice must once again step up to bat.

"The onus is on women to build our own movement that can push back the right wing, push back the government's attacks on us," said Roland. "Any advance we've gotten has been by people getting out into the streets."

If you are interested in learning more about protecting your rights as a woman, call (336) 379-7267 for more information. >


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