How to be Effective in Abortion Clinic Defense

by Rebecca Doran / August 2005 issue of Socialist Action

In July, the long eroding right to reproductive health care was the subject of public attention as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor retired from the bench.

Responding to the news of O’Connor’s retirement, anti-choice politicians congested the airwaves, denouncing Roe v. Wade. And more aggressive right-wing Christian activists found new strength in the already hostile, anti-woman atmosphere brewing in American politics.

About 15 young people, belonging to an organization called Crusade for Life, spent two weeks marching across the Bay Area to target clinics that provide
reproductive and abortion services to women. In San Francisco this right-wing organization, consisting mostly of white university students, focused on a Planned Parenthood clinic in the low-income, multi-ethnic Tenderloin district.

The Crusade for Lifers joined a handful of regular anti-choice protesters who camp in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic every Saturday morning. With
rosaries and enlarged photos of what they claim to be aborted fetuses, the regular protesters welcomed the Crusade for Life organization in their attempt to rob women of their dignity and hinder them from benefiting from one of the most basic human rights.

Socialist Action members responded to this threat to a woman’s right to choose by partnering with Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice activists to defend the clinic and escort women through the anti-choice
crowd. Unfortunately, the major pro-choice women’s organizations, like NOW, failed to mobilize their supporters for the defense effort; only a token few showed up.

In the meantime, other groups, including the International Socialist Organization and Freedom Socialist Party, used the opportunity to stage a noisy counter-protest against the right-wingers. One group set up a table displaying socialist literature and tried to sell its newspaper; others turned their backs to the door of the clinic in order to dance and chant slogans.

When Planned Parenthood asked the counter-protesters to join the escorts in creating a disciplined human shield to protect the clinic doors, they declined. A few chose to participate in invective and debate, concentrating their criticism on the political views of some Planned Parenthood workers and volunteers—which even further blocked the path to the clinic.

There is evidence that the noisy counter-protest turned some women abortion clients away from the clinic. On the first Saturday of the protest, four of the nine women with abortion appointments did not show up, and on the next Saturday, only eight of the 18 women with appointments entered the premises. Some of the women who were escorted through the mob
appeared visibly shaken. Some told the escorts that they were scared of the crowd.

Clinic defense is as simple as it sounds: it is the physical defense of the doors of a clinic so that clients can enter and leave. It is irresponsible, and
at times dangerous, for pro-choice activists to turn their backs to the doors in order to dance and chant. If a pro-choice activist is not concerned with
protecting the doors of a clinic, she or he is not providing clinic defense.

The great strikes of the past and the gains of the working-class movement were not built upon sectarian posturing and a disregard for the very people in need of defense. There is a time and place for political debate and sloganeering within the movement, and it is not in front of the doors of an abortion clinic. We call upon all members of the pro-choice movement to
work together to properly defend our clinics and provide a safe and sane barrier between the right-wing, anti-choice forces and the offices of the
few doctors left who offer their services for the advancement of women in society.

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