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The War Womb (Part II) 

For every direct action against an abortion clinic staged by Operation Rescue, expect an equal and opposite reaction by the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights.

Wednesday, Jun 21 1995
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Can an abortion story written by a woman ever not become personal? Maybe so, but as I hit the Motel 6 that night, I feel myself fall into a fugue. I need to do something. I dial Seattle.

Directory assistance has a number. The man I haven't spoken to in three years answers the phone, incredulous. And I immediately start sobbing. We talk for a few minutes about the abortion - we'd only known each other two weeks when I got pregnant. We were strangers.

"It was the right thing," he tells me.
"I know," I say. "I know it was."

Nine a.m. Day 2. A flock of 50 Operation Rescue faithful has landed at a nondescript two-story building on a tree-lined street in Riverside. So have an equal number of pro-abortion protesters, most rallied by the Feminist Majority. Eight police officers are also on-site. So - and I find myself relieved to see them - is BACORR.

"Hey!" McEwen yells in greeting when she spots me. Weide and Sam and Erin are close behind her.

Although they are on the same side of the issue, the foursome are clearly out of step with the other counterprotesters. It's not just fashion, although the boots and metal and McEwen's sunglasses and hulking stride and Weide's blond braid emerging from a shaved head clash with the J. Crew-ish look of the others. It's that BACORR isn't falling into line at the command of Feminist Majority leaders who wear special teal vests and carry walkie-talkies and are trying to maintain full control in order to ensure a peaceful morning.

Control makes BACORR fume. Back in 1988, the coalition formed in anger at OR and frustration at what was perceived as polite liberal organizations - "women in pearls," McEwen puts it -with ranks and Roberts Rules of Order. The founders, who have largely drifted away, were determined to ruin OR's attempts to portray itself as peaceful and loving. BACORR was dedicated to anti-fascism, it's pamphlets said: Operation Rescue's attacks on women were "part of a more general right-wing attack directCR>ed at low-income people, people of color in the U.S. and around the world, lesbians and gays and immigrants." And as Operation Rescue splintered into offshoots, BACORR diversified to fight all antis everywhere. The group spread its message through mailers, phone lists, press releases, and literature dropped on tables at college campuses. Group members hosted "work parties," made silk screens and posters, and designed a "pro-choice scarf" that they wore at demonstrations. Press reports in 1992 called BACORR "a cadre of 200."

Those days are gone - the nation has become more complacent about abortion rights, so recruits are harder to find - and the group today scrapes by on a certain schizophrenia. McEwen works at a financial management consulting firm off of Market Street. Weide holds a job in a San Francisco retail store (she'd prefer not to say where, "so the antis won't go there and harass me"). Some of the others work at a health clinic, an underground magazine, a bakery. The street-tough BACORR attitude gets tucked away by day and blooms by demo - just shy of arrest. Only a few members have been arrested - one man got busted for setting a Bible on fire - but police rarely press charges. Weide has never gone to jail for a BACORR action. Neither has McEwen.

The preparation for these gigs is made, meanwhile, at weekly meetings in the Mission that rarely draw more than 15 people. The leading Bay Area volunteer group for clinic escorting, BACORR travels each weekend to varios hot spots to make sure women arrive safely to their appointments. It educates women about reproductive rights, and recently launched a project helping the region's clinic providers share information about problems with antis. But BACORR has stopped doing a newsletter - "It's way too expensive," says McEwen, who like many members pays the bills now and then with her own money. The group's phone message machine is its main outlet. Before this L.A. trip, BACORR announced a fund-raiser at the Stud Bar on Ninth Street - no one showed up.

So when BACORR rubs up against the pro-choice elite, as they see it - women with walkie-talkies and cellulars and a political machine hooked into Washington D.C. - the tension tends to mount.

"We've had a least 15 people in front since 7:30 this morning," says Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh, a clinic defense field director for FMF who eyes the action and is interrupted periodically by similarly teal-vested attaches bearing reports. Kohsin-Kintigh adds that OR is not here to get arrested; they're here for a prayer vigil, a warm-up for tomorrow's real thing, Clinic patients walk in and out unmolested. No one's blocking any doors.

"This land is my womb, it is not your womb," the mostly young, feminist forces sing from an orderly line along the sidewalk., hewing to the tune of "This Land Is Your Land." "This womb was ma-ade to be free," they chant, before breaking into renditions of the Flintstones ("When you're at the clinic, there are a lot of crazy folks to see. Ancient, as the Bible, is their sexiest ideology...")

Weide marches right through the ranks and walks directly up to Jeff White, who is again being interviewed by a TV reporter, and stands behind him.

"Operation Rescue believes in nonviolent protest," White is saying to the reporter.

"TELL THE TRUTH JEFF," Weide shouts.
"We're here to show all Americans that FACE is an un-American law. My track record is..."

"YOU HAVE PEOPLE HERE WHO HAVE SIGNED A DEATH PENALTY FOR DOCTORS!"
"My track record is stellar in regards to the issue of violence," White continues. "We have..."

"YOU HAVE PEOPLE HERE WHO HAVE PUBLISHED A LIST CALLING FOR THE KILLING OF DOCTORS, YOU CAN'T GET AWAY WITH CALLING YOURSELVES NONVIOLENT, PRAY BY DAY, BOMB BY NIGHT, THAT'S WHAT IT'S ABOUT, PRAISE THE LORD, PASS THE AMMO!"

About The Author

Amy Linn

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