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.

"I think we benefit from having a lot of different approaches - we need to fight them in the hills, we need to fight them in the valleys," says Kathleen Watkins, administrative director of the California Abortion and Reproductive RIghts Action League-North. "BACORR does some of the best research around, and you can't fault their commitment."

Others are more harsh.
"Provocation for its own sake is a kind of narcissism," says Frederick Clarkson, editor of Front Lines Research, a journal published by an institute of the Planned Parenthood Federation. "People who just have a foul mouth and like to express it to cops - they're not there for any reasons but their own."

So what are BACORR reasons?
"It's for the women. It's the front lines. It's really out there," McEwen says, as she chain-smokes and searches for the right words.

"It doesn't get more blatant than a man knocking a woman around because she's trying to take care of herself," she says. "I wasn't born with Betty Crocker mitts on, you know? When shit went down for me in my life that was ugly or nasty, people who didn't know how to deal with it would walk away. And I would never do anything like that. I'll get my ass kicked 100 times if that's what it takes; I'll step into the middle."

Since the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1972, rising temperatures in the abortion struggle have made "the middle" a treacherous place. Since 1993, five abortion clinic doctors or staff have been murdered; 11 others have survived attempts on their lives. Since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation, 140 clinics have been bombed or burned; 596 have been vandalized. In that time period, doctors have faced stalking incidents, 7,868 pickets, and 637 blockades that brought 33,699 arrests.

The violence has hurt anti-abortion forces, observers say: "The hard-core Operation Rescue following is falling off," says Watkins. But in some places, the fray has gotten worse.

"When we first opened in 1981, we had right-to-life people who would pray quietly," says Jane Bovard, admistrator of the Fargo Women's Health Organization in North Dakota - the only abortion provider in the state. "Now we have people who scream their lungs out, carry gory pictures, accost women as they come into the driveway, and picket my home."

It was in Fargo that protesters last November drover two junker cars onto clinic property and one shoved a Kryptonite bike lock around his neck and secured himself to a dryer drum wedged inside the car, while another locked himself to a snowmobile chassis. "They had to use jaws of life to get these people out of there," Bovard says.

"It's like a guerilla war," continues Bovard. It's like when we were in Vietnam and no one knew how to fight it. And the other side wins every time they get publicity."

California - and the Bay Area - has not escaped the quandary. In a five-month period since October 1994, health clinics in San Jose, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Francisco suffered Molotov cocktail or gasoline-filled tire attacks - none of them solved - and in San Luis Obispo, an arsonist burned a Planned Parenthood clinic to the ground.

Last July, Operation Rescued crisscrossed California for a "summer of missions" caravan - BACORR followed them for thousands of miles and mounted counterdemonstrations from Redding to Bakersfield. And in the summer of '93, OR was in San Jose for a "Cities of Refuge Campaign," again, tailed by BACORR.

Today, meanwhile, there are regular pickets and in some spots rowdy anti-abortion protesters at clinics in San Francisco, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Concord, and Vallejo, among others - and BACORR is there.

"It's about being outnumbered," says McEwen. But she knows how to get under OR's skin, she says. "My sexuality scar>R>es them, because they think that's your God-given talent, to serve a man." She is tired, but pumped. She thinks the demo's going to be great.

Seven p.m. Day 2. The OR rally is in full swing back in the Norwalk church, and BACORR is late. They can't do their demo because they can't get past the German sheperds or the private guards. Their "surprise" - a beautifully crafted, monster-size coat hanger that they were going to set on fire - is not very combustible. Plus, they didn't have time to pick up lighter fluid. The press releases in pretty red packaging, labored over for hours at Kinko's, can't be distributed because the press - what little ther is - is already standing inside the church parking lot, which security prevents the protesters from reaching.

Sam and Erin and Weide and McEwen hold their banner on the curb and hope to impress passing cars - they're joined by four women from various feminist groups in L.A. But the only deeply interested party is a group of teen-agers from apartments across the street who look stoned and say they want to get on TV.

McEwen smokes and scowls. She's wearing her leather jacket with the stickers on the back that alternately say "fuck your politics,"' and "fuck the police state" and "No special rights for pussy eating, scooter riding, clit twiddling, muff diving, cunt lover querr bi trans dyke loca girl freak."

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