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!” [page]
“We have 72,000 arrest without a single incident of violence at an Operation Rescue event…”
“YOU KNOW THAT'S A LIE, THAT'S SUCH A LIE!”
“… and there is no other civil disobedieCR>nce group in the country that has that kind of record,” White tries to finish. But the TV reporter can't hear him over Weide. She motions for White to move down the street where maybe they can start over.
“DON'T YOU LIKE INTIMIDATION, JEFF?” Weide cries and follows right behind.
On the other side of the clinic, McEwen and Sam and Erin avoid the teal FMF women and hold a banner of a woman with her fist raised and the words “We'll Never Go Back.” Everyone's videotaping, just in case someone gets sued or accused of breaking the law. Police have cameras, the clinic has cameras, FMF has cameras and note-takers and legal observers, and BACORR's McEwen has a camera, too. When Paul deParrie starts filming her, she films back and flicks her tongue, fellating the air. “Are you getting a chubby? Are you?” she says to deParrie.
An OR woman walks down the sidewalk herding teens and children wearing Missionaries to the Pre-Born T-shirts: Two are the 12- and 13-year old daughters of Jeff White, who will soon be facing arrest.
“BAAHHH. BAAHHH,” McEwen bleats after the youngsters in her best sheep imitation.
“I've already been reprimanded,” McEwen says to me, complaining about the folks in FMF.
“They, like, want to punish people for talking back to the antis,” she says. “They don't want us confronting anyone. But look at how close they let OR get to the clinic? I saw six clients come in the back, and there were these OR people on their knees praying, and if this was up to us, we wouldn't let that go on; this is about getting clear access, I'm talking about, if you're in the way I'm going to move your ass so women can get in. But I move them, and I go to jail.”
A quiver of OR followers is indeed praying with rosaries near the back of the clinic. But they haven't escaped Weide. The White interview concluded, Weide deploys over their bowed heads a series of placards – cartoon balloons filled with sarcastic dialogue.
“Fetus Schmetus, when do I get to hit the girl?” the fiCR>rst cartoon balloon says.
White ignores Weide; he's been through this before. Weide flips a few more signs above him: “Oh Lord, I feel a temptation comin' on,” and “I have a fetus fetish,” they say.
At the front of the building, meanwhile, Erin is rumbling with a gray-haired man who's talking fetal rights and the Constitution. Erin has told him she had a baby four years ago, when she was 17, so she knows what motherhood is all about.
“Good for you,” he says.
“Fuck you,” she says back.
And Sam has attached herself to Pro-Life Anderson.
“Caution,” says the bubble she holds over his head. “Foaming fanatics,” the sign says.
“This is not about following the rules,” McEwen tells me as we drive back toward downtown L.A.
McEwen munches McDonald's french fries and describes why BACORR does what it does. The Roverside demo ended peaceably by 10 a.m., and OR left in a car caravan to picket an abortion doctor at his home in Santa Ana.
BACORR packed up, too; they're plotting “to make some noise” back at the Norwalk church rally No. 2, slated for this evening. They need to make new signs, write press releases, and regroup at a BACORR supporter's condo, where everyone is crashing.
“I mean, I didn't start this shit, you know?” McEwen says. “I mean, it's like warped to me. There's people at the clinic, they're standing there, they have their signs, and they're saying this shit and people are telling me, 'Jean, you need to let them alone and it's not OK to harass them.' But it's OK to let them shoot somebody?”
But BACORR's tactics get decidedly mixed reviews. Confrontations with OR only escalate trouble and ultimately don't help clinic clients, some critics say.
“Some groups feel that BACORR is every bit as annoying as the anti-choice protesters,” says Michele McDevitt, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves the South Bay from San Jose to Santa Cruz. “But I don't agree with that. They do have their place, and 90 percent ofCR> the time when I've been involved with them they've done exactly what we needed them to do. If I would say anything to them, it's, 'Consider how you're going to look in the Midwest on the evening news.' I mean, does it play in Peoria?”
“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.” [page]
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.”
A man from a Spanish-language TV station appears. Will you shout in Spanish? he asks the group. They nod. “Si aborto! Si aborto!” they yell, and look fierce, and the cameraman smiles and gets a wrap.
Inside, I'm back in red-chaired hell waiting for word – once again -about the coming demonstration.
“Our task,” Mahoney is saying onstage, “is to go out into all the world and convert the Philistines. You don't shoot Philistines amymore, you convert them.” Mahoney smiles. “There's a whole lot of people who'd like to do it the old-fashioned way.”
“Amen,” shouts a man in the audience. Laughter.
“It is sad,” Mahoney says, “when your counterparts out on the street are so torn up, they're so ripped up inside, that they're driven to self mutalation, putting pins and steel in every part of their body imaginable, screaming out in hatred, dressing like the walking cadavers that they spiritually are. They need Jesus Christ!” Mahoney says.
Foreman and Whitel tell those gathered that they resemble the underground railroad. They ask the faithful to give money and give generously, and seven large shiny plates move through the aisles. White asks them to give their bodies. “We have to stand firm. This is our time! This is our day!” But White doesn't want anyone with deep pockets to join the blockade because if they were ever sued and lost, their cash would go to the enemy. “I need to ask those who have assets that can be attached and sold and that would give money to the baby-killers, that they stay back on this one.”
Mahoney returns, takes White's place onstage, and asks those willing to be arrested under FACE to come forward and kneel. A chastened stream of men and women walk quietly to the altar: 21, 22, then 23 praying people. I try to memorize their faces. [page]
“God bless you,” Mahoney says to them. He asks for money for those who will go to jail and “spend months without their families.”
And no one announces where the blockade will be.
Day 3. Seven a.m. Back in Norwalk. It seems the only way to fing the blockade is to follow Operation Rescue cars departing the church staging area. I whip my car into line behind three lead cars filled with OR people I recognize and hope no one boots me out, which they don't. The line grows to 17, then starts moving.
Smooth sailing. The white Ford Explorer in front of me speeds up to 80 mph but I have no problem weaving in and out of highway traffic that spits us into downtown L.A. To the wrong demo.
At Sixth and Westmoreland stand dozens of cops and hundreds of women on the curb, the Feminist Majority in teal, screaming “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.” Elsewhere, the Flintstones chant is in full bloom and various abortion foes are praying. But it's clear that I – along with a dozen other reporters who followed the caravan – have been duped. None of the 23 faces kneeling at the alter last night are here. Neither is BACORR.
“We've got hundereds of protesters spread out around Los Angeles. We'll find out where they are,” says Kohsin-Kintigh from the Feminist Majority, who soon has the word: “They're at the Clinica Familia on Sherman Way – go the North Hollywood,” she says, and reporters go scurrying.
Where is BACORR?
After hauling down the highway, I arrive at the North Hollywood clinic, which resembles an armed camp. The entire block surrounding the Clinica Familia – a small office next to El Pollo Loco and Wong's Wok and a nail salon in a strip mallll – has been cordoned off. A dozen mounted LAPD patrol officers – their horses wearing riot shields over their eyes – line one side of the clinic while the perimeter holds 20 police officers in riot gear, another 20 without, and a phalanx of 10 cops on motorcycles.
More than 300 abortion rights supporters and 70 anti-abortion protesters alternately yell and pray from behind the yellow crime scene tape that holds them far back from the action: a small clot of people wedged up against the clinic door.
Six OR cars left Norwalk from a different parking lot, I learn later: Each tool a different route, each lost its tail, and the convoy finally deposited the 23 blockaders here by 8:30 a.m. The clinic had opened and a few patients sat in the waiting room, but the Feminist Majority had clinic defenders in place, and when they saw OP appear, they locked arms in front of the door. Within seconds, OR slammed in next to them and sat down. The police – with whom the Feminist Majority had been in constant contact – instantly roped off the entire shopping center and poured into the parking lot to make sure the sit-in stayed peaceful.
It is now an hour later, the bodies remain wedged by the clinic door, and an LAPD lieutenant picks up his bullhorn and gives the official order to disperse. The clinic defenders obey and leave OR to its imminent arrest. The singing begins from the Operation Rescue supporters who carry mangled-fetus signs and rosaries.
It is the moment they've come here for: to be arrested under FACE and begin the legal challenge. But instead, the police cite the blockaders for California PC 409: failure to disperse. A state law. A misdemeanor.
Three LAPD buses draw up and the arrests begin, the police wearing white gloves and taking their time. Jeff White walks quietly away in plastic handcuffs. White's two girls come next; they're put in a separate bus. Pro-Life Anderson waits his turn. It is 10 a.m. before the last of the protesters is arrested.
Finally, BACORR arrives.
“I told you this was going to happen!” McEwen is trying not to shout in her fury at the betrayal of the Feminist Majority.
“Yesterday we went out of our way, we let them know Joe Foreman was there – they didn't even fucking know Joe Foreman. So we shared our information, we explained the situation to them. And today, we called them, we tried to get them to tell us what they knew, and they tell us, 'We don't really know what's going on. Gosh, we don't know this and we don't know that.' They lied to us. They knew it was here, and nobody would tell us.”
“They let this blockade go on for an hour and a half,” Weide says, jaws working furiously on a piece of gum. She moves to a spot on the sidewalk where some OR people are praying with their eyes closed.
The horses suddenly seem closer behind us. “Let's wrap up this rally,” a teal FMF woman yells.
“OK, ladies and gentelmen,” I can hear a police officer say, “let's step back up on the curb please. Let's start moving.”
“Yeah, right,” says Weide, who holds one of her “Fetus Schmetus” balloon signs. I notice she's not wearing the sling for her shoulder.
“We're going to get arrested if we're in th street,” yells the FMF woman.
“Not only did they tell us they didn't know where OR was, they were here and they let them get right up to the door – they didn't offer any resistance,” Weide says.
“All pro-choice people come on out, come out right now,” says the teal FMF woman, “we're going to do a wrap-up rally.”
Weide and McEwen and Sam and Erin start to chant over the heads of a knot of OR people praying on the sidewalk. They start clanging on light poles. They start gathering supporters, men and women around them joining in their words, “Operation Rescue, cops and Klan, work together hand in hand.” The din grows. The horses clop forward. [page]
“Ladies and gentleman,” says a police officer with a bullhorn, “we want to open up this sidewalk here, and we're going to go ahead and open the sidewalk here.”
“It is SHAMEFUL! SHAMEFUL!” Weide screams in his face.
“Why don't you let us sit here for an hour like you let Operation Rescue?” a cry goes up behind her.
“IT IS SHAMEFUL THAT YOU LET THEM STAY HERE!”
“While you're talking, you cannot listen,” the sergeant says to Weide. “I would appreciate it if you'd listen to me,” he says.
“It is SHAMEFUL.”
“Ma'am, I want you to go ahead and open this up right now,” the sergeant says, directing Weide to get off the sidewalk.
“YOU LET OPERATION RESCUE SHUT DOWN THE CLINIC FOR AN HOUE AND A HALF…”
A shriek. I'm standing next to Weide when the sergeant grabs her shirt at the neck, pulls her forward, yanks her arm behind her back. “My shoulder!” she cries. “My shoulder's just been dislocated! My shoulder! I'm cooperating, I'm cooperating!”
McEwen grabs for Weide, trying to reach her. The police throw her to the pavement and pin her with their boots.
“All I said,” Weide shouts, “is that it was shameful!”
Four police officers push Weide into a corner of the building and hold her; McEwen, spread-eagle and cuffed on the street, gets repeatedly>R> patted down by a female sergeant, armpits, crotch, back to the armpits, crotch again. Then they let McEwen stand and bring Weide near. The two are taken off in police cars to the Van Nuys precinct. Where they'll have company. Operation Rescue.
Weide and McEwen sat in metal handcuffs chained to a bench, faces to the wall of the Van Nuys police precinct, when they heard a familiar voice behind them. It was Jeff White, getting released from jail an hour before them. White and all but two of the other blockaders – men wanted on warrants stemming from previous demonstrations – did not spend months in jail, as the OR leaders had predicted. They were cited and released in two hours.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles says it might press FACE charges in the future, but there's no indication to date that it wil do so.
What a joke, Weide and McEwen say. The two women and other BACORR members who made it to L.A. rehash the trip at the regular weekly meeting in the Mission. Twelve people in a dim room again. Everyone's pissed. Weide and McEwen are slated to be arraigned in Los Angeles June 21 on charges of interfering with police/failure to disperse – the same charges filed against the OR blockaders. On the same day the OR is scheduled to appear.
“That image, that this is two sides of the same coin,” Weide says. “It's just ridiculous.”
Plus, Feminist Majority hasn't even called to ask how they're doing. “My sisters are high-fiving because of me getting the shit kicked out of me,” McEwen says, letting her voice rise to make the statement at least seem like a question. The betrayal still stings.
“You just don't lie to a group on the same side,” says Weide.
But if the result of L.A. is that BACORR is being lumped in – literally – with Operation Rescue, does that mean their tactics might be hurting the movement?
“What I got arrested for,” says McEwen, “is that they grabbed my friend and she had a dislocated shoulder and I tried to help her. And if that m>R>akes me bad for the movement, I'm sorry, that's the way it's going to be.”
So it's on to L.A. They've started a legal defense fund. They're calling a pre-arraignment press conference and trying to gauge the clash potential of a meeting there with Operation Rescue, which just might be assigned to the very same courtroom.
Like the war itself, it is not what they would have asked for. But it could make for a beautiful demo.