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The case for clinic defense:
"Legal abortion doesn't matter if you can't get one"

August 19, 2005 | Page 5

LINCI COMY has been executive director of Women's Choice Clinic in Oakland, Calif., since 1988 and an employee since 1977. She is also a member of the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BACORR) and supports a vocal, activist defense of clinics from the anti-abortion bigots who gather to harass patients and staff. She talked to AMANDA MAYSTEAD about the importance of defending the clinics.

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HOW DID BACORR come about?

WE WERE originally the Clinic Defense Committee (CDC). We started that in the 1980s, when there was an ongoing domestic campaign of terror where clinics were being bombed and picketed, and a fair amount of arson was happening in the night.

So the idea of clinic defense was that during high holidays--especially around Easter or Christmas--we would actually protect the clinics. We would have overnight camp-ins, we would post guards, we would really pay attention at those times when it seemed that the anti-abortion movement was more likely to strike.

Having watched one of our Southern California clinics burn to ground in the early '80s, I learned very quickly that the anti-abortionists are not simply praying for their view of reality, but in truth, they are one of our most significant domestic terrorist groups.

The Bay Area Coalition Against Operation Rescue came out of some of those attacks, where women found themselves facing 300 or 400 anti-abortionists blocking their access to the clinics. It was formed as a way to deal with the blockading strategy that was being used at that particular moment in the '80s. Later, we became the Bay Area Coalition For Our Reproductive Rights.

WHAT IS clinic defense?

THE FIRST thing we're saying is that reproductive health centers are revolutionary territory, and that we must provide a safe place for women to be able to make reproductive decisions, whether that's "Am I going to use condoms or birth control pills for my basic method of contraception?" or "Am I going to seek abortion for an unwanted pregnancy?" or "Am I going to provide adoption services?"

I think clinic defense really means that having people in front of the door is the way to make the difference.

Women's health care has actually been assaulted by these antis. People are afraid to come into the clinic because there are people outside who are taking their pictures, and taking videotapes of them and their cars, and writing down their license plate numbers. This is a hostile situation, and the only reason someone would be videotaping you or writing down your car is because they plan on pursuing you personally. If that was happening in a personal relationship, you'd be able to have a restraining order.

The standard plan of the antis these days is just to be stalkers, to be harassers, so that women are afraid to seek reproductive health care. So, for me, clinic defense is creating an environment where women know when they come into the clinic that there's visible people who are pro-choice, who are escorts, and they know that it's safe to come into the facility.

WHAT DO you say to critics, such as Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, that believe clinic defense and confrontation confuses clients or turns them away?

THAT'S NOT true at our clinic. What we've found is that women have always appreciated knowing that there are people protecting them at the door.

I think the privacy issues are significant, but the problem is the antis, certainly not the people that are supportive. I think the videotaping, the camera use and the actual pursuit of people by antis is a total invasion of privacy. But to think that clinic defenders are doing that is really ludicrous, and I think it's really wrong thinking.

I think Planned Parenthood has taken a stand, trying to act like there's not a war going on. I think you can bury your head in the sand, but the truth is that their tactics of not responding and not ensuring that the antis aren't able to be at their door every weekend has created a situation where they have picketers every weekend.

I think at this point, after many years, they should realize that their strategy isn't working, and that they think it's okay to have picketers there every weekend and don't think that's a violation of people's privacy.

We don't have picketers on a regular basis, and that's because we stand strongly against the harassment of women. If you just let people get away with harassment, then you come to accept that as the standard, everyday reality.

I think picketers are a real wave of attack against women; I really see it as domestic violence.

The truth is that clinics are under the gun. The corporate world doesn't want to provide the same insurance guidelines, general liability guidelines that every other business has to run under. The penalty of providing quality health care is that you pay more for everything than in any other business.

I think we need to seriously look at that. Many, many clinics are not able to meet the economic harassment that people have been under. We've had over 500 clinics close down in the last 15 years, nationally. We just lost another clinic down in San Jose.

The reality is that if clinics are going to stay open, then people are going to need to help fund them.

Planned Parenthood has done a really good job of acting like they are the only reproductive health center in the country--and by doing that, they've siphoned off a lot of the funds that aren't getting to independent providers. It's important for people to recognize that if you want to make a donation, that's fine, make it to Planned Parenthood, but then send half of that to a local community clinic in your neighborhood, so that you can help insure clinics are staying open.

I have a bulletproof vest, and I probably have a better bulletproof vest than most of the guys in Iraq, because my community bought that for me. I think those kind of expenses are not just stuff you can write off.

The economic issues and stress that clinics live under is really severe. So I think it's important that if people want access [to abortion] to remain in the country, not only do we have to deal with the Supreme Court, not only do we have to deal with Constitutional attacks such as parental consent rules, but we do have to recognize that we have to open our wallets, because clinics are closing. And it doesn't matter if abortion is legal if you can't get one.

For more information about the Women's Choice Clinic of Oakland, visit www.womenschoiceclinic.org.

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