Clinic Arson in New Mexico, Vigilance Everywhere

Amie Newman

The arson targeting an abortion clinic in New Mexico last week is just one instance demonstrating the need for the incredible vigilance clinic workers employ.

A clinic in New Mexico, run by Dr. Curtis Boyd, was the target of arson last week. The clinic, Abortion Acceptance, went up in flames on the evening of Thursday, December 6th, destroying an exam room. Luckily, no one was in the clinic at the time and no one was hurt.

According to Jake Gonzalez of the Federal Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms, witnesses in a nearby hotel say they saw two figures in hooded sweatshirts "dump a gasoline can in the room" and light it on fire before running away.

Dr. Boyd has been providing care to the women of Albuquerque, NM for 35 years and with amazing grace has remained "committed to tolerance."

This is a clear act of domestic terrorism that should be treated as such. But sites like downplay the violence, making sure to report on what hasn't been damaged — as if somehow the amount of damage to the property is an indicator of how important or unimportant this act of anti-choice violence really is:

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"An abortion business in New Mexico's largest city caught fire late Thursday night but firefighters managed to douse the fire quickly enough to salvage the building. Only one office has significant damage and the abortion facility will not likely need to be gutted to be repaired, officials said."

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) is the national association for abortion providers and tracks clinic violence around the United States. According to NAF, since 1977, there have been seven murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 100 butyric acid attacks, 656 anthrax threats, and 175 arsons. including this most recent incident in New Mexico.

Life as a Clinic Employee

Anti-choice terrorism is responsible for inordinate amounts of fear, violence, injury and death. As a clinic employee for many years, NAF provided me with as much security and peace of mind as a women's health clinic employee in this country could possibly hope for.

Three days a week, for seven years, I came to work through the back door of Aradia Women's Health Center. Every morning, I checked the wide, round mirror at the bottom of the ramp leading to the back entrace, across from the heavy metal security door – the door that led to a tiny, dank and dark entryway containing two more doors leading to the clinic itself.

But the creeping sense of discomfort arose while still in the parking lot. Our executive director never tired of telling us to switch up the routes we took to and from work in case anyone was following us. The sense of being "on guard" started as soon as I stepped out of the driver's seat of my car, coffee in one hand, and my keys in the other.

In order to simply enter the clinic you needed either two keys or to identify yourself through a closed door to an employee already inside.

I had the keys. But the handful of seconds it took to find the correct keys while standing in the dank entryway and unlock the door seemed vast. Memories of a bomb scare we'd had, and thoughts of the security trainings from NAF instructing us on the protocol of an armed invasion, would flow through my thoughts while fumbling to open the door.

Finally inside, I'd take a deep calming breath and take a quick look at the TV monitor displaying images of the front of the building – where our regular anti-choice protestors would stand singing and handing out rosaries and pamphlets on the dangers of abortion.

Sometimes I'd stop to chat for a moment with S. – our quietly brave police officer – who proudly served as our security guard for eight years on the days we performed abortions (Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) until we closed our doors in 2007 after 35 years.

Most times, I'd head to my office down the small hallway covered with rotating art from local artists in our community, who wanted to play a small role in making the women who came to our center feel less isolated and more supported by the community.

My office, at first glance, seemed much like any small non-profit office space. Look closely, however, or spend anytime in my office during the hot summer months and one would notice the differences.

For one thing, I had a peephole in my office door. Every door in the clinic – from individual offices to exam and screening rooms – had peepholes. These peepholes were installed by some of our clinic staff women and their partners when a NAF security expert came for a regular safety audit of our clinic and suggested the idea.

My office also had a green, plastic whistle hanging from a pushpin pressed into my wall. The clinic was outfitted in whistles – offices, exam rooms, two by the front desk and one in our staff room where we ate lunch, read magazines and where the staff women who worked directly with our clients decompressed in between office visits.

The whistles were also part of a thorough, methodical security protocol created by NAF in the event of an armed invasion though I won't go into detail for the protection of clinics that follow a similar protocol.

If I had a first-time visitor to my basement office in the heat of a Seattle summer, they might likely notice that the large window spanning the entire length of the back wall was shut tight. The windows in the exam and procedure rooms were bullet-proof. None of the windows were allowed to be opened – ever. This was to guard against any potential vandalization – someone throwing a bomb through your office window, or even a glass bottle that could shatter.

Every four months or so, Aradia staff women underwent a long and intense security training. We practiced what to do in the event of: an armed invasion, a bomb threat via phone, or the discovery of a suspicious package. In the event of a bomb threat over the phone, we had a bomb threat question sheet next to the phones at the front desk of the clinic guiding us to uncover as much information about the caller as possible.

Our guidelines in case of a bomb threat or a suspicious package (which had to be followed two times in my seven years at Aradia) established a secret meeting area for staff women; we knew not to use a cell phone on the premises as it could set off a bomb.

Our most frequently employed security protocol was, in essence, our procedure for dealing with anti-choice protestors. We experienced "invasions" where anti-choicers would somehow make it past our security guard and locked doors and start screaming at the women in the waiting room. Many times, anti-choice protestors out front would yell at young women as they walked by on their way to our clinic for an HIV test or contraception. We were instructed not to engage with the protestors but to simply ignore them (easier said than done at times!). We instructed our patients to shield their faces to protect confidentiality as well.

If a client made their way up the block towards our clinic only to be scared away by the angry screams or disturbing signs held by the protestors, we always made sure to give them the option of rescheduling.

I'll always remember our post-9/11 protocol – watching helplessly as our executive director locked herself in her office at 2pm daily, donned a pair of latex gloves and routinely opened the mail, terrified of finding anthrax in an envelope. Pat Robertson blamed the events of 9/11 on feminists and abortion providers, which only served to inspire those who wanted revenge for 9/11.

I won't describe in detail the threatening letters we received regularly.

I'll only say that when an abortion clinic is set fire to in this country there is a good chance it stems from irrational anti-choice sentiment that somehow allows for violence against living, breathing beings while screaming about the "violence" of abortion. These are all acts of domestic terrorism that, while not necessarily taken seriously by our government or many Americans as terrorism, are absorbed intimately by the abortion clinic workers who must show up for work the next day to gated security doors, with bomb threat protocol always in the back of their brains, ready to lovingly counsel and care for the women who need their services.

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