OMAHA — Will Bellevue, Neb., become the new Wichita as the
epicenter of the anti-abortion protest movement? Not if Herb Evers can help it.
A 30-year veteran of the Bellevue Police Dept., Capt. Evers
worried aloud about the future of his hometown should radicalized groups, like
Kansas-based Operation Rescue West, pull up stakes following the assassination
of George Tiller by one of its own adherents and head north from Wichita. In
promotional pitches, the group that boasts of stopping “abortion in
obedience to biblical mandates” now promises to descend on this southern
Omaha suburb where Tiller’s friend and colleague Dr. Leroy Carhart runs the
Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska.
“It will affect the quality of life of the city of
Bellevue,” said Evers. “It just will. We know that. And we’re trying
to prevent that by every means possible.”
Those means came from two weeks of hurried planning and a
crash course in federal law for Evers who coordinated with 10 local, state and
federal law enforcement agencies, including the South Metro SWAT Team, U.S.
Attorneys office, U.S. Marshals and the Joint Terrorism Task Force, in response
to Operation Rescue’s sudden plans for a street protest at Carhart’s clinic on
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
After hearing about the heavy media push by a tightly wound
network of national anti-choice activist groups and two local groups, Rescue
the Heartland and Nebraskans United for Life, to turn out supporters, Evers
said he quickly contacted Kansas authorities for help.
Bellevue prepares for
“So when Operation Rescue announces that they’re coming
to Bellevue we’re going, ugh, the history is that it’s 500 to 1,000 people.
That’s what we were told by Wichita,” Evers tells me in the incident
command center, an old Winnebago-style recreational vehicle parked behind a
city service garage a few blocks from the clinic.
A concern that throngs of protesters and clinic defenders
would scuffle, or that anti-choice activists would mimic armed town hall
agitators was at the forefront of Evers’ mind. After a whirlwind trip to
Wichita to share intelligence and convene a law enforcement brain trust on
counter-protest strategies, he and his commanders spent 14 hour days over the
next two weeks creating a detailed tactical plan for various law enforcement
units should there be trouble.
High on the list of priorities? Prepping officers with a
primer on First Amendment rights, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances
(FACE) Act and a cheat sheet of crimes local prosecutors could charge
Hearing the lessons learned by Wichita police after years of relentless and sometimes violent protests at
Tiller’s clinic, Evers set out to contact organizations on both
sides of the debate to appeal for a peaceful protest. Nebraska NOW president
Erin Sullivan said she was extremely pleased by the police department’s
responsiveness and willingness to negotiate a good outcome.
“If I had to rate it on a 1-10 scale, I’d really have
to say it was like a nine,” said Sullivan who led the clinic defense
efforts and also got advice from experienced Kansas activists. “We were
going to be protected which was really important.”
To the city’s relief, the protesters’ efforts to amass the
expected 500 activists fizzled when just 65 people showed up over two days at
the Mission Avenue clinic to “minister” to patients by yelling
slogans, waving ultrasound images and hoisting gruesome pickets. Meanwhile, 200
clinic defenders from 16 states chanted, “Welcome. Welcome. This clinic
stays open!” while shielding patients’ faces with pro-choice placards to
prevent them from being taped by the protesters’ video cameras.
With little fanfare, the Saturday protest suddenly disbursed
just after Noon. The dueling “Truth Trucks” parked on the barricaded
street outside the clinic packed up and moved on. Anti-choice activists quickly
cleared out save for a fervent bunch of ten locals who displayed signs and
cajoled drivers to honk their horns in support until mid-afternoon. On the
adjoining street corner more than two-dozen pro-choice activists held their
All the while, the city’s ten patrol officers on the scene
pay the price for carpet bagging activists
Even despite the paltry turn out, Operation Rescue’s call to
arms will set the Bellevue Police Dept. back at least $10,000 for regular wages
for two officers plus overtime pay for the eight more assigned to clinic duty,
according to Evers’ back of napkin estimate.
For Bellevue residents the timing couldn’t be worse.
The unanticipated police costs come two days after Mayor
Gary Mixan announced he would need to trim $5
million, or roughly 10 percent, from the city’s annual budget.
Expenses for the cooperating local law enforcement agencies from Omaha,
Papillion, La Vista, Douglas and Sarpy Counties, the Nebraska state patrol and
Council Bluffs, Iowa were not immediately available.
Down at the impromptu command center on the heavily guarded
border of Offutt Air Force Base, SWAT team members and uniformed officers
lounged and watched screaming jets perform aerobatics at the weekend air show
from the back of pickup trucks and makeshift encampments under a stand of
As he knocks on the RV’s Formica kitchen table for good
luck, Evers tells me there were no arrests on either side. Yet, his worries are
from over. Should Operation Rescue target Bellevue by launching regular
protests on the scale of those in Wichita he estimates the city would easily
need an additional 100 cops to maintain law and order at the clinic.
Carhart, the man at the center of the protesters’ obsessive
zealotry, is quite glum about the financial effects on a community where he has
practiced medicine for the last 21 years and whose economy has been rocked by
the nationwide recession.
A veteran of the belligerent Tiller clinic protests, Carhart
estimates that the combined efforts of state, local and federal authorities
could easily approach $1 million or more in taxpayer dollars.
Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggests the next president is going to have a couple of U.S. Supreme Court nominations to make, which means the Court could be effectively up for grabs depending on this election’s outcome.
This summer, the Supreme Court ordered the Obama administration and religiously affiliated nonprofits who object to providing contraception to try and find some kind of compromise. While they hammer one out, a University of Notre Dame student has asked a federal appeals court to let her join in the litigation, to fight the university’s stance of trying to deny access to contraception coverage.
Florida officials have not yet appealed a federal district court ruling blocking a law that would have prevented Medicaid funds from going to Planned Parenthood reproductive health care centers. The law would also mandate a state regulator review of patient records from half of the approximately 70,000 abortions in the state each year.
An Ohio appeals court ruled a Cleveland abortion clinic can move forward with its lawsuit challenging requirements that prohibit public hospitals from entering into transfer agreements with clinics, along with another requirement that mandates providers to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion.
My life’s work has been to transform the conversation about abortion, so I am overcome with joy at the Supreme Court ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Abortion providers have been living under a very dark cloud since the 2010 elections, and this ruling represents a new day.
Abortion providers can finally begin to turn our attention from the idiocy and frustration of dealing with legislation whose only intention is to prevent all legal abortion. We can apply our energy and creativity fully to the work we love and the people we serve.
My work has been with independent providers who have always proudly delivered most of the abortion care in our country. It is thrilling that the Court recognized their unique contribution. In his opinion, after taking note of the $26 million facility that Planned Parenthood built in Houston, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote:
More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered.
This is a critical time to build on the burgeoning recognition that independent clinics are essential and, at their best, create a sanctuary for women. And it’s also a critical time for independent providers as a field to share, learn from, and adopt each other’s best practices while inventing bold new strategies to meet these new times. New generations expect and demand a more open and just society. Access to all kinds of health care for all people, including excellent, affordable, and state-of-the-art abortion care is an essential part of this.
Like This Story?
Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.
We’ve been under attack and hanging by a thread for so long—with our financial, emotional, and psychic energies drained by relentless, unconstitutional anti-abortion legislation—it’s been almost impossible to create and carry out our highest vision of abortion care.
Clearly 20-week bans don’t pass the undue burden test, imposed by the Court under Planned Parenthood v. Casey, because they take place before viability and abortion at 20 weeks is safer than childbirth. The federal Hyde Amendment, a restriction on Medicaid coverage of abortion, obviously represents an undue burden because it places additional risk on poor women who can’t access care as early as women with resources. Whatever the benefit was to late Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) it can’t possibly outweigh that burden.
Some of these have already been rejected by the Court and, in Alabama’s case, an attorney general, in the wake of the Whole Woman’s Health ruling. Others will require the kind of bold action already planned by the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations. The Renaissance involves raising an even more powerful voice against these regulations, and being firm in our unwillingness to spend taxpayer dollars harming women.
I’d like to entertain the idea that we simply ignore regulations like these that impose burdens and do not improve health and safety. Of course I know that this wouldn’t be possible in many places because abortion providers don’t have much political leverage. This may just be the part of me that wants reproductive rights to warrant the many risks of civil disobedience. In my mind is the man who stood in front of moving tanks in Tiananmen Square. I am yearning for all the ways to stand in front of those tanks, both legal and extralegal.
Early abortion is a community public health service, and a Renaissance goal could be to have early abortion care accessible within one hour of every woman in the country. There are more than 3,000 fake clinics in this country, many of them supported by tax dollars. Surely we can find a way to make actual services as widely available to people who need them. Of course many areas couldn’t support a clinic, but we can find ways to create satellite or even mobile clinics using telemedicine to serve women in rural areas. We can use technology to check in with patients during medication abortions, and we can provide ways to simplify after-care and empower women to be partners with us in their care. Later abortion would be available in larger cities, just as more complex medical procedures are.
In this brave new world, we can invent new ways to involve the families and partners of our patients in abortion care when it is appropriate. This is likely to improve health outcomes and also general satisfaction. And it can increase the number of people who are grateful for and support independent abortion care providers and who are able to talk openly about abortion.
We can tailor our services to learn which women may benefit from additional time or counseling and give them what they need. And we can provide abortion services for women who own their choices. When a woman tells us that she doesn’t believe in abortion, or that it is “murder” but she has to have one, we can see that as a need for deeper counseling. If the conflict is not resolved, we may decide that it doesn’t benefit the patient, the clinic, or our society to perform an abortion on a woman who is asking the clinic to do something she doesn’t believe in.
I am aware that this last idea may be controversial. But I have spent 40 years counseling with representatives of the very small, but real, percentage of women who are in emotional turmoil after their abortions. My experience with these women and reading online “testimonies” from women who say they regret their abortions and see themselves as victimized, including the ones cited by Justice Kennedy in the Casey decision, have reinforced my belief that when a woman doesn’t own her abortion decision she will suffer and find someone to blame for it.
We can transform the conversation about abortion. As an abortion counselor I know that love is at the base of women’s choices—love for the children they already have; love for their partners; love for the potential child; and even sometimes love for themselves. It is this that the anti-abortion movement will never understand because they believe women are essentially irresponsible whores. These are the accusations protesters scream at women day after day outside abortion clinics.
Of course there are obstacles to our brave new world.
The most obvious obstacles are political. As long as more than 20 states are run by Republican supermajorities, legislatures will continue to find new ways to undermine access to abortion. The Republican Party has become an arm of the militant anti-choice movement. As with any fundamentalist sect, they constantly attack women’s rights and dignity starting with the most intimate aspects of their lives. A society’s view of abortion is closely linked to and mirrors its regard for women, so it is time to boldly assert the full humanity of women.
Anti-choice LifeNews.com contends that there have been approximately 58,586,256 abortions in this country since 1973. That means that 58,586,256 men have been personally involved in abortion, and the friends and family members of at least 58,586,256 people having abortions have been too. So more than 180 million Americans have had a personal experience with abortion. There is no way a small cadre of bitter men with gory signs could stand up to all of them. So they have, very successfully so far, imposed and reinforced shame and stigma to keep many of that 180 million silent. Yet in the time leading up to the Whole Woman’s Health case we have seen a new opening of conversation—with thousands of women telling their personal stories—and the recognition that safe abortion is an essential and normal part of health care. If we can build on that and continue to talk openly and honestly about the most uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy and abortion, we can heal the shame and stigma that have been the most successful weapons of anti-abortion zealots.
A second obstacle is money. There are manyextraordinary organizations dedicated to raising funds to assist poor women who have been betrayed by the Hyde Amendment. They can never raise enough to make up for the abandonment of the government, and that has to be fixed. However most people don’t realize that many clinics are themselves in financial distress. Most abortion providers have kept their fees ridiculously and perilously low in order to be within reach of their patients.
Consider this: In 1975 when I had my first job as an abortion counselor, an abortion within the first 12 weeks cost $150. Today an average price for the same abortion is around $550. That is an increase of less than $10 a year! Even in the 15 states that provide funding for abortion, the reimbursement to clinics is so low that providers could go out of business serving those in most need of care.
Over the years a higher percent of the women seeking abortion care are poor women, women of color, and immigrant and undocumented women largely due to the gap in sexual healtheducation and resources. That means that a clinic can’t subsidize care through larger fees for those with more resources. While Hyde must be repealed, perhaps it is also time to invent some new approaches to funding abortion so that the fees can be sustainable.
Women are often very much on their own to find the funds needed for an abortion, and as the time goes by both the costs and the risk to them increases. Since patients bear 100 percent of the medical risk and physical experience of pregnancy, and the lioness’ share of the emotional experience, it makes sense to me that the partner involved be responsible for 100 percent of the cost of an abortion. And why not codify this into law, just as paternal responsibilities have been? Perhaps such laws, coupled with new technology to make DNA testing as quick and inexpensive as pregnancy testing, would shift the balance of responsibility so that men would be responsible for paying abortion fees, and exercise care as to when and where they release their sperm!
In spite of the millions of women who have chosen abortion through the ages, many women still feel alone. I wonder if it could make a difference if women having abortions, including those who received assistance from abortion funds, were asked to “pay it forward”—to give something in the future if they can, to help another woman? What if they also wrote a letter—not a bread-and-butter “thank you” note—but a letter of love and support to a woman connected to them by the web of this individual, intimate, yet universal experience? This certainly wouldn’t solve the economic crisis, but it could help transform some women’s experience of isolation and shame.
One in three women will have an abortion, yet many are still afraid to talk about it. Now that there is safe medication for abortion, more and more women will be accessing abortion through the internet in some DIY fashion. What if we could teach everyone how to be excellent abortion counselors—give them accurate information; teach them to listen with nonjudgmental compassion, and to help women look deeper into their own feelings and beliefs so that they can come to a sense of confidence and resolution about their decision before they have an abortion?
There are so many brilliant, caring, and amazing people who provide abortion care—and room for many more to establish new clinics where they are needed. When we turn our sights to what can be, there is no limit to what we can create.
Being frustrated and helpless is exhausting and can burn us out. So here’s a glass of champagne to being able to dream again, and to dreaming big. From my own past clinic work:
At this clinic we do sacred work
That honors women
And the circle of life and death.