Terror in Charlotte

Carole Joffe

Staff at a clinic in Charlotte, N.C., under attack from anti-choice "terrorists" work in conditions most would find unendurable. Why? They say: "We believe in what we do. And some of us came to work here after being patients here ourselves."

This article was originally published in Ms.
Magazine
and is reprinted with permission.

The posters have the word "WANTED"
in large black letters at the top and contain the following language: "We would
like to introduce you to Drs. X and Y [names withheld here]. Their specialties
are Obstetrics, Gynecology and Murder. Not only do these two men assist women
and deliver babies, but they also harm women and kill babies…. You may contact
them at their office or the clinic in which they perform the abortions."

Using the real names of the doctors,
and the addresses of their private practices, these posters have recently shown
up in Charlotte, N.C. They are terrifying, and that is precisely their
intention, as they invoke comparison to the notorious Old West-style wanted
posters of abortion doctors that were circulated by two militant anti-abortion
groups in the early 1990s. Three abortion-providing doctors-whose faces
appeared on WANTED or unWANTED posters were, in fact, murdered by anti-abortion
zealots.

In a celebrated case, the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that these posters constituted a "threat of
force" designed to intimidate abortion providers (in violation of the Freedom
of Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE Act), and were thus not protected by the
First Amendment on free speech grounds. The Court also noted
that extremists had listed the doctors’ information, including home addresses,
on a "Nuremberg Files" website. The names of doctors who were killed were lined
through in black, and wounded doctors’ names were lined through in grey.    

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So one can imagine the fears
engendered by this latest round of postering. But they’re just the latest straw
in what the beleaguered staff of the Family Reproductive Health clinic in
Charlotte has had to put up with. In 2002, the high-profile antiabortion
extremist Philip "Flip" Benham, formerly head of Operation Rescue and now
heading Operation Save America, moved to the Charlotte area and vowed to close
down Family Reproductive Health.

He has not succeeded, but he and his
followers have made daily operations harrowing for both clinic staff and
patients. As seen in a Youtube video that
should be required viewing for police departments and judges across the
country, Benham terrorizes patients as they enter the clinic, screaming at them
that "Satan will drink the blood of your babies" and that the women themselves
will "go to your deaths" if they follow through with their planned
procedures. 

This bullying of patients-calling
them "whores" is commonplace, Kenya, the clinic director told me-is frequently
made through a microphone amplified to deafening levels. Benham and his group
swarm over patients’ cars as they enter the parking lot, and come within inches
of staff and patients as they enter and exit the clinic’s driveway and doors.

Not surprisingly, patients
frequently arrive inside the clinic frightened, confused and sometimes quite
angry. "We try to prepare them for this when they make their appointment,"
Kenya said, "but until you go through something like this, you can’t imagine
what it’s like." 

Where are the police in all this?
Whenever an officer is present at the clinic, according to Kenya, he doesn’t do
enough. "He doesn’t check the decibel level of the sound system, he lets them
[the anti-abortion protestors] place their signs on our fence, he doesn’t
interfere when they swarm over our patients’ cars. Even with the police right
there, we sometimes have to call 911."

This muted police response may well
be due to an ongoing lawsuit that Benham’s Operation Save America filed against
the city of Charlotte, charging violations of the group’s First Amendment
rights because of the city’s failure to grant a festival permit several years
ago. As previously reported in Ms.,
aggressive legal action-often resulting in financial penalties for
cash-strapped cities-is a recent antiabortion tactic which can stymie local
police departments.

Kenya and her staff keep the clinic going under
conditions most of us would find unendurable. When I ask how she and others can
stay the course under such relenting pressures, she tells me, "We believe in
what we do. We know we are helping. Some of us came to work here after being
patients here ourselves."


News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

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Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. Forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs,” Bowman said.

Reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

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