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."


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