Area Abortion Groups Wary Of More Violence Activists On Both Sides Move Gingerly To Mark Today’s Roe Vs. Wade Anniversary
Dr. Tom Gilpatrick planned to finish moving 34 boxes of about 4,000 patients’ charts from his old office at Deaconess Medical Center today.
The 70-year-old doctor closed his practice after providing abortions in Spokane since 1970, when Washington voters approved a referendum making the procedure legal with spousal or parental consent.
Gilpatrick was unaware that his final moving day marked the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, which made abortion legal nationwide.
“I knew there was something on the 22nd,” Gilpatrick said as he packed. “I’m terrible. I’m going to be absolutely lost. … I don’t know what I’m going to do without someone to tell me what my schedule is.”
For 22 years, abortion foes have tried to overturn Roe vs. Wade while supporters have fought to keep it intact.
A shadow darkens this year’s anniversary of the ruling for both sides in the debate - the Dec. 30 shooting rampage at two Brookline, Mass., abortion clinics.
On that day, a gunman killed two women and wounded five.
That tragedy appears to have brought a nationwide cooling-off period as many abortion-rights groups cancel public events and some abortion opponents modify their protests.
“We’re calling for an end to clinic picketing,” said Cynthia Fine, Spokane coordinator of the National Abortion Rights Action League. “We really feel that fans the flames of violence.”
Spokane anti-abortion groups have condemned the violence, arguing it undermines their cause.
“We feel that the taking of innocent life, be it through abortion or the taking of life of an abortionist, is wrong,” said Kristina Murphy, a spokeswoman for Lifeline Ministries. “In no way, shape or form do we condone violence.”
Even before the Brookline shooting, the arguments over abortion were interrupted by bullets.
In recent years, two Florida abortion doctors and a clinic escort were shot to death and a Kansas abortion doctor was wounded in a shooting.
On the other side, the husband of a woman leaving a Louisiana abortion clinic fired on a protester.
In Spokane, the Brookline shooting prompted abortion rights groups to cancel their annual march, set to start today at the Federal Building. Instead, supporters will gather at a church, hold a candlelight convocation and call for a moratorium on picketing in front of the Planned Parenthood clinics.
“We wanted to make sure that the people participating would be safe,” said Sandra Meicher, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Spokane and Whitman counties. “We did want to minimize the possibility of confrontation.”
Anti-abortion groups in Spokane didn’t change their plans. They will march from Deaconess Hospital to a Federal Building rally.
In Yakima, the Women’s Choice Clinic canceled its march and rally because of the Brookline killings, and Yakima Human Life changed its parade route to avoid the clinic by a block. The group traditionally marches past the clinic.
The violence “is awful,” said Penny Cavin, the parade coordinator for Yakima Human Life. “There’s no excuse for it. They’re hurting us. A few weird wackos are hurting us, what we’ve done for 20 years quietly in the Legislature. Murder is wrong.”
Despite the pleas of Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups, the pickets and praying outside the clinic most likely will not stop in Spokane. Nor will the “sidewalk counseling,” where abortion opponents try to counsel women and men about abortion alternatives.
“The issue is just to try to get information to people, any way we can,” said Jim Anderson, director of Lifeline Ministries and representative from the Greater Spokane Evangelical Association. “One way is to be right at the clinic. It’s our right to do that. That’s what America is all about. What we are sharing is a threat, too. That’s why they want to silence us so much.”
He said peaceful protests and marches were at the heart of the non-violent anti-abortion movement.
If those are stopped by judicial rulings and new laws, it could create a vacuum, opening the way for violent extremists who might proclaim themselves as leaders of the anti-abortion movement, Anderson said.
“When those First Amendment rights are cut off, it sets up a real volatile situation,” he said.
Meicher said protesters intimidate patients and staff.
“To me they are inviting conflict by doing this,” Meicher said. “They are creating a situation where violence could happen.”
Nobody has been shot and killed in the Pacific Northwest, but a doctor in Vancouver, British Columbia, was seriously wounded in November by bullets from an AK-47.
Several Northwest clinics have been arson targets.
The Feminist Women’s Health Center in Everett was set on fire three times in late 1983 and early 1984.
“It was the worst year of my life,” said Beverly Whipple, executive director of the center, which operated the Everett clinic and still operates clinics in Yakima and Renton. “It wasn’t just the fires. The clinic was under siege from every angle.”
After being open for nine months, the Everett clinic closed.
The Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula stopped providing abortions after its building was burned down in March 1993. It’s now being rebuilt.
The Intermountain Planned Parenthood clinic in Helena was hit by arson and a chemical attack in early 1992. The clinic never stopped providing abortions, despite the attacks and other threats.
“This year we’ve had large hunting bullets sent to us with our names printed on them with death threats,” said Devon Hartman, manager of the Helena clinic.
The number of abortions in Washington state has increased slightly since 1978, but the ratio of abortions per 1,000 live births has decreased since its high in 1978. In 1993, there were 27,613 abortions in the state, and 2,365 of those were in Spokane County.
In Idaho, 2,107 abortions were performed in 1978. The state Department of Health and Welfare expects slightly more than 1,000 abortions to be reported for 1994. The ratio of abortions per 1,000 live births has dropped dramatically as well.
That doesn’t mean that the number of Idaho residents getting abortions has dropped. In 1993, 712 Idaho women left the state for abortions, and 530 of them went to Washington.
That’s probably because of availability, said Jan Wick, a statistician for the Idaho department.
Most doctors in rural Idaho do not perform abortions, according to a study reported by the Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho Rural Health Research Center at the University of Washington.
About 82 percent of the 138 doctors responding to a survey last summer said they were morally opposed to abortion, and 77 percent said their communities were opposed.
“The burdens are becoming greater (for doctors), not less,” said Roger Rosenblatt, co-principal investigator for the UW research center. “This is a very, very difficult issue. I don’t think it’s a surprise that the majority choose not to provide abortion.”
Gilpatrick said he respects the rights of abortion protesters. He’s seen his share. His first major encounter was in the 1970s, as he drove his car to an oft-picketed clinic where he performed abortions once a week.
“One of the protesters dropped his sign and lay down in front of my car,” he said. He went with the protester to see the film “Silent Scream,” which shows an abortion.
Before abortion was legal, Gilpatrick worked to help place babies of unwed mothers. At one point, he even testified against a doctor who performed an illegal abortion.
So did Dr. Earnest “Bud” Movius, a Wenatchee doctor who provided abortions until he retired in 1984. He sent women to Japan and to Oregon for abortions until Washington’s abortion law was relaxed.
Movius said he was never threatened because of his profession, although his two partners stopped providing abortions after he retired.
“I never was called a murderer,” he said. “I never was threatened with extinction or distinction or whatever.”
Gilpatrick said he has always been careful. He said he checks parking lots before he enters them. If he ever saw anything suspicious, he’d keep driving. He’s never had to.
“So far, Spokane has been very civil,” he said, pausing for a second. “Somebody spray-painted ‘murder’ on the street in front of my house once. But the traffic wore it out pretty quickly.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: Rallies today Anti-abortion march. The Greater Spokane Evangelical Association, Lifeline Ministries, Right to Life and supporters will meet at 2 p.m. today at Deaconess Medical Center for their antiabortion march. They will walk around Deaconess and then head to the Federal Building for a short rally. Candlelight convocation. Nine abortion rights groups are sponsoring a candlelight convocation for peace at the “Light the Way to Choice” rally. Supporters will meet at 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, N1620 Monroe, and call for a stop to picketing.
This sidebar appeared with story: Rallies today Anti-abortion march. The Greater Spokane Evangelical Association, Lifeline Ministries, Right to Life and supporters will meet at 2 p.m. today at Deaconess Medical Center for their antiabortion march. They will walk around Deaconess and then head to the Federal Building for a short rally. Candlelight convocation. Nine abortion rights groups are sponsoring a candlelight convocation for peace at the “Light the Way to Choice” rally. Supporters will meet at 4 p.m. at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, N1620 Monroe, and call for a stop to picketing.