July 18, 1996 in Nation/World

Planned Parenthood Workers Frightened But Committed

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The bombing of a Planned Parenthood clinic in the Spokane Valley last Friday shattered more than concrete and glass.

It also blasted the emotions of the 55 men and women who work for the family planning agency in Spokane and Whitman counties.

Publicly, they are rallying to resume services next week in a temporary van parked at the bombed-out clinic at 20 S. Pines.

Privately, they’re in shock. The masked and armed bombers, who haven’t been apprehended or identified, are constantly on their minds.

“We’re upset and on guard, but we’re committed to keeping the clinic open,” said Pamela Place, education director.

Agency officials have met with federal agents on beefed-up security plans, which include new safeguards at the Spokane clinic on East Indiana.

On Wednesday, executive director Sandra Meicher brought in a counselor to deal with staff fears.

“Some people are in emotional shock. They won’t get over it soon. We may need some additional help,” Meicher said.

For more than a decade, Planned Parenthood workers have been on the front lines of clinic violence.

Since 1982, there have been 176 bombings and arsons at abortion and family planning clinics nationwide, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

In the Pacific Northwest, there have been 21 clinic arsons and bombings. The Spokane bombing is the second in Washington.

The abortion controversy “draws people with extreme beliefs, and a few of them break the law,” said Jim Provencher, spokesman for the ATF’s Seattle division.

Some 64 cases remain open, 79 are solved, and 33 are closed due to an expired statute of limitations on arson. There have been 50 arrests in connection with clinic violence, Provencher said.

Two years ago, threats turned to murder. A doctor and clinic escort were killed in Florida, and a young clinic worker was murdered in Massachusetts. The Rev. Paul Hill, convicted of the Florida killings, said murder was justified at abortion clinics.

The killings and the rhetoric have a chilling effect.

“We’ve had people not take jobs here because of fears of the right and the escalating violence,” Place said.

Place, a former teacher, said she can deal with the tensions. Her mother worked for Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, where bomb threats were commonplace.

But others can’t, and have quit the main Spokane clinic in recent months.

One former worker saw the faces of angry protesters while she was in the shower. She began to dream the clinic was bombed.

The tension drove most staff to become even more fiercely committed, said Lindy Cater, who recently resigned her Planned Parenthood fund-raising job to become executive director of the Girl Scouts.

“It’s a horrible thing to have to give your life over to fear. I refused to do that. But I was just doing fund raising; it was easier for me (to leave),” she said.

Spokane abortion protesters reject violence, said the Rev. Jim Anderson, director of Lifeline Ministries.

“There’s been a big split in the pro-life movement. Our track record has been clear. We are on the side of non-violence. Jesus says, love your enemies,” Anderson said.

Planned Parenthood officials suspect the bombing is linked to farright groups.

This year, the agency’s New York office launched a major research study to trace links between clinic violence, the growing militia movement, and far-right, Christian Identity beliefs.

One Christian Identity publication on the Internet attacks Planned Parenthood and calls the murder of abortion doctors “retroactive abortions.”

The publication has rallied support for Hill, saying he was justified in the Florida killings.

“Perhaps Hill…relied on the example of Phineas who saved Israel from the wrath of God by punishing those who broke His law!” says the Midpines, Calif., publication.

At a similar bombing of The Spokesman-Review’s Valley office earlier this year, literature with the Phineas Priesthood insignia was left at the scene. The racist organization has well-established roots in the Northwest.

No notes or pamphlets were left at Planned Parenthood last week.

It’s time for the Spokane community to speak out against the violence, Cater said.

“Abortion is a legal right. This was not an abortion clinic, and people have a right to have care. We need more than the staff of Planned Parenthood saying that,” Cater said.

Support for Spokane’s clinic workers is pouring in, Meicher said Wednesday. Supporters are organizing a silent vigil Friday to protest the bombing.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Northwest abortion clinic violence

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