Clinic relieved that no violence followed execution
It was a normal Friday at the Presidential Women's Center in West Palm Beach. A day for follow-up appointments, consultations, HIV tests -- but, as customary, no surgeries.
Two days after the execution of Paul Hill, whose intense opposition to abortion led to double murder, there were no signs of heightened threat, said Mona Reis, director of the county's oldest clinic openly providing abortions.
This was a relief because Hill had given a calm and chilling last statement Wednesday. Strapped to a gurney, he advocated more acts like his own when, in 1994, he killed a Pensacola doctor and his security escort with a shotgun.
Yet a normal day at the Presidential Women's Center is not like a normal day everywhere else. It is a day under siege.
"We are very well-versed in security measures," Reis says dryly. She's run the clinic for all of its 23 years. She's weathered prayerful protestors, Operation Rescue's illegal blockades, hate mail, bomb threats.
It is legal to get an abortion in America -- still. President Bush hasn't yet got his chance to appoint Supreme Court justices who want to overturn the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.
But, for many women, it's a right not easily exercised. Abortion providers are lacking in 87 percent of U.S. counties, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health issues.
And there's a dearth of practitioners, says the National Abortion Federation.
You can't blame doctors or med students for avoiding a specialty that requires them to go around with bodyguards or wear a bulletproof vest.
Since 1993, zealots have killed four doctors, including Hill's victim, Dr. John Britton.
So says an anti-abortion Web site that lists names and addresses of "baby butchers" and crosses out the names of doctors who are murdered. It's like they're saying "mission accomplished."
"People in the trenches are going through an absolute nightmare," says Barry Silver, a Boca Raton attorney who frequently has represented pro-choice causes. For doing that, he's had hate mail, threatening phone calls, "letters dripping in red ink, like blood, saying, `You're going to be next.'"
"This is domestic terrorism," Reis says. "And, though they represent a very small part of the anti-abortion movement, they are the most dangerous."
Just like Mohammad Atta and the other Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who looked forward to an afterlife romp with 70 virgins for killing thousands on 9-11, a soon-to-die Hill declared, "I expect a great reward in heaven."
His parting words included an invitation to imitators: "If you believe abortion is a lethal force, you should oppose the force and do what you have to do to stop it."
Executing Hill was unfortunate. Better to have condemned him to the obscurity of life in prison, instead of giving him a big round of publicity and possibly provoking more violence.
The death penalty in this case may satisfy the ancient code, an eye for an eye. But it's far from a deterrent. Not when the rituals of the death chamber provide a national soapbox for a fanatic who thinks God smiles on his brand of murder.
Yes, Americans are divided over abortion. Even supporters of women's choice are often troubled over the taking of budding life. But most people think abortion should be legal, favoring Roe vs. Wade by 55 percent to 40 percent, according to a Time/CNN poll.
Whether it's legal or not, women will continue to seek abortions, just as they always have. But the 1.3 million U.S. women who get abortions each year are surely grateful they can get professional care in a clinic or hospital, instead of a hack job in a back alley.
The violent fringe doesn't care that opinion is against them.
They don't care to wait for the laws to turn their way.
"What this group is trying to do is, they're trying to put tremendous fear in us," says Reis.
Here's to the bravery of people like Reis -- and the doctors, nurses, aides and others who keep on working for women in distress, despite the hatreds of true believers like Paul Hill.
Howard Goodman's column is published Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-243-6638.
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