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the Body Politic
Vol. 02, No. 05 - May 1992, Page 13
Copyright © 1992, 1999 by the Body Politic Inc.

Spring of Life - Leaks

By Anne Bower

For the last four years, men have been skulking around America stalking women's health care facilities and planning attacks which are carried out by zealots from all over the nation. In January, the city of Buffalo and its 5 abortion providers were the latest target of this national conspiracy of terror and harassment called Operation Rescue. The assault, named the "Spring of Life" had as its goal closing two clinics and generating thousands of arrests. It failed!

Why? Why didn't Buffalo go down like Wichita? Buffalo has an anti-choice mayor who actually invited OR to his city to "save babies". Wichita had an anti-choice mayor, but he didn't ask for the invasion. Buffalo has a very active anti-choice community headed by twin ministers of a large suburban congregation. The Wichita anti-choice community isn't as large and never was as active. The city of Buffalo, according to the OR brochure, is within driving distance of 50% of the U.S. population. Wichita is in the middle of tens of thousands of sparsely inhabited land. Logically, Buffalo should have gone and gone down hard. But it didn't. OR lost and lost badly. Why?

There were three major elements that kept Buffalo from becoming another Wichita. First, the Buffalo pro-choice community has been organized since 1988, the year OR, in the guise of Project Rescue, began blockading clinics. Readers of the Body Politic may remember that the Pro-Choice Network (PCN) of Western New York, was the organization Spotlight for the first issue of the BP in January 1991. Those early blockades really activated the community at many levels. Their work spread into the legal system and political activism. In consequence, OR was stepping into a pro-choice community with its consciousness and activism soundly raised.

This level of pro-choice community action expressed itself in the second element that defeated OR. When the great communicator, Randall Terry, announced that Buffalo was ground zero for another OR attack, community outrage was turned into a battle plan of determined clinic defense and BUC was formed - Buffalo United for Choice.

Groups from New York and across America began meeting with the express purpose that no clinic would be closed to women during the OR invasion. Diane Mathiowetz, an auto worker recently relocated to Buffalo, was an example of the type of volunteer who came to the city's aid. Diane had lived in Atlanta when OR disrupted that city during the 1988 Democratic Convention. She saw what damage OR caused in Atlanta and vowed to help stop the same destruction in her new hometown.

The strategy was for grassroots, ordinary citizens to show up every day and defend with their bodies, the clinics entrances. The system set up was hammered out through a meeting of minds of skilled and novice activists. N.O.W. and the Feminist Majority shaped the defense. Middle aged and senior citizens worked side by side with college students - men and women. The local YWCA donated needed office space.

For years, OR has used military-style tactics in planned clinic attacks orchestrated by commanders in constant communication by walkie-talkie or radio. In Buffalo, OR ran up against BUC's coordinated organized defense.

Ms. Mathiowetz explained in an interview that each clinic site had been evaluated to determine what would be needed for defense. Volunteers were trained as Peace Keepers, Quadrant Leaders, and Site Coordinators, all kept in communication by a central command post. Escorts who were responsible for getting patients into the clinics were trained by Wendy McKenzie of the PCN.

BUC also arranged housing for out of town volunteers, threw fundraisers to help with expenses, held clinic defense training, staffed the office and did press conferences. All of this system was run by hundreds of volunteers who vowed to respond quickly to calls for help. People arose at 4 AM every day to take their place at the doors of each clinic site. At the clinic, the defenders were trained in how to form and maintain lines and how to support each other during OR attacks.

The system worked. No clinic was closed due to OR blockades. It is true that the police made a show of force - at least during the first few days while hundreds of thousands of dollars of TV and radio equipment lined Main St. and national reporters interviewed everyone and everything.

However, after the first excitement, the Buffalo police and the Sheriff's Department which was called in as backup, became much less evident. That's when the tactical situations became muddier and the confrontations more dangerous. Pro and anti- choice forces began mingling by Thursday of the first week, creating a much more volatile situation. But OR leaders seemed bemused by the show of force. Perhaps Mr. Terry had sold them a bill of goods and the goods were damaged. Buffalo wasn't the easy prey he had made it out to be.

Hundreds of OR supporters and zealots did arrive from all over the county. There were prayer rallies each night with at least 1,000 in attendance. But when the leaders asked how many were willing to be arrested the next day, only a few score raised their hands. The largest single day of arrests occurred in Amherst on Wednesday 22nd. (see eyewitness account on page 24). After that blowout, the number of arrests ranged from 55 to 120 or so, with total arrests of 615, no where near the 2,600 racked up in Wichita.

Perhaps what cooled some of the zealots' ardor was the third component of the Buffalo success story - judicial outrage. For months, the Body Politic has followed the story of the PCN's battle to get a federal judge's Temporary Restraining Order turned into a Preliminary Injunction. After 19 months of court appearances, trials, brief writing, and hearings, Judge Arcara gave the PCN a Valentine's Day present this year. (see Body Politic March 1992)

After some of the named defendants in the PCN action were witnessed orchestrating and participating in clinic blockades, the PCN lawyers went to Judge Arcara with affidavits asking for these men to be arraigned on contempt charges. On Tuesday, April 28, three of the five defendants stood in front of the judge to answer to criminal contempt charges.

Judge Arcara, who has exhibited seemingly limitless patience through months of OR testifying, posturing, and courtroom antics, had finally lost it. Without ever raising his voice, the judge exuded an astonishing amount of judicial outrage. It was his decision to bring the defendants up on criminal, not civil contempt. His direct judicial order, had been flagrantly discounted and dismissed by these leaders.

Each day, Federal Marshals had arrived at each clinic site and read the Judge's order. Any who chose to listen could hear. However, the Judge's rules were treated with the same contempt OR uses for any law of civilized society that does not fit their proscribed religious beliefs. God's Law Is Higher Than Man's Law. Randall Terry speaks as if he has a direct walkie-talkie to the creator.

But, on Tuesday the 28th, God was strangely silent while a mere mortal, Judge Arcara had his say. The three defendants, Joe Slovenec of Ohio, Bill Anderson of Oregon, and Jeff White of California were arraigned on criminal contempt with cash bail of $3,000-5,000 set over protestations of poverty from all the defendants' lawyers. The judge refused all whining. He said these men had criminal records and no ties to the community. Rules of bail permitted him to set these conditions. The cases were turned over to the U.S. Attorney for review and trial is scheduled for June 2nd.

(Excerpts of the arraignment will be published in a future Body Politic).

For the next few days, clinic protest were at a stand still. A few days of praying and fasting ensued then protests picked up for the last scheduled days of the "Spring of Life". But the numbers were just not there. The BUC defense lines were also thinned, but they were enough - they held.

The determination of the pro-choice community, the organization of the clinic defenders, and the grinding months of education of a federal judge, had worked together to stymie OR.

The aftermath of these two weeks in hell is still unfolding. Buffalo area taxpayers have been presented with a bill for about $500,000 from this traveling sideshow. Dozens of defendants who refuse to give their name are still incarcerated in an old armory. Local and federal trials remain to be prosecuted. Mayor Griffin is up for reelection in 1993.

But for the pro-choice community, the big question should be - what now? The energy, commitment, and determination exhibited in Buffalo was very powerful. Can that energy be re-directed to years of escorting, lobbying, political campaign work, and even envelope stuffing?

Supreme Court rulings in Casey and Bray could destroy the right to abortion for most women and prevent other federal judges from protecting abortion providers. Will the pro-choice community respond with similar vigor to the more subtle, but more deadly Supreme Court?

Operation Rescue could not close the Buffalo clinics. The Supreme Court can.

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