Revolution Online Edition, September 14, 2009
Report from the Fight to Defend Abortion Doctor LeRoy Carhart and His Clinic
We received the following correspondence from readers in Chicago who went to Nebraska to defend abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart and his clinic.
During a recent conversation with a revolutionary-minded woman about abortion, she said, "Oh, I'm not worried. Abortion rights aren't going anywhere. The majority of people in this country are pro-choice, laws are being passed...it's really not a concern..." How many people have been holding onto such illusions? And then Dr. Tiller was murdered. A clinic defender was seriously assaulted by an anti-abortionist in Akron, Ohio. Attacks began escalating around the country. That same woman finally admitted: "I was way off on that, I need to seriously re-think this whole thing. People are dying and risking their lives for abortion rights, that is the reality..."
In the wake of the assassination of courageous abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church on May 31, anti-women forces have now declared Dr. LeRoy Carhart "target number one." Operation Rescue and several other anti-abortion organizations called for a mobilization on August 28-29 to shut down Dr. Carhart's Abortion & Contraception Clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska. In just three weeks—mainly at the initiative of Kansas NOW, people in Wichita who knew Dr. Tiller, Erin Sullivan of Nebraska NOW, other NOW chapters, and World Can't Wait organizers—over 100 women and men traveled from 16 states to defend Dr. Carhart, his clinic, patients and staff from these patriarchal misogynists who want to keep women enslaved and subservient. Those who came to support and defend the clinic outnumbered the reactionary anti-women protesters by more than 2 to 1, in one of the largest national pro-choice clinic defense mobilizations in years. A group of revolutionaries and supporters from Revolution Books in Chicago and Cleveland went to Nebraska to defend the clinic and take out the statement "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have."
When we arrived at the clinic for the first time on Friday morning, we gathered at the corner of the clinic facing a well-trafficked street and across from a fake "counseling clinic" set up by the anti-'s. We set up a 5 foot tall poster with a picture of Dr. Tiller and a quote from the Statement:
"The days when this system can just keep on doing what it does to people, here and all over the world…when people are not inspired and organized to stand up against these outrages and to build up the strength to put an end to this madness…those days must be GONE. And they CAN be."
We then unfurled a huge banner that said "Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!" and included the Revolution masthead. Many of the clinic defenders and monitors loved it, encouraging us to display it where no one could miss it. Struggle broke out over the banner, however—not with the anti-'s, but with a few of the clinic defense organizers who said that it "isn't the message we want to convey" because it would "be too controversial in this area" and so, they said, we had to put the banner away. This wasn't an isolated opinion but reflects a view dominant among national pro-choice leadership, which accepts the premise of the Democratic Party that abortion is somehow morally undesirable and thus cedes the moral high ground to these fascists. We responded that refusing to boldly uphold women's right to abortion without apology is exactly what has contributed to the continuing climate of shame and persecution of women seeking abortions, and we were not going to take the banner down. One clinic defender expressed the thoughts of many, "Oh yes, it IS the message we want! Abortion is not a bad word!! That's why Dr. Carhart has his big, bold sign on the clinic: ABORTION AND CONTRACEPTION CLINIC OF NEBRASKA. And his life is in danger because he is unapologetic about it. That's the whole point!"
Dr. Carhart held a press conference inside the clinic Friday morning with leaders of several of the groups who came out to defend the clinic, such as Erin Sullivan (President of Nebraska NOW), Debra Sweet (National Director of World Can't Wait), Terry O'Neill (President of NOW), Katherine Spillar (Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation) and Emilie Ailits (Executive Director of NARAL Colorado). While local NOW groups in Nebraska, Kansas, DuPage County, Illinois, and elsewhere have been on the front lines and mobilized actively to come out and defend Dr. Carhart's clinic, it took struggle and a direct appeal from another abortion provider to move some of the established national pro-choice organizations to endorse the action and issue calls to come to Omaha. This too is something to build on.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution
Later Friday evening, we went out to a street corner on 50th St. and Underwood Ave. in Omaha to take out "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" statement, the "Declaration on Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity," along with the "Abortion On Demand And Without Apology" banner. We got on the mic and challenged people to stand up and defend Dr. Carhart's clinic, and put out the call from the statement—that this is not the best of all possible worlds, and we do not have to live this way. Several people who were really supportive of us didn't know that Dr. Carhart was being targeted Saturday and wanted to come out to the clinic to defend it. A couple that we met decided on the spot to come to our meeting that night and offered their home for people to spend the night. We got into an intense struggle with a group of youth who were vehemently against abortion and disrespected some of the women comrades. As we called them out on the mic for their reactionary stance and continued to challenge other people on the streets to stand up for women's liberation, one of the youths came up and agreed to have a rational discussion. So we struggled with him about abortion, how fundamentally it came down to women, and women's ability to choose what to do with their own bodies and be full participants in society. We struggled over whether a fetus was a baby, and got into the science of it. One of the folks we had just met jumped in and started debating with the youth. Then the other youth came over to listen and get into the debate. Some passers-by would stop and listen for a bit, then throw in a few questions or statements. We talked about the history of women's oppression, how it is rooted in patriarchal relations, how the debate about abortion is not really about "protecting life" but about subjugating and controlling women. And the youth began to change their understanding. They still didn't fully agree that fetuses aren't babies, but they came to see that this was fundamentally about women and whether they are able to control their own bodies and be full participants in society. We insisted that it was important for them to get a copy of the "Declaration For Women's Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity," and although they didn't have any money, one youth spent several minutes digging around in the seats of his car to find a dollar to buy the paper while we talked with the group about communism.
Members of the Unitarian Church where we stayed and others in the community worked 24/7 to feed and house those who came in from out of town, including one woman who was just in a car accident and broke her neck but was at the church every day helping people. Clinic defenders gathered each evening at the church, and the spirit of determination and resolve to strengthen the support for abortion providers and the movement to defend abortion rights was inspiring and profound. Several people who knew and worked with Dr. Tiller found great encouragement in the turnout, even as they continued to grieve his loss and knew the very real danger faced by Doctors Carhart, Susan Wicklund, and others who remain courageously devoted to providing abortion services to women. On Friday evening, a video of a talk by Dr. Susan Wicklund and Sunsara Taylor at an event sponsored by Revolution Books NYC spoke sharply about the life and death battle that is going on around the country. (If you don't know the extent of attacks going down now, check out the facts that were read to us by a woman who works at Dr. Carhart's clinic on the National Abortion Federation's website.)
Saturday was the main day for the anti-women group's mobilization, so we were out in force at the clinic by 5 am, lining the sidewalk in front of the clinic entrance. After holding the ground for several hours, the pigs came in and spray painted lines down the middle of the street and sidewalk, forcing all the clinic defenders to move away from the front of the clinic to give the area to the anti-'s—threatening to jail anyone who crossed over the lines. They then did the same thing on the street next to the clinic and its parking lot, forcing the clinic defenders to a small corner next to the driveway entrance and the back end of the parking lot. A large group of pigs in riot gear assembled at a school across the street from the clinic. And even though the entire street was blockaded by the pigs, they allowed the anti-'s to drive two of their trucks covered in gruesome images allegedly of bloody fetuses all the way down the blocked street to the edge of the parking lot. Clinic defenders had over 100 people there, and the pigs forced us out and gave nearly all of the sidewalk and streets surrounding the clinic to 50 anti-women protesters.
This was total bullshit, and shortly thereafter word came out from the clinic that Dr. Carhart had decided to let us come onto the clinic property to defend it. He donated dozens of blue t-shirts with the slogan "Trust Women" across the front and "This Clinic Stays Open" on the back, and we lined the edge of the clinic property with our backs to the anti-'s. Whenever they tried to shout at the patients coming into the clinic to try and shame them, we drowned them out with chants of "Welcome! Welcome! This Clinic Stays Open!" And we blocked their cameras as they tried to get pictures of the patients and their license plates to harass them.
Although the turnout of anti-abortionists at the clinic was paltry compared to what they had announced in advance, their presence was repulsive, menacing, and dangerous. Jennifer McCoy (who went by the name of Jennifer Patterson Sperle) was at the clinic on Saturday. She was previously sentenced to 30 months in prison for setting fire to abortion clinics in Virginia and has been visiting Dr. Tiller's murderer Scott Roeder in jail. Troy Newman of Operation Rescue bragged that an alleged patient of Dr. Carhart's clinic had been steered to their phony "counseling center" instead, and Newman tried to pass out sonograms of a fetus that they supposedly just "saved." A priest outside the fence surrounding the clinic property kicked one of the clinic defenders and some of our signs. Their usual huge bloody fetus pictures were everywhere. Some of the clinic defenders decorated a large SUV with pro-choice posters and banners right on the spot and drove it out into the blockaded street right in front of the anti-'s fetus porn trucks.
Meanwhile, Saturday was also the date of a military air show at Offutt Air Base, bordering Bellevue, and there was a steady stream of cars headed to that on nearby arterial. The contrast between Dr. Carhart's small struggling clinic, under siege by the reactionaries, and the billions of dollars of murderous military fire power on display above us could not have been more obscene, or more infuriating. What an upside down world, and what could WE do if we had state power?! People like Dr. Carhart and his courageous staff would have the backing and resources of proletarian power, and the science and resources that now go into imperialist firepower would be put to use transforming the world to emancipate humanity!
All day we also lined the main route to the air base with our banner proclaiming Dr. Carhart a hero, and messages like "women are not incubators" and "fetuses are not babies" and we got overwhelmingly positive responses from people driving by: lots of honks and fists waved in the air and thank yous, of course mixed in with "read your bible" and obscene gestures, but everyone was surprised by the overall positive tenor, including the locals.
"I HAD to come—because I'm a woman and I've had an abortion too."
We talked to many people who came out to defend the clinic. Brittany, a young Black woman, came from Chicago to defend Dr. Carhart and his clinic because, as she put it, "I HAD to come—because I'm a woman and I've had an abortion too. It's my voice and my choice!" She came with a whole group of young women who volunteer with a non-profit, Chicago Abortion Fund, that provides information on contraception and abortion primarily on the South Side of Chicago. Others with the Chicago Abortion Fund said they had seen some of the posters from Revolution that have appeared in the Englewood community in Chicago.
Bill, a lawyer who now teaches at a small private college in the Omaha area, said he had never been involved in clinic defense and doesn't know Dr. Carhart, but he too felt he had to come out this weekend. As a former prosecutor, he felt there was enough evidence to prosecute Operation Rescue in the murder of Dr. Tiller: "When you're telling people that someone ought to die and where to find them, that's aiding and abetting. I've seen people tried for a lot less." But, he added, "there's a different standard here, no doubt about it."
A woman clinic defender from Akron, Ohio, said she had gotten both the Statement and the Women's Declaration, and she loved the Declaration. She said she had read it three times and learned more each time about the depth and roots of traditional patriarchal relations, and the history of struggle in the women's movement; why it needs to be based on a revolutionary future. Of the statement on "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have," she said she had read it but needs to go back and look at each paragraph and think more about the content. She said, "If you think it's just talk, then your eyes start to glaze over when you read it, but when you realize that this is a SERIOUS call, that requires real attention. And it sounds good to read that Avakian is the leader we need, but I need to read up on him, because I just don't know about him yet."
Doug Paterson teaches theater of the oppressed at University of Nebraska, Omaha, and did clinic defense and escort work at two clinics that provided abortions in Omaha in the 1980s. Now there are none in the city. The doctors retired and there was no one to replace them. He recalled protesting at an anti-choice rally at a Catholic college in South Dakota just when Roe v. Wade came down, in the early 1970s. Doug knows and admires Dr. Carhart and was "staggered by the murder of Dr. Tiller." He felt it's important to come out publicly at this moment.
A clinic defender who was one of three who came from Louisville, Kentucky, said that they are now having to defend their abortion clinic every day, not just Saturday, because of the continual presence of the anti's, screaming at, harassing, and attempting to shame women who seek services at the only clinic in an area including at least three states.
One woman who holds a local office in a state out west had a lot of pointed questions about how you can keep leaders from going bad, but she thought it might be a good idea to take state power away from the imperialist class. The conversation was the kind we were hoping for; getting people to think way past the terms that are offered by this system. In spite of, or perhaps because of, her experience in public office, she agreed that elections boiled down to a choice between "competing elites," as Bob Avakian puts it, and that anyone who truly stands with the oppressed would either never get elected or wouldn't last long. She raised disagreements about saying publicly that we need more abortions because she felt that this would be easily twisted by the other side to mean that we are all about "killing babies." But putting the emphasis on women's need and right to abortion under any circumstances, in the context of women's liberation, gave meaning to the point that we have to be out front and unapologetic about the FACT that abortion services are miserably inaccessible and becoming dangerously close to being illegal once again.
Another woman came out to the protest who had gotten an abortion at Dr. Carhart's clinic some years ago. While standing outside in front of the clinic, she recognized one of the providers as the person who had performed her abortion. She waved for this person to come to the orange fence and thanked her for giving her back her life. She told one of the revolutionaries that this was so emotional for her as she said she had not told anyone, not even her best friend, about the abortion until now. She said she used to be one of the people who thought it was murder, because she was raised in a very insular community. People have to get out into the world and be exposed to the truth. This is another example of the guilt and shame heaped on getting an abortion. But when she heard that the clinic was under attack, she was compelled to be part of its defense.
An older woman who has worked with Iowa NOW got copies of Revolution and felt that it was really important to look at this struggle in light of the need for revolution. She said, "I have been involved in the pro-choice movement for 38 years, and yeah we've had some victories, but mainly, it's the same old fight, over and over again. Something has got to change!"
Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!
All but a handful of anti-'s were gone by noon on Saturday, but the clinic defenders stayed on to defend the clinic till it closed. World Can't Wait brought a large banner that read "Dr. Carhart Is A Hero," and at the end of the day people signed the banner to present it to Dr. Carhart. People vowed that they would be back to defend the clinic. We had a celebratory dinner and organizing meeting that night at the house of the couple we met on the street corner, and started to build a local core of people to take on the defense of the clinic. Some at the meeting had been reading our literature and digging into the question of the need for revolution and Bob Avakian's leadership, and want to get Revolution newspaper out in Omaha.
Even though this was a significant victory for those who stand on the side of women and against those who want women forced to be subservient breeders of children, Operation Rescue and many other Christian fascists forces still have Dr. Carhart in their crosshairs as "target number one." They want to end women's right to abortion and birth control—and they aren't going away. As long as this system of capitalism-imperialism remains, women will never be able to cast off the centuries of oppression that prevents them from being full participants in society.
There is an untapped well of anger that burns within women all over the planet.
Bringing this to the surface, unleashing this fury, and tempering it as a mighty force for an actual revolution...
Taking up the fight for women's liberation as an essential part of the emancipation of humanity as a whole...
Building powerful and uncompromising resistance to every assault on women today...
Modeling a whole different and emancipatory morality, rooted in the goal, and struggle, to uproot all forms of exploitation and oppression…
Digging into and taking up the radical and truly liberating science of communism, which has been advanced by this Party and its leader, Bob Avakian...
All this is the responsibility—and the opportunity—of everyone who craves a different world.
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