from Body Politic

Mary Lou Greenberg:
A Day of Appreciation,
A Day to Break the Siege

Women are not incubators Fetuses are not children Abortion is not murder Without the ability to control whether or not she has children, a woman cannot fully and equally participate in society. Whether women are to be free or enslaved is the issue in this battle.


The Revolutionary Worker would like to thank Body Politic, a monthy pro-choice news report, for permission to reprint excerpts from a recent interview with Mary Lou Greenberg--on the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers and the history of R&R!'s involvement in the fight for women's right to abortion.

Mary Lou Greenberg is a spokesperson for the Revolutionary Communist Party, New York branch, and she has been active in the revolutionary movement since the 1960s.

As an at-large member of the National Council of Refuse & Resist! Mary Lou has concentrated on fighting for reproductive rights for women, which she considers one of the key social questions in any society. "What is the role of women? Will women be treated as property? Will they be controlled by the State, the Church, men? Will their primary function be bearers of children?"

During this October Month of Resistance, Refuse & Resist! has joined with people from all around the country to sponsor the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers on October 26. In the October/November issue of Body Politic, Mary Lou described how R&R! first confronted the antis of Operation Rescue:

MLG: At that point I was in New York City. Operation Rescue (OR) came on the scene shortly after Refuse & Resist! was in its formative stages. When we first heard about them, they had attacked a clinic in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Then they announced they were coming to New York for a major national hit. R&R! believed if OR was going to make a national hit, there had to be a national resistance, so we put out the call to come to New York to help.

We then began to work with the New York Pro-Choice Coalition. At one of the first meetings people were discussing, "What can be done? Who can we rely on to help us?" (The same discussions that go on today.) Some didn't believe we could defeat them by ourselves. They felt we had to get the police on our side. I and several others suggested that our greatest strength was mobilizing the pro-choice community. Some agreed--others didn't.

The decision was made to name the week Operation Rescue was coming, Reproductive Freedom Week. R&R! announced a major march at the beginning of the week and called for people to join. Remember, this was before OR and also the pro-choice community had each developed their tactics. We worked with all kinds of groups. The local NOW affiliate gave us their office which we used as command central. OR was routinely tracked. We met where they met and followed them on the subways. When they got to where they intended to blockade, we raced them to the doors of the clinic. This was the beginning of the development of cohesive clinic defense strategy. Eventually we learned that blocking a clinic door with pro-choice people was counterproductive but we did what we could to prevent them from closing the doors. There was a lot of hand-to-hand tussling in the early days.

A key question was, how do we stop them? Then, as well as today, often the police looked the other way or refused to do anything that would deter the antis.

Q: This was your first encounter with OR, but you've had others since then.

MLG: I have done clinic defense in other cities, but for me, Buffalo in 1992 marked a real turning point as far as the pro-choice community's ability to deal with these tactics. It was after the disastrous summer in Wichita when people did not call for a national mobilization to protect the clinics. This was a huge mistake.

In Buffalo, people had learned the lesson and put out a call across the country to come help. Refuse & Resist! helped mobilize. There were even some people from Hawai'i who came to help. This was a fine example of different groups working together quite well to put on a massive show illustrating that we weren't going to tolerate this kind of attack any more.

Another part of the Buffalo defense was Refuse & Resist! took their tactics to the other side. We had demonstrations at the churches OR was using for their meetings. R&R! also called a demonstration in front of the house of the Buffalo mayor who had actually invited OR into his city.

Q: The long-departed Mayor Griffin.

MLG: The Buffalo people told us that no one had ever done a demonstration at the mayor's home, and we risked attack. Well, we did it. R&R! was actually a little late getting on the scene and when we arrived there must have been 100 people there, some from his neighborhood. They were thrilled there was an opportunity to come out and show their intense dissatisfaction with what he'd done.

R&R! read a proclamation denouncing him for his actions against women. Everyone there signed a proclamation and we demanded that he come out of his house and take it. We refused to leave until the mayor came out and took the proclamation. I view this as a wonderful example of people taking the political offensive.

Q: The OR of today is not the OR of 1992. What's your assessment of the current state of them as an organization or a mass movement?

MLG: Well, I can't talk about OR organizationally, but clearly they are still a player on the scene.... I think it's important to talk about the larger movement they are a part of. I don't think they've given up on any of their tactics, but we've seen a shifting of tactics and development of some groups within who are ready to carry out violent reactionary tactics--sort of like the night-riders of the KKK or the death- squads in El Salvador. These antis in the streets are being encouraged by rhetoric that calls abortion providers murderers.

We also need to look at the comments of national leaders like Bill Clinton whose rhetoric contributes to the problem. He speaks of abortion as an unfortunate topic. He also said abortion should be safe, legal and rare. My thought is, if abortion is absolutely necessary for women's lives and freedom, why should it be rare? It should be done as often as needed. To say abortion is unfortunate contributes to the climate that says abortion is wrong--that people who provide abortions are somehow outside the pale. This stigmatizes providers and makes women who want to limit their pregnancies feel guilty, ashamed and fearful.

My view is, if a woman, for whatever reason, has decided to have an abortion, it's a fine reason. There are really no such thing as "selfish" reasons. If she wants to continue her education, or wants to limit her number of children, or have no children that's fine. It has to be up to her.

Q: Out of this view has come the National Day for Abortion Providers. What are some of the plans?

MLG: This idea developed out of discussions with activists, as well as providers. When we began to realize how isolated and stigmatized providers have felt, not only in the broader society, but also in the pro-choice community, we knew we wanted to do something. There have been a lot of pro-choice demonstrations and I've been part of them. I've done civil disobedience in the street, shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge and the Holland Tunnel.

But I don't think there has been enough attention focused on providers and what goes on at the clinics. That's really the front line of the battle. The other demonstrations are important and part of changing the climate, but if you forget about what happens day to day at the clinics, then we won't have the choice of abortion. Last year I was able to travel and visit a few providers in some southern cities. You know I've been very active on this issue, but to talk to providers and be outside of the clinics was an eye-opener. I talked to the activists whose children have been accosted and who have been stalked themselves. After this, R&R! began to look at what strategies would be needed to support providers. My feeling is, the pro-choice community has to find ways to step to the front lines with providers.

The Day of Appreciation is an important step in projecting and promoting a positive image of providers, through breaking down their isolation by developing and strengthening concrete support networks nationally and in their local communities. This day also helps build up our reliance on ourselves to support and defend providers--not thinking that someone else is doing it. We've had a lot of laws and legal remedies which have disarmed people--making them think the problem is solved. It also doesn't help that Clinton is viewed as a pro-choice president. People think that it's taken care of. Well, it isn't. It's up to us and grassroots organizing.

Q: There has been a lot of response to this day. What is planned locally and nationally?

MLG: There are two aspects to our plans. We want a lot of decentralized actions in cities across the country. So far we've had great publicity and some of the national organizations, such as NOW, have signed on. Our goal is to encourage people to do whatever they can in their local communities. For example, one group is soliciting people to come to the clinic with flowers, cards and gifts of appreciation. Later that evening they plan a surprise party.

Nationally R&R! will be providing an "award," that can be presented to providers. The Tony Award winning playwright, Reg E. Gaines, of Bring on da Noise, Bring on Da Funk, has written a poem that will be presented to providers and displayed on the wall. We think Reg's poem will be especially important because one of the things that R&R! is about is making new alliances. We want to break down barriers that exist between different kinds of struggles. It is all one attack that stems from the same reactionary source. We want to get some crossover going between different people.

For example Reg had his eyes opened to the plight of abortion providers when he performed at the Courageous Resisters Award ceremony at the R&R! conference this spring in New York City. Mr. Gaines heard Patricia Baird Windle speak and listened to the stories of some clinic defenders in South Carolina. He wrote a short poem on the spot that was dedicated to them. Developments like this are very important.

Q: R&R! has just helped providers pen a statement in support of Black churches that have been burned in the South.

MLG: Exactly. The providers signed a statement bringing out the similarities of their situation to the destruction of churches and how the federal government has responded to those arsons. Church members have undergone similar problems, with the government investigating them instead of outsiders, just as clinic staff were often investigated after an arson. This statement from providers is the type of action R&R! is trying to promote for the MONTH OF RESISTANCE.

Q: That's the main message: It's all one attack.

MLG: That's part of it. The other part is we have to make resisters on one front resisters overall. We have to build this movement of resistance. As our call says: "Whether we vote, or whether we don't. In big organizations or alone in small towns. As many and as one. We will not lie down for this. We say no to the politics of punishment, poverty, and injustice. We will reach into every corner of society. Break down the barriers. Stand with each other."