October 26 was the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. This Day, initiated by Refuse & Resist! as part of the October Month of Resistance, marked something new in the pro-choice movement: hundreds of activists around the country, supported by major pro-choice groups, came together to honor abortion providers. As the RW said, "This is a day, so urgently needed--but it's never been done before. It concentrates a lot about the struggle for women's reproductive rights--bridging the gap between providers and activists, helping to unify providers, and rallying people from all walks of life to stand in solidarity with those who are literally putting their lives on the line every day so that women have the right to choose."
The Day was kicked off with a press conference/rally on October 14 in Washington, DC. The gathering expressed the new kind of unity built for the Day: providers and providers' organizations, pro-choice organizations, and clinic escorts and defenders putting a positive focus on providers. On October 26, receptions honoring abortion providers were held in Melbourne, FL, Chicago, San Francisco, and Cherry Hill, NJ. The RW also received reports of the Day being observed in many other cities, including Indianapolis, IN; Lawrence, KS; Wichita, KS; Boston, MA; Baltimore, MD; Bronx, NY; New York City; Queens, NY; Cleveland, OH; and Dayton, OH. In many of these cities, groups of activists and individuals sent cards, flowers, and other expressions of appreciation to clinics. A clinic director in Indianapolis said: "I'm overwhelmed by all these wonderful responses to the Appreciation Day! At the clinic where I work we received a plant and suitable-for-framing card from Indiana NOW. We also had a delivery from a group of escorts from Earlham College which is about two hours away. They brought a HUGE card with over 100 signatures from their Students for Choice group, as well as a flowering plant." In Queens, New York, 10 people visited Choice Medical Center, one of the largest abortion clinics in the country. Doctors and staff were presented with a poster-size card signed by 60 people from the Night of Lyric Resistance in NYC, the Reg E. Gaines poem, and statements from national groups written to thank abortion providers. Many of the people who participated in all these events expressed that this day was long "overdue" and that it's important to continue to find ways to support and defend abortion providers.
The Day was endorsed by major professional abortion provider organizations and sponsored by most of the national pro-choice groups. Supporting groups included: American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, Catholics for a Free Choice, The Feminist Majority, Medical Students for Choice, MS Foundation for Women, National Center for the Pro Choice Majoirty, National Organization for Women (NOW), Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Third Wave, and Voters for Choice. The following are some highlights from the October 26, 1996 National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers:
Thursday, October 24, an opening rally and press event was held in the waiting room of the Capitol Women's Clinic in downtown Washington, DC. June Barrett, whose husband James Barrett was killed with Dr. John Britton in Pensacola in 1994, gave a moving statement. Ann Thompson Cook, Executive Director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, spoke of the compassionate care given to women by abortion providers. Vicki Saporta, Executive Director of the National Abortion Federation, read a "thank you letter" from a woman who had an abortion at a clinic in Shreveport, LA. Mary Lou Greenberg, representing Refuse & Resist! MCed the event and read the poem, "Who's Right"--written by Reg E. Gaines for the Day. Mary Lou cited the work as an example of the new kind of alliances called for in R&R!'s Call to Make October a Month of Resistance. A taped statement by Cher honoring abortion providers was played. Wayne Codding, Director of the Capitol Women's Clinic, spoke about the vicious harassment that providers face. And members of the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force presented flowers and a card to Wayne and his staff.
Flowers and a card were presented to the staff at Pregnancy Consultation Clinic, the only clinic in SF regularly picketed by antis. At a press conference, Denise Renfro, an associate producer of the Dorothy Fadiman film The Fragile Promise of Choice, presented an award to Kitty Centrell of the Redding Feminist Women's Health Center. BACORR presented an award to Women's Choice clinic. Brenda Cummings with ACCESS reported that an award had been presented to the staff of the Family Planning Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital. The awards were handmade pink paper maché fists on a purple background shaped like the symbol for woman, with a fist holding a gold speculum.
About 50 to 60 people attended an evening award ceremony. Brenda Cummings accepted on behalf of the staff of SF General Hospital Family Planning Clinic. She pointed out how this clinic has a Spanish-speaking staff and takes women with complications, late-term pregnancies, or on Medi-Cal. Leona Benten--who was arrested in 1991 for first bringing RU486 into this country--presented an award to the Women's Choice Clinic of Oakland. Women's Choice is one of four clinics in the U.S. to provide RU486. Linci Comy, who accepted the award, said, "In honoring Women's Choice Clinic you are honoring the spirit and leading edge of change." Brenda Cummings also accepted an award for Kitty Cantrell and Carol Calvert of the Redding Feminist Women's Health Center. The Redding Clinic has been burned four times, the doctor there has received death threats, they have been blockaded by Operation Rescue, and the staff has been stalked by antis. Two escorts were also recognized, representing escorts everywhere who are on the frontlines in getting women, doctors, and staff into clinics. Music for the event was provided by a klezmer band duo, Jackie with the Hail Marys and DJ Zahn. A wonderful dinner was donated and served by Food Not Bombs.
In Melbourne, Florida, an awards ceremony/press event was held at the Aware Woman Center for Choice to honor the staff and clinic owner, Patricia Baird Windle. This clinic was the site of the 1993 first national "Impact Training" school by Operation Rescue in intensive harassment of clinics. Anti-abortionists still own property surrounding the clinic and paid antis harass patients every day. A reception was also held at the Melbourne Beach Hilton honoring Florida providers. Speakers included people from the South Brevard Chapter of National Organization for Women, the Humanists of Indian River, Edwin Wilson Chapter, the Social Action Committee of the Friendship Fellowship at Pineda and Refuse & Resist! There were speeches, toasts and stories of the heroism of Florida providers. These events were filmed for a documentary on abortion by Tony Kaye Films in California.
About 50 people attended a reception for providers at the Heartland Cafe. Notorious anti-abortion leader Joseph Scheidler and about 15 antis set up a picket line outside the restaurant. After one of the antis' hideous 6'x8' "fetus" signs was ripped up, the Chicago police came into the cafe and handcuffed and arrested a member of R&R! on charges of "criminal destruction of property."
Sponsors of the event were Chicago Refuse & Resist!, the Chicago Abortion Fund, Dr. Quentin Young, Chicago NOW, Illinois NOW and DuPage County NOW, Voices for Choice from Downers Grove, Illinois NARAL, the Northwestern University Women's Center, the ACLU, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Women's Action Coalition.
One of the speakers to honor abortion providers was Quentin Young, who has a show on NPR. He talked about the days before Roe v. Wade when he worked in the septic abortion ward at Cook County Hospital and saw hundreds of women severely maimed by back-alley butchers. Cliff Kelly, radio host on two local Black radio stations (WVON and WGCI), presented a thank-you plaque and yellow roses to a provider from Planned Parenthood. A provider from the suburb of Aurora was also honored. And Betty Hottcolm, from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice spoke about the dedication of providers. The Heartland Cafe provided food and two big "thank you" cakes. Several people who came to the event joined R&R! on the spot.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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