NOW Mobilizes in Wake of Deadly Clinic Bombing

demonstration in Birmingham
Local and national NOW activists responded to the bombing at a Birmingham, Ala., clinic. A demonstration was held to remember the off-duty police officer who was killed and support the many women who are threatened by clinic violence. Speaking is Honey Gilmore-Goodall of the Birmingham Clinic Defense Team

by Mira Weinstein, Press Secretary and Lauren Clark, Press Intern

NOW members are mobilizing in the wake of the Birmingham, Ala., clinic bombing. Just one week after the Roe v. Wade anniversary, on Thursday Jan. 29 at 7:33 a.m., a bomb went off at the New Woman, All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham. The homemade bomb killed a clinic security employee, off-duty police officer Robert D. "Sandy" Sanderson, and severely injured nurse Emily Lyons.

Initially, law enforcement officials were concerned that the two-bomb scenario, used in the January 1997 attack on an Atlanta clinic, would be repeated. Investigators have linked the Birmingham and Atlanta clinic bombings with the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and the bombing of a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta.

In response to this act of violence, NOW activists swung into action. National Action Center Field Director Loretta Kane and Special Projects Coordinator Elizabeth McGee immediately flew to Birmingham to lend assistance to local activists mobilizing the abortion rights community. Alabama NOW and other coalition partners organized a vigil two days after the bombing. The event included a "speak-out" during which audience members stood up to voice their opinions. Participants raised over $300 for Sanderson s family.

Kim Adams, Alabama NOW president, said, "There is a pulling together; it is unfortunate that it takes something this tragic to do it."

Last year anti-abortion terrorism soared. Since January 1997, there have been 15 women's health clinic bombings or arsons.

Local NOW chapters are working hard on both strengthening the escort team and lobbying against anti-abortion legislation. The number of escorts at the clinic has doubled, and the attack has raised awareness about the continuing threat of clinic violence.

"It made people realize that it is terrorism against women," said Martha Crownover, Tuscaloosa NOW president, "and we need to do something to stop it."

Emergency Clinic Violence Forum Called at Summit

In addition to efforts in Birmingham, participants at the Women of Color and Allies Summit held an Emergency Clinic Violence Forum. Presenters included Kane and McGee of NOW, Communications Director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Belle Taylor-McGhee and Director of National Programs at the Feminist Majority Alice Cohan. The session produced concrete ideas for action to end the violence at these medical centers. Suggestions ranged from sending letters and messages of support to the New Woman, All Women Center to holding elected officials accountable for creating a climate in which anti-abortion forces feel justified in perpetrating this violence. Other ideas included increasing clinic defense and escort services, as Birmingham volunteers have done.

NOW v. Scheidler

Not only are NOW activists involved in ensuring safe access to abortion by direct action at the clinics, but our education and litigation arm, the NOW Foundation, also achieved a victory in its decade-long lawsuit against anti-abortion terrorists. NOW v. Scheidler charges many of the anti-abortion terrorists with a nationwide network of violence designed to prevent women from exercising their right to abortion. Before reaching the courtroom, Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue and one of the defendants in NOW v. Scheidler, folded his tent and agreed to the issuance of a permanent injunction against him. The agreement provides that if Terry engages in any clinic blockades or other terrorist tactics, the lawsuit against him will be reinstated and he will be fined $15,000 for each incident on top of any damages awarded.

"This injunction will remove the godfather of the 'Rescue Racket' from the streets," said NOW Foundation President Patricia Ireland. NOW Foundation's use of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute in this case is a landmark application of the law. As this issue went to press, the trial against the remaining defendents was beginning in a Chicago federal court.

"The events in Birmingham remind us that our struggle for abortion rights continues. The promise of Roe v. Wade is hollow for the many, many women who face violence and intimidation at the clinics," said Ireland. 

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