Clinic Violence on the Rise

by Jennifer Coburn

Every town has a few of them -- the anti-abortion extremists that frighten even the most fearless clinic defenders. They are the fanatics who regularly harass patients and staff at clinics, and gladly go to jail for it. For many, jail time is a badge of honor.

The threat of incarceration established by victories such as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and various state and local ordinances prevents many anti-abortion protesters from engaging in violent activity. But leaders of the anti-abortion movement do not seem to be deterred by spending time in jail.

Judging from his book Why Does a Nice Guy Like Me Keep Ending Up in Jail?, it appears that Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry likes the spotlight a jail cell provides. While defending himself against harassment charges OR's Southern California Director Jeff White bragged that he spends one of every eight days in jail.

Pursuing money damages from those who rack up jail time like frequent flier miles has been somewhat effective in stemming harassment and trespassing by anti-abortion leaders.

Deception a Common Strategy
In San Diego, anti-abortion activists Connie Youngkin and Deidre Holliday have gained notoriety for their anti- abortion activities. The two women, dressed in nurses uniforms, stood outside a physician's office as part of a clinic blockade. When a prenatal patient who was hemorrhaging arrived for an emergency appointment, she said she was stopped at the door by Youngkin and Holliday. Posing as clinic staff, Youngkin and Holliday allegedly told the woman she could not be seen by the doctor and would have to leave. The patient said that they then urged her to "not kill her baby."

Following a 30-minute delay -- while the patient tried to explain that she had not come to the clinic for an abortion but because of a medical emergency related to her pregnancy -- the patient miscarried. This patient's testimony was critical in passing San Diego's "bubble" ordinance, creating an eight-foot buffer zone between patients and protesters.

Physicians Fight Back
After several stints in jail, Connie Youngkin was sued by the physicians she regularly harassed. When her husband learned that their family home and mountain cabin were considered assets that could be seized to satisfy a judgement, he reportedly told Youngkin it was time to get a new hobby. She offered a public apology and has not engaged in similar activity since.

Monetary Awards Key to Stopping Violence
A San Diego jury recently ordered Operation Rescue and one of its directors to pay $880,00 in punitive and compensatory damages to four physicians and WomanCare clinic. OR leader Jeff White and other members of the group were shown to have repeatedly harassed clinic staff and patients and trespassed on clinic property. White had engaged in the protests to, in his words, "test" the bubble ordinance.

Strong criminal penalties and large fines are key tools in the struggle to end anti-abortion violence. With 1,700 acts of violence against family planning clinics and staff between 1977 and 1994, it is important that anti-abortion terrorists know that if they do the crime they will do the time and pay the fine.

Jennifer Coburn is president of San Diego NOW.

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