Salvi Guilty But Clinics Still Under Fire


by Brooke Phillips, NOW Intern

 The same day a Massachusetts jury delivered the guilty verdict in the John Salvi murder trial, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review the constitutionality of so-called "bubble zones" around abortion clinics.

 The March 18 murder conviction of John C. Salvi III was a long-awaited and bittersweet victory for his victims' families and friends and abortion rights advocates. The multiple life sentences he received marked a beginning for healing, but the battle to end more physical and political attacks against abortion continues.

 The day after the verdict, Massachusetts NOW organized a "Rally and Remembrance," the latter held by candlelight. Despite short notice and cold weather, many activists showed support for Salvi's conviction and remembered the clinic receptionists he gunned down -- Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38.

 "Those who preach anti-abortion violence and discount women would like to silence us -- if not with legislative gag rules, then with bullets," said Massachusetts NOW President Cheryl Garrity. "But we will not be silenced. In memory of all those who have lost their lives, we pledge to continue to work for reproductive freedom for all women."

 Salvi opened fire at two women's health clinics in Brookline, Mass., Dec. 30, 1994, killing Lowney and Nichols and wounding five other people. He fled and was later arrested in Norfolk, Va., where he had fired shots into yet another women's clinic. No one was injured in that attack.

 Although Salvi had frequently demonstrated outside the Brookline clinics prior to his violent rampage, his defense attorneys sought an "innocent by reason of insanity" verdict. NOW activists monitored the trial, sitting in the courtroom when limited public seating allowed.Abortion rights advocates marked the one-year anniversary of the Brookline attacks with a rally in downtown Boston, attended by more than 1,000 abortion-rights supporters, and vigils were held at the two clinics.

 Several anti-abortion leaders held their own prayer vigils on Salvi's behalf, visited him in jail and hailed him as a hero. National NOW leaders condemned Salvi's murderous acts and the support he received from other abortion opponents.

 "The murders John Salvi committed are not unlike those perpetrated by terrorists around the world -- who frequently call on religion to justify their heinous crimes," said NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy. "Salvi's anger was fueled by hateful rhetoric from anti-abortion extremists who, in the court of public opinion, should be held as accountable for these deaths and injuries as Salvi himself. We also believe his acts were part of a larger plan to end abortion through violent means."

 To defuse the potential for violence, many clinics have set up buffer zones. The zones keep a minimal distance between anti-abortion protestors and clinic patients and staff. Upheld by court orders covering individual sites, they were also ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court two years ago.

 The Salvi verdict and the court's decision to review bubble zones come at a time when violence at abortion clinics is a major concern. Anti-abortion extremists committed 1 acts of arson, made 41 death threats and engaged in 61 incidents of patient and staff stalkings in 1995, according to Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation.

 Legislative attacks against abortion rights also are escalating. Congress drastically cut international family planning funding, which the United Nations Population Fund projects will result in 18 million unwanted pregnancies, two million more abortions and the death of some 80,000 women from botched abortions and medically dangerous childbirth.

 Congress also voted to prohibit abortions at U.S. military hospitals and voted to ban a seldom-performed, late-term abortion procedure -- even if it is necessary to preserve the health of the woman. Only President Clinton's veto prevented the latter bill from becoming law, and opponents are organizing to override the veto. Abortion age and notification limits already exist in many states, and more legislatures are on the anti-abortion bandwagon.

 "We won't give in to terrorism -- physical or legislative -- and we'll carry our abortion rights work into the November elections and beyond," said Gandy.

 Likewise, Massachusetts NOW clinic defenders continue to protect women's access to abortion at the two Brookline clinics. Garrity said anti-abortion protestors regularly surround the clinics, concentrating their energy on the second Saturday of each month. Abortion rights demonstrators are often on hand, too.

 A railroad track divides the road in front of one clinic, and the protestors divide themselves on either side. It is the same track Salvi crossed to commit the murders of Lowney and Nichols. At any moment someone else may cross over, either literally or symbolically, and subject abortion rights supporters once again to the horrible reality of anti-abortion attacks.


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