Terror in Charlotte


This article was originally published in Ms.
Magazine
and is reprinted with permission.

The posters have the word "WANTED"
in large black letters at the top and contain the following language: "We would
like to introduce you to Drs. X and Y [names withheld here]. Their specialties
are Obstetrics, Gynecology and Murder. Not only do these two men assist women
and deliver babies, but they also harm women and kill babies…. You may contact
them at their office or the clinic in which they perform the abortions."

Using the real names of the doctors,
and the addresses of their private practices, these posters have recently shown
up in Charlotte, N.C. They are terrifying, and that is precisely their
intention, as they invoke comparison to the notorious Old West-style wanted
posters of abortion doctors that were circulated by two militant anti-abortion
groups in the early 1990s. Three abortion-providing doctors-whose faces
appeared on WANTED or unWANTED posters were, in fact, murdered by anti-abortion
zealots.

In a celebrated case, the U.S. Court
of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held that these posters constituted a "threat of
force" designed to intimidate abortion providers (in violation of the Freedom
of Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE Act), and were thus not protected by the
First Amendment on free speech grounds. The Court also noted
that extremists had listed the doctors’ information, including home addresses,
on a "Nuremberg Files" website. The names of doctors who were killed were lined
through in black, and wounded doctors’ names were lined through in grey.    

So one can imagine the fears
engendered by this latest round of postering. But they’re just the latest straw
in what the beleaguered staff of the Family Reproductive Health clinic in
Charlotte has had to put up with. In 2002, the high-profile antiabortion
extremist Philip "Flip" Benham, formerly head of Operation Rescue and now
heading Operation Save America, moved to the Charlotte area and vowed to close
down Family Reproductive Health.

He has not succeeded, but he and his
followers have made daily operations harrowing for both clinic staff and
patients. As seen in a Youtube video that
should be required viewing for police departments and judges across the
country, Benham terrorizes patients as they enter the clinic, screaming at them
that "Satan will drink the blood of your babies" and that the women themselves
will "go to your deaths" if they follow through with their planned
procedures. 

This bullying of patients-calling
them "whores" is commonplace, Kenya, the clinic director told me-is frequently
made through a microphone amplified to deafening levels. Benham and his group
swarm over patients’ cars as they enter the parking lot, and come within inches
of staff and patients as they enter and exit the clinic’s driveway and doors.

Not surprisingly, patients
frequently arrive inside the clinic frightened, confused and sometimes quite
angry. "We try to prepare them for this when they make their appointment,"
Kenya said, "but until you go through something like this, you can’t imagine
what it’s like." 

Where are the police in all this?
Whenever an officer is present at the clinic, according to Kenya, he doesn’t do
enough. "He doesn’t check the decibel level of the sound system, he lets them
[the anti-abortion protestors] place their signs on our fence, he doesn’t
interfere when they swarm over our patients’ cars. Even with the police right
there, we sometimes have to call 911."

This muted police response may well
be due to an ongoing lawsuit that Benham’s Operation Save America filed against
the city of Charlotte, charging violations of the group’s First Amendment
rights because of the city’s failure to grant a festival permit several years
ago. As previously reported in Ms.,
aggressive legal action-often resulting in financial penalties for
cash-strapped cities-is a recent antiabortion tactic which can stymie local
police departments.

Kenya and her staff keep the clinic going under
conditions most of us would find unendurable. When I ask how she and others can
stay the course under such relenting pressures, she tells me, "We believe in
what we do. We know we are helping. Some of us came to work here after being
patients here ourselves."


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  • kate-ranieri

    Carol, Thanks for the article and thanks for bringing attention to the video that I edited for ACN’s Enough! Basta! blog. More and more women are speaking out about city, state and federal governments and their deliberate indifference toward protecting women at reproductive health care clinics. Regardless of the fear of city governments about the number of frivolous lawsuits filed by folks like Operation Save America’s Flip Benham in Charlotte, NC or like our local antichoicers like Joyce Mazalewski, Katie Teays and Kathleen Kuhns, the fact remains that the government (and their protective bodies such as the police, the city solicitors, the FBI) are failing to protect taxpayers, meaning women and their signficant others, and taxpaying businesses such as reproductive health care clinics and doctors and directors of these clinics (where protester terrorists stalk and slander them at their homes). Nationwide, this is one of the latest attacks by rabid prolife groups–file lawsuits with the city and the police. America needs to see what it’s really like for patients who are exercising their free rights and what it’s like when protesters threaten and invade the privacy of these women. It’s egregious and shameful to see how these folks, claiming the higher ground of morality and, for most, religion, treat women. 

  • crowepps

    I understand that he has a ‘free speech’ and ‘religious freedom’ right to say whatever he wants to say (although the amplification is excessive), but his feet should be stuck to that sidewalk. As a driver, I would find it very intimidating to attempt to drive in or out with someone walking towards my car as demonstrated in the video. That kind of nonsense ought to be prevented by the police.

  • pegjohnston

     People probably thought that the harassment of clinics had died down since the large Operation Rescue blockades and demonstrations in the 90’s. Or even that with a pro-choice government things would have improved on the sidewalks in front of clinics. But no. Things have gotten worse in the last year, markedly worse in places like Charlotte, McAllen TX, Allentown PA where extremists are allowed free rein. Thank you for bringing attention to this reality, as we are trying to do with the Enough! Basta! Stop Sidewalk Bullying at Women’s Clinics on http://www.YouTube.com/abortioncarenetwork and Facebook Cause Enough! Basta! http://apps.facebook.com/causes/248986.

    Peg Johnston is the President of the Abortion Care Network, an abortion
    provider in upstate NY, and creator of the Pregnancy Options Workbook
    series.

  • kate-ranieri

    Flip Benham is beyond bold and frightening. Like others, he exudes his version of moral righteousness and biblical conviction. It’s quite a volatile potential, especially when macho testosterone is added to the mixture. At Allentown Women’s Center (Allentown PA) Ihave witnessed what happens when a protester and a hot-headed boyfriend collide. Old white people were scattered, the boyfriend made a fool of himself, the girlfriend was an emotional wreck (understandably) and the volunteers and security attempted to rescue the situation. 

     

    As Peg Johnston has stated in her Emptying the Threats article on this web site, safety is the primary concern for health care providers and for the volunteers. It’s a daunting task to ensure safety when the police and the city fail to protect their citizens in Charlotte NC or Allentown PA or anywhere else in the U.S.

     

     

  • crowepps

    It’s a daunting task to ensure safety when the police and the city fail to protect their citizens in Charlotte NC or Allentown PA or anywhere else in the U.S.

    The whole point of having a police force is that citizens are not trained to provide their own protection, and providing public safety needs the skills of an expert.  It is indeed shameful when the city fails to instruct the police that every citizen and every legal business deserves safety, and it is particularly shameful when the city does so because it agrees with the goals of or is afraid to become a target of the terrorists.

  • kate-ranieri

  • teb-abhour

    Hypocrite.

    Queers do it.
    http://www.eightmaps.com/

    Obama does it.
    http://patdollard.com/2009/10/im-just-getting-started-obama-threatens-enemies-with-public-list-vows-to-continue-dramatic-communist-overhaul-of-country/

    But when pro-human rights defenders call a spade a spade, it’s wrong.

    Hypocrites.

  • kate-ranieri

    Who is intimidating you? Who are you other than one angry-sounding person?

  • crowepps

    Intimidation isn’t the correct tactic for anyone to use and it’s wrong no matter who it is that’s doing it.

     

    I have no problem with someone calling a spade a spade. There are huge problems with doing so by stepping in someone’s way as they’re walking, grabbing at them, thrusting pamphlets at them, and yelling information in their face. There are huge problems with guessing what people are planning to do and calling them names.

     

    Those are the tactics of persons with impaired psychological functioning who require strict rules by which to function themselves and who suffer unbearable anxiety unless everyone else follows those same rules. It is possible to scare someone until they pretend to agree. It is not possible to scare someone into changing either their minds or their plan of actions as soon as they are relieved of the obnoxious presence.

    The elements of the Authoritarian personality type are:

     

    ■Blind allegiance to conventional beliefs about right and wrong

     

    ■Respect for submission to acknowledged authority

     

    ■Belief in aggression toward those who do not subscribe to conventional thinking, or who are different

     

    ■A negative view of people in general – i.e. the belief that people would all lie, cheat or steal if given the opportunity

     

    ■A need for strong leadership which displays uncompromising power

     

    ■A belief in simple answers and polemics – i.e. The media controls us all or The source of all our problems is the loss of morals these days.

     

    ■Resistance to creative, dangerous ideas. A black and white worldview.

     

    ■A tendency to project one’s own feelings of inadequacy, rage and fear onto a scapegoated group

     

    ■A preoccupation with violence and sex

     

    http://www.psychologistworld.com/influence_personality/authoritarian_personality.php

    The authoritarian personality does not want to give orders, their personality type wants to take orders. People with this type of personality seek conformity, security, stability. They become anxious and insecure when events or circumstances upset their previously existing world view. They are very intolerant of any divergence from what they consider to be the normal  (which is usually conceptualized in terms of their religion, race, history, nationality, culture, language, etc.)

    http://www.gossamer-wings.com/soc/Notes/race/tsld007.htm

     

  • prochoicegoth

    Since when is the gay community using their religion as an excuse to shame straights? Since when is the gay community thrusting INAPPROPRIATE photographs at straights as an attempt to TRY to make them not straight? Since when is the gay community going around and shooting straights or threatening their lives? 

     

    To even ATTEMPT to compare the bullying tactics of pro-lifers to the gay community demanding equal rights, proves you’re not only ignorant but a flaming bigot as well. 


    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • mechashiva

    Eightmaps lists businesses and individuals who donated to Prop 8 so that they can be boycotted. As far as I know, there have been no targeted protests of these businesses. Certainly, they are not the target of daily or weekly protests the way that abortion clinics are.

     

    Obama making a speech stating that he will be tough on those who fight the changes he wants to make in the country is not intimidation, harassment, or bullying. It is a single speech delivered by our President… who was elected by the people. As an elected official, his goals represent those of the people who voted for him… ie, the majority of Americans. This differs from anti-abortion extremists, who were neither asked for their opinion, nor who hold views in-line with the majority of the country.

     

    Your comparissons hold no water.