By Lawrence Budd, Orlando Weekly
As most people were kicking back over the holidays, Carla Josephson and other members of the local chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) were anxiously preparing for the arrival of a youth contingent of the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue.
While in Central Florida, more than 100 Operation Rescue protesters spent two days in Orlando attacking the Walt Disney Co.’s policies on gays and a day at the Barnes & Noble bookstore in Melbourne protesting the sale of books featuring what they describe as “child pornography.” But the Operation Rescue youth group made no stops for “street activities each day at local abortion mills” as promised in fliers urging students to join the ranks for the Dec. 27-30 “Tragic Kingdom” gathering.
Still the mere prospect of such goings-on was enough to send members of NOW and the Feminist Majority Foundation into action, holiday festivities notwithstanding.
“It’s hard to draw people to respond at the drop of a hat,” Josephson says. “When you have it on a holiday, it’s even harder.”
In the days leading to Dec. 27, security forces were organized to usher women into the clinics in defiance of any protesters, and the clinics were monitored day and night. A phone line and message machine were dedicated to alerting NOW members of the potential confrontation. Josephson and others also worked with law-enforcement officials and tracked the Operation Rescue group from Melbourne to Orlando.
In fact, Josephson says, Operation Rescue had “cased” an Orlando clinic and a bomb threat was made. Yet there were no abortion-clinic protests or violent acts. “It was all for nothing in a sense,” Josephson says. “But still you have to be prepared.”
The anxiety fueling the preparations was heightened by a string of violent actions against abortion clinics across the country.
Also, via the Internet, anti-abortionists have made threats of violence against East-Coast abortion clinics unless authorities release Paul Hill, a convicted murderer facing a death sentence for gunning down a doctor and his bodyguard outside a Pensacola abortion clinic in July 1994. (In October 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand Hill’s murder convictions and death sentence.)
And Florida doctors were featured on anti-abortion World Wide Web sites. Featured on Jay’s Killer Web Site an anti-abortion site on the Internet is Dr. James S. Pendergraft, owner of two local abortion clinics. The doctor’s page provides a color photo and personal information, as well as a hyperlink to the Orlando Women’s Center’s World Wide Web site. (In 1996, Mayor Glenda Hood led City Council’s attempt to block Pendergraft from performing late-term abortions at the Orlando Women’s Center. The city eventually settled the lawsuit for $325,000 and allowed Pendergraft to operate the clinics.)
A Lakeland physician, Dr. Hima Giri Ravi, is also featured on Jay’s Killer Web site along with other Central Florida physicians who have worked at the Aware Woman clinic in Melbourne. And a letter to Dr. Ravi is excerpted as an example of “what messages can be safely sent to baby butchers” on another anti-abortion web page, The Nuremberg Files.
“We figured it was only a matter of time before they took action in Florida,” Josephson says. “They’re losing the battle in the big picture. The more they lose, the more desperate they become. The likelihood of violence becomes greater the more desperate they become.”
NOW, which also advocates on affirmative-action and pay-equity issues, has hesitated to comment publicly on the Operation Rescue visit for fear of inciting violence.
“We want people to know what’s going on. But we don’t want women to be so frightened they won’t come to the clinics,” Josephson says.
While the immediate threat has passed, NOW and the Feminist Majority Foundation might be wise to begin gearing up for early June, when Operation Rescue will be back — in full force — to protest Gay Day festivities at Disney. Plans to picket the clinics during the “Tragic Kingdom” gathering were abandoned to focus on the Disney gay policy and the pornographic books, according to David Lackey, youth coordinator for Operation Rescue. But in June, “We will be at the abortion clinics,” Lackey says.