Abortion and Extremism

'Extremism' is defined here as meaning "any activity favouring immoderate uncompromising tactics," with an 'extremist' being "one who advocates or resorts to measures regarded as beyond the norm."

  • Operation Rescue, founded in 1986, became the largest civil protest movement in American history.
  • Operation Rescue displays large "photos of aborted babies" in public places and on a fleet of trucks to confront the public.
  • Aggressive undercover work and malpractice lawsuits against clinics and abortion organisations.
  • PPFA's "I Had an Abortion" T-shirt campaign in July, 2004, stirred up feelings on both sides.
  • Clinic Escorts: Our best work is done before police arrive, or when there are not enough police there to prevent us from doing what we have to do.
  • Women on Waves carry out non-surgical abortions at sea, and give contraceptive advice and information on AIDs.
The campaign for legal abortion was won by a coalition of dedicated political action groups. These groups and organisations are still actively defending the status quo, against a decades-long counter offensive by anti-abortion groups.

The US Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v Wade decision was based on a woman's right to privacy. Dozens of state anti-abortion laws were struck down. Abortion on demand was legalized in the first trimester, and permitted on specified health grounds up to birth. Victory for the abortion rights movement appeared total. The American Medical Association gave authorative support, private clinics opened across the United States and the abortion rate rapidly climbed through the 1970s.

The totality of the victory stunned those opposed to abortion reform. Political action at state level had largely been thwarted, anti-abortionists pondered on their options.To abandon the struggle was unthinkable. They gradually organised for the long haul, embarking on a grassroots educational campaign to win "hearts and minds". Political action concentrated on electing sympathetic politicians to Congress and the Senate.

The abortion "culture war" in the United States has always been fought with a sustained intensity. By 1986, groups opposed to abortion were preparing nationwide civil disobedience campaigns to disrupt the daily operations of the clinics.

Dedicated activist, anti-abortion groups include: Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Preborn, Life Dynamics, and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Activist abortion rights advocates include: National Abortion Action Rights League (NARAL), American Civil Liberties Union (UCLU), National Abortion Federation (NAF), National Organisation of Women (NOW), Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), Planned Parenthood of America and The Feminist Majority.

Operation Rescue
Founded by Randall Terry in 1986, Operation Rescue became the largest civil protest movement in American history. Autonomous groups sprung up in every state and began mass civil disobedience protests and blockades outside local abortion clinics.

Feminist author and abortion advocate Naomi Wolf had this to say about the images:
"The pro-choice movement often treats with contempt the pro-lifers' practice of holding up to our faces their disturbing graphics....[But] how can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real?

"To insist that truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy."

"Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted with them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view is unworthy of feminism."

Life Dynamics
Lori Mariner of Planned Parenthood said the black T-shirt had been created after requests from women who'd had abortions. They and Planned Parenthood want to get rid of the taboo ? that abortion is a dirty little secret that should be hidden."

"The T-shirt campaign was not designed to celebrate abortion, but to open up some honest communication about this very difficult decision."

Abortion clinic escorts
Many clinics across the U.S. are regularly picketed by anti-abortion protesters. Some hold up posters with photographs, others pray, and a specially trained few act as sidewalk counsellors. They have to get close to the pregnant woman, attempt to engage her in conversation, and make their case that they can help with alternatives to the abortion. Mostly, the counsellors are ignored, but some women do stop, listen and change their mind.

Clinic escorts are abortion-rights supporters who volunteer to "escort" the clinic's clients past the protesters and prevent the sidewalk counsellors getting close.

It's a ritual that can easily turn hostile. The sidewalk counsellor has to believe that if he or she can only get close to the woman, she may be able to convince her not to go ahead with the abortion.

The escorts believe that the woman is exercising her legal right, and needs to be protected from the attentions of the "anti-choicers".

Escorts are usually highly committed women volunteers, who wear yellow vests marked "ESCORT." Some escort groups use a training manual to teach effective blocking techniques when working in pairs.

They block access by placing themselves between the client and the counsellor, whilst moving towards the clinic and through the entrance. Other techniques involve "vocal deterrence" such as shouting: "My Body, My Choice.. My Right to Decide" "You don't have to listen to them" and working in pairs to hold up a blanket, separating the counsellor from the client.

Anti-abortion groups sometimes complain that burly escorts go beyond "push and shove" and take videos for evidence. Tensions do spill over, but given the emotions involved, it can only be expected.

One dedicated group of clinic escorts is the Bay Area Committee Against Operation "Rescue", whose Manual for Clinic Defense states:
"We do not call police ourselves during a hit. Our best work is done before police arrive, or when there are not enough police there to prevent us from doing what we have to do.

"Get in place before cops can mess with it; establish balance of power early, do key acts requiring physical contact with OR as much as possible before cops have enough people to intervene. Even if the sidewalk is 'public,' we've had success at putting enough of us out, early enough, to basically bully the ORs into staying across the street."

The term "OR" is short for a protester working with Operation Rescue. The manual goes on to talk about psychological tactics, including that, "while male loose cannons are more capable of hurting defenders than are female loose cannons, it is also true that the men have such a disdain/disregard for women that they are less likely to physically beat people up."

Women on Waves
On 18 August 2004, a court rejected an application of the Dutch organisation Women on Waves and refused permission for it to carry out abortions in international waters. The organisation was limited to carrying out abortions within 25km of Amsterdam hospital Slotervaartziekenhuis.

Earlier that year Netherlands Health Minister, Clémence Ross, said that Dutch abortion law clearly stated, "terminations could only be carried out by clinics that cooperated with a hospital in the district."

The minister ruled that the abortion boat could only operate "off the Dutch coast and within a 25km radius of the Amsterdam hospital."

The "abortion ship," a tugboat with a container that has been transformed into a floating gynaecological clinic, has set out for Portugal, a country with restrictive abortion laws.

The group operating the scheme plan to carry out non-surgical abortions at sea, and give contraceptive advice and information on AIDs.

In Portugal, abortion is only possible when the mother's life is in danger and in few other circumstances.

Women on Waves sailed to Ireland in 2001, and Poland in 2003, where its ship was pelted with eggs and tomatoes by protesters.

"I expect there to be a certain degree of protest because the Catholic Church in Portugal is very active in this field," said Gunilla Kleiverda, a gynaecologist with the group.

The Portugese authorities refused permission for the vessel to enter its territorial waters, and warned that it would use force if necessary to protect the country's laws.