Uncivil War

Abortion activists face off


Abortion rights protesters

An abortion rights protester quotes Scripture to a pro-choice advocate in the parking lot of Charleston Women's Medical Clinic.

It has been drizzling since before sunrise, and now, around 8:30 a.m., the sun is casting gray light on the Charleston Women's Medical Clinic. A small group of people, who wear yellow vests over their raincoats, mill about the clinic entrance. They smile at each other, talk about their week, the news.

    Across the parking lot, on the other side of a ditch, past a row of cars and a police barricade, is a man under a black umbrella. He is alone, and he walks back and forth, stepping in a puddle as he surveys the parking lot. He smiles, too.

    A car turns off the highway, and two of the people in yellow vests walk quickly toward it, pointing the way to an empty parking space. When they approach the man and woman getting out of the car, one says, "We're clinic escorts. We're here to help."

    The woman looks dazed as she approaches the clinic entrance, as if she's in a bubble of flashing lights and paparazzi.

    When the door is opened for the couple to pass through, the man under the umbrella says something that gets lost under the hum of highway traffic, the shuffle of escorts, and the voices coming from the waiting room. After the door clicks shut and the escorts line the building, the two words that carry across the police barricade, the line of cars, the ditch and the parking lot are "money" and "murder."


    From news reports, it seems that women's clinics are more like battlefields than places women go seeking health care.

    On Jan. 16 there were bombings at Northside Family Planning Services in suburban Atlanta. Three days later, Reproductive Services Clinic in Tulsa, Okla., was bombed. The same clinic had been firebombed on New Year's Day, and on Feb. 2 someone broke in and shot up the medical equipment.

    No one was killed in these latest acts of terrorism. But two people did die in the December 1994 clinic shooting in Brookline, Mass. And in March 1993, Dr. David Gunn was shot down during protests at a Pensacola, Fla. clinic.

    This is nothing new; women's clinics are often targets of violence. The Feminist Majority Foundation's 1996 National Clinic Survey found that almost a third of clinics reported one or more types of violence, including bomb threats and bombings, arson threats and arsons, chemical attacks, death threats and stalking. The level of violence has declined from nearly 52 percent in 1994, but the rate of decline has slowed.

    In South Carolina, no clinics have been bombed, and the few physicians in the state who perform abortions have not been gunned down. The laws here, however, are far from women-friendly.

    Married women must get spousal permission, and minors their parental consent, before getting an abortion. They also must receive lectures and state-prepared materials on fetal development, prenatal care and adoption. Abortion is not covered by any state medical aide program except in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

    And the laws are about to get more restrictive.

    On Feb. 27, the House voted 105 -- 4 in favor of banning "partial-birth abortion," or intact dilation and evacuation (D & E), as it's known in the medical community. The bill calls for five years' imprisonment and fines up to $5,000.

    Opponents of the ban contend that there are so few D & E abortions performed as to make the law unnecessary. Fewer than 20 doctors nationwide are known to perform them. No doctor in South Carolina performs the procedure, nor is it taught at any South Carolina medical college.

    But this has not stopped Gov. David Beasley and Attorney General Charlie Condon from using the emotionally charged issue to solicit support from conservatives. Condon's office announced its plan to make the procedure subject to prosecution just one day before Beasley voiced his support for the ban at a Jan. 11 anti-choice rally in Columbia that reportedly attracted 1,000 people.

    If given the chance, Condon and Beasley would like to see more restrictions put on abortion. Condon originally planned to charge doctors who perform the procedure with homicide. As a legislator, Beasley tried to get abortion banned entirely.

    Anti-choice activists in South Carolina do not have to resort to terrorism when they have the governor, the attorney general and the legislature on their side. But don't think they are quietly praying at the sidelines for the reversal of Roe v. Wade.


The car

A toddler darts among the legs of picketers at Charleston Women's Medical Clinic. A woman with a sign draped over her body proclaiming that "Abortion Kills Babies" pats the boy on the head and says, "God bless you."

    A woman dressed in black with a large silver cross chained around her neck reads aloud from Revelation: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood."

    Police walk by in the street, nightsticks thumping their thighs.

    A small child wriggles in a carrier strapped to a man's back.

    Another man carries a poster of what he claims is an aborted fetus. "This is Malachi," he explains. "His mother killed him when he was just 21 weeks old." (According to a Charleston nurse who asked not to be identified, the photograph, which appears often on anti-choice posters, shows not an aborted fetus but the body of a stillborn child.)

    As women walk into the clinic, shrill voices up and down the picket line scream, "Don't kill your baby," "Murderer," and "Blood money."

    To the men waiting outside the clinic, demonstrators yell, "She's killing your child!" and "If you love her, you won't leave her in there."


    Lorraine Maguire, director of the clinic where she has worked since 1980, said that the protests, though not violent, have grown progressively worse over the years. Still, Maguire said the clinic is supported by the community.

    "We have a good reputation," she said. "We get calls every week from people who say, I just want you to know I appreciate the work you are doing.'"

    That work includes, among other things, low-cost breast exams, affordable birth control, pregnancy tests and, of course, abortion.

    A few words of appreciation spoken over the phone lines may help the clinic employees' morale, but those words go unheard by the public. What does not go unheard, or unseen, are the abortion protesters who picket the clinic three days a week.

    Mike Maguire, Lorraine Maguire's husband, has volunteered as a clinic escort for four years. He said that there used to be about five protesters at the most each day. "Now, we can get 20 to 30 people at a time. Sometimes more," he said. "They are more vocal, more hostile."

    Although the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) created a protest-free zone at the doors of abortion facilities, the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to extend the area to a 15-foot "floating buffer zone" to protect patients and staff on the sidewalks approaching the clinic.

    "Women should be able to seek a safe and legal abortion without harassment," Lorraine Maguire said. "You can't let fanatical people make abortion legal but not accessible. Fewer and fewer clinics provide the service because of the protesters."

    The most vocal protester at the Charleston clinic is Cathy Rider. In 1994, Rider was arrested for harassing Maguire. The harassment began in 1992, when Rider allegedly encouraged people to tear off Maguire's daughter's arms so she would know how aborted fetuses feel. Rider was sentenced to five years' probation and ordered to stay at least 500 feet away from Maguire.

    Last March, Rider was arrested again for harassment and stalking after Maguire and a former clinic employee told police she had threatened them. Rider reportedly said, "Lorraine, you're going to die." Rider defended her statement by saying it was based on God's judgement, not hers. The case has since been dropped, and in November Rider was allowed to return to the clinic.

    Rider is now suing the clinic, as well as Maguire and the former clinic employee, for malicious prosecution.

    Maguire said Rider comes to the clinic Monday through Friday, and sometimes on Saturday. She arrives with her car loaded down with anti-abortion posters and a large bucket full of "pro-life" pamphlets, flyers and Bibles.

    Maguire, whom Rider compares to a whore-house madam, a "pornographer," and drug dealer, is Rider's favorite target. "I could burn [Maguire] in effigy," Rider said. "I could hang her from a pole. I could carry a sign that said Execute All Abortionists.' It's all free speech."


    A favorite word used by the protesters is also the backbone of the argument of abortion-rights activists: choice.

    A soft-spoken man who identifies himself only as Tim describes his position on abortion as pro-choice. "There is no choice [at the clinic]. My goal is to provide a true choice to women." He says that what women need is "a place to have someone counsel them for life."

    True Choice, a group Tim helped found, publishes a monthly newsletter, "Charleston's Killing Field Report," which lists the number "slain" at the clinic each month. The number is arrived at by counting the women who enter the building.

    One newsletter states that the goal of True Choice is "to give women faced with a crisis pregnancy some real choices." What the newsletters offer women who have had abortions and women thinking about having them is prayers.

    Norman Moebs, wearing a t-shirt with "Jesus loves you and your child" across the front, says that he too is pro-choice. "Choose not to have sex unless you're married to your partner," he says. "Marriage is not a dirty word. Murder is not a choice."

    A protester standing next to Moebs seconds his statement with "Amen."


    In a flyer distributed outside the clinic, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry calls for all Christians to consider birth control the same as abortion, claiming that "birth control is anti-child."

    "[I]f you are using any kind of birth control -- why not stop, and leave the number of children you have in God's hands?" Terry writes.

    Birth control such as the pill and I.U.D.s prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus. This is abortion, Terry says.

    Another flyer features a photocopied article from Life Advocate magazine quoting the Rev. Matt Trewhella, who says that God, in telling Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply," was commanding them to have as many children as possible. He says Christians today should do the same.

    Birth control "reveals our lack of trust in God to meet our needs," Trewhella writes. "We have no God-given right to manipulate God's design for marriage by using birth control."

    Rider agrees. "Women have become God," she says. "They think they are God."

    So, what forms of birth control are acceptable?

    "Sex is a very powerful and very damaging emotion," Rider says. "I tell women to stay pure."

    And if women choose not "to stay pure," what options do they have?

    "You can use the rhythm method or abstain," Rider says.


    Although Tim believes abortion "shouldn't be practiced at all," he also believes that this goal will only be accomplished "through love and compassion for the women and for the children that are dying."

    "Yelling insults is not going to help," he says.

    But insults rise from the commotion of the picket line with regularity.

    "Don't kill your baby!"

    "You'll still be a mother, but the mother of a dead child!"


    Shirley Holcombe wears a gold pin of tiny feet on her collar, and explains, "This is the size of a 10-week-old baby's feet." She has been protesting abortion since it became legal in 1973.

    Holcombe remembers when she hardly knew what the word abortion meant because no one ever talked about it. Now, she believes abortion means murder.

    "Is it love to kill your baby?" she yells at a woman entering the clinic.

    Rider injects insults into passages of the Bible. Wearing large, amber-tinted sunglasses, and with her black curly hair blowing about her face, Rider reads out loud: " in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves -- selfish women who kill their children -- lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman "

    Farther down the picket line, Holcombe raises an "Abortion stops a beating heart" poster over her head and yells, "Blood money! Blood money!"

    Many demonstrators believe that Maguire's job as director of the Charleston Women's Medical Clinic has made her rich, claiming that she makes $800 thousand a year, $1 million, even $1.5 million.

    They call the clinic a "death factory," an "abortion mill," part of the "abortion industry."

    Why would Maguire choose to work in such a controversial field?

    "Money," Tim says. "There is no other reason."

    And the money she makes is easy money, Rider says.

    "You tell me what job a woman can do, besides run a brothel, be a drug dealer, or a movie star in California, and make a million a year working only three-and-a-half days a week," Rider says.

    The clinic is open six days a week, but as True Choice's "Killing Field Report" explains, "Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are killing days."

    An abortion at the clinic costs $346, which includes post-operation medication, a follow-up checkup, birth control for a month, and a pap smear. The clinic performs only first-trimester abortions.

    Correcting for inflation, legal abortions in 1991 cost about half what they did in 1973, according to the National Abortion Federation.

    "[Rider] thinks the money made at the clinic goes directly into my pocket," Maguire said. The clinic has a staff of 11.

    Rider insists that Maguire works at the clinic only to get rich "off the bodies and souls of women."

    Holcombe believes that the money collected by the clinic is "just like the 30 pieces of silver they used to kill the Lord Jesus."


    Alongside posters of dismembered and bloody fetuses, there are many posters about women.

    One says, "Abortion hurts women physically and emotionally." Another gives the story of a woman whose abortion ended in complications, requiring her to undergo surgery. One poster reads "Injured by abortion? Call 1 -- 800 -- U CAN SUE."

    Pamphlets claiming that abortion causes breast cancer are handed out.

Pro Life?

Cathy Rider, at right, has become a fixture in the Charleston protest movement.

A protester who identifies herself only as Jane says, "The number of cases of breast cancer has risen since abortion has been legal."

    When asked about the well-publicized recent study conducted in Denmark which found evidence to the contrary, Jane says, "Well, you can find a study to support anything you want to believe."

    Others maintain that not only does abortion cause breast cancer, but that it can also cause sterility.

    "Abortion is more dangerous than these people let on," Jane says. "Childbirth is certainly safer than abortion."

    But, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Division of Reproductive Health, not only is abortion safer than childbirth, it is even safer than having your appendix or tonsils taken out.

    Many protesters have heard horror stories of a someone-who-knew-someone-who-knew-someone nature. Most of these stories involve blood clots, infections, a tear in the cervix, a perforation in the wall of the uterus or an incomplete abortion.

    But the CDC claims that blood clots, cervical tears and incomplete abortions occur in less than 1 percent of abortions. Perforations in the wall of the uterus occur in less than .5 percent, and infections occur in less than 3 percent.

    Rider holds a model fetus in the palm of her hand and simulates an abortion procedure. She uses words like "puncture, jab, pierce, suck," and "rip."

    "It is absolute abuse of women," she says. "Poor little depraved women letting men abuse their bodies, putting them up on the abortion table."

    But if abortion is made illegal, won't it become more dangerous for women, forcing them to seek back-alley operations?

    Not necessarily.

    "I have herbs at my house that will cause abortion," Rider says.


    Protesters say it was the banning of prayer in school that led to the legalization of abortion, which in turn caused the present "abortion generation," which has not been taught the sanctity of life.

    Fetuses are compared to slaves. (Slaves were not protected under the law and were not considered real people because they had no legal rights. Now babies have none.)

    Abortion is called infanticide, and the state of America is compared to the Holocaust. (American citizens are ignoring the thousands of babies exterminated every day, just as Germans tried to deny Hitler's mass executions.)

    Protesters hand out pamphlets in question/answer format. They address topics such as, "Just why is abortion wrong anyway?" and "But isn't abortion basically a private matter?" and "What are we to think of a woman who aborts her child?" and "Granting that abortion is wrong, do we need a law?"

    Whether or not we need a law in South Carolina to ban D & E abortions, it looks as though we are about to get one.

    "It's a shame the legislators feel like they have to practice medicine," Lorraine Maguire says.

    Many might think it a shame, too, that the Maguires feel threatened because they support a woman's right to choose.

    "The chance is always present that somebody could bomb us or walk into the door with a gun," Mike Maguire says. "With Lorraine being the director, I feel like I should be here 100 percent of the time, but I can't blame myself if something should happen. I've resigned myself to that fact."

    The biggest threat to the Maguires so far has been Cathy Rider.

    Rider, who believes the Maguires "have tried to create a victim status for themselves in order to take the focus off abortion," says all she has ever done to Lorraine is told her to repent.

    Does Rider think she's ever gone too far in anything she has said or done to Lorraine Maguire?

    "No," she says. "She's still alive, isn't she?"

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© Copyright by POINT, 1997
Last modified 3/20/97