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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 75/No. 27      July 25, 2011


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(lead article)
Maryland to Kansas:
defend right to choose
Militant/Leah Morrison

“Every week there are antichoice actions outside the clinic,” said Kira Baughman, an organizer of prochoice demonstrations for Germantown, Maryland, where Operation Rescue and other antiwoman groups are threatening to shut down Reproductive Health Services, run by Dr. LeRoy Carhart. (Above) Picket line at Germantown clinic January 23 defends women’s right to choose abortion. Some 400 opponents of women’s rights picketed the clinic that day.

“We need to become more vocal and make a lot of noise” to defend a woman’s right to choose abortion, Dr. LeRoy Carhart told the Militant. Opponents of the right to choose are a minority, he said in a July 11 phone interview, but they have been making more noise.

Germantown Reproductive Health Services in Germantown, Maryland, run by Carhart, is being targeted by Operation Rescue in what the rightist group calls “Summer of Mercy 2.0.” Operation Rescue will be joined by other anti-choice groups in daily actions outside the clinic for nine days from July 30 to August 7.

Carhart is one of only a handful of doctors in the United States who perform abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy since Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in Wichita, Kansas, in 2009 by a rightist opponent of women’s rights.

In response to Operation Rescue, Carhart and other supporters of the right to choose are organizing a “Summer Celebration of Choice,” calling on all those who support women’s rights to come to Germantown. Kira Baughman, an organizer of the actions, encouraged pro-choice supporters to join the first day of activities July 31, which will open with a 1 p.m. “Kick-Off Walk” that will circle the Germantown neighborhood where the clinic is located.

“We are building this as a peaceful presence to show support for women’s right to choose, not just here, but all over the country,” Baughman said. Women from across the United States and Canada come to the Germantown clinic, she said, because there are few health-care facilities where they can get late-term abortions.

“Every week there are anti-choice actions outside the clinic,” Baughman said. “Sometimes they jump out to slow down cars heading into the parking lot.”

In April the Maryland Coalition for Life rented office space across the street from Carhart’s clinic and set up “Germantown Pregnancy Choices.” They give the impression they are “a source of medical information,” Baughman said, “but their real purpose is to draw women in” and away from the clinic.  
1991 siege of Wichita
In calling its week of activity the “Summer of Mercy 2.0,” Operation Rescue is marking the 20th anniversary of the “Summer of Mercy” in Wichita, Kansas. For weeks in July 1991, rightist forces blockaded abortion clinics there, at times shutting down their operations.

Their success was a result of refusal by the middle-class leaderships of women’s rights groups, trade unions, and civil rights organizations to mobilize supporters in a timely way to defend the right to choose. Union officials said it was not a labor issue, even though the assault on the right to choose deals the biggest blows to working-class women and weakens the labor movement.

Women’s rights groups did not begin to organize a response until August 1991. When they finally did, thousands turned out and many joined picket lines to defend the clinics.

Although Operation Rescue did not succeed in permanently closing the Wichita clinics, they were emboldened by the 1991 campaign and sought to repeat the blockades elsewhere.

In April 1992 the group began a month-long siege of clinics in Buffalo, New York. This time, however, defenders of women’s rights were prepared. Thousands turned out to defend the clinics in Buffalo and make sure they stayed open.

While Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups were preparing their attempt to run Carhart out of Maryland, a new Kansas law was set to take effect July 1, imposing obstructive and costly “licensing” requirements aimed at shutting down abortion providers.

Twenty years ago there were 15 clinics in Kansas. In 2005 there were seven. By 2008 there were just four. “After the assassination of Dr. Tiller there were just three clinics,” Peter Brownlie, president of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said in a phone interview.

“Clearly the purpose of the law is to make it more difficult and more expensive to operate a clinic, ” Brownlie said. While Planned Parenthood “turned somersaults” and complied with the rules, he said, the two other clinics could not and filed suit. None are in Wichita. A judge has granted an injunction on implementation of the new rules until the case is heard.

In early July the New York Times reported on physician Mila Means’s plans to open a clinic in Wichita to provide the procedure. After receiving a threatening letter telling her that “maybe today is the day someone places an explosive” under her car, she intends to go through with her plans.

Forces opposed to abortion rights across the country have also received a boost from bipartisan approval of federal government bans on funding for the right to choose.

The National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority, and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights are supporting the Summer Celebration of Choice. For more information on the July 31-August 7 actions in Germantown, see www.summerofchoice.com.

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