The Republicans Come To Town & Abortion Docs Pack Their Bags
If you want to survive the Republican convention, San Diego police warned residents, take a few simple precautions. Leave the car at home. Use public transportation. Allow extra time to arrive at your destination. And if you're an abortion provider, consider packing your bags and heading out of town.According to police, some abortion providers did exactly that. And those who remained behind hired extra security and donned bulletproof vests to protect themselves from what police said was the very real possibility that someone might try to dot the "i's" on the GOP's anti-abortion plank with a bullet."I would never second-guess someone else's decision to get their family out," says Ashley Phillips, sweating under her bulletproof vest. Phillips is CEO of WomanCare, a women's-health clinic located a mile and a half from the convention center. For nearly a week, known members of Operation Rescue and other militant anti-abortion groups have been cruising the streets outside her clinic. "Some buildings are hard to defend," she explains, running down a list of WomanCare's security precautions. "These people are scary."Closing for the week was not an option Phillips considered. "We don't think it's morally right for us to close. You just don't respond to terrorism that way."Presidential nominee Bob Dole sailed into town Sunday claiming that he had not read the party's platform, nor did he feel bound by its contents. What he hopes most to avoid is acknowledging -Ñ and being forced to respond to -Ñ the platform's anti-abortion plank. First incorporated into the platform in 1976, just three years after Roe v. Wade, the anti-abortion language has become increasingly restrictive. This year, for the first time, the plank includes a call for the criminal prosecution of abortion providers.It wasn't supposed to read that way. Four years ago in Houston, under the benevolent gaze of Barbara Bush, Governor William Weld took the convention microphone and decried the platform, urging support for "individual freedom -- a woman's right to choose." Pro-choice Republicans left Texas energized, vowing to yank the anti-abortion plank from the next platform.And for a while, it looked like that might happen. Early contenders for the GOP nomination included pro-choice candidates Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and California Governor Pete Wilson. But their campaign self-destructed long before New Hampshire's ballots were cast, vaporizing the promise of a convention dominated by pro-choice delegates.Weld repeated as the pro-choice poster boy of this convention, rallying the troops at cocktail receptions and champagne breakfasts. He reminds the faithful that while they were not strong enough in number to change the platform, they were able to force the inclusion of an appendix detailing their dissension. It is, although he does not say so, at best a Pyrrhic victory."No way can any of this be in a positive light," says Janet Benshoot, founder of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. "I don't know why they're calling appendicitis a wedge" [that forces the party to acknowledge the legitimacy of the pro-choice position]. Nothing, she says, could be further from the truth. And while conventional wisdom holds that party platforms are largely unread Ñ- and, therefore, uninfluential Ñ- Benshoot says recent GOP platforms have fostered a climate that encouraged significant federal encroachment on reproductive rights.Others worry that the platform rhetoric makes extremists feel legitimized. "If you're saying legal abortion is the same thing as murder," observes Ashley Phillips, "you're encouraging your supporters -Ñ especially those who believe in an eye-for-an-eye -Ñ to do something about it."Weld disagrees. "I know one who did. His name is John Salvi. And he's crazy -Ñ well, not crazy, he's convicted of first-degree murder in the Brookline clinic shootings. But that's rare."Weld prefers to look toward 2000, when, he promises, "the tide will turn." In the interim, there is a pro-choice convention circuit to complete, where the governor preaches to the enthusiastic converted.On the street outside her clinic, Ashley Phillips watches as an Operation Rescue member, defying a federal injunction, unrolls a giant poster of a fetus. Under her bulletproof vest, Phillips's heart beats a little faster.