Mississippi's Last Clinic Still Standing, Barely

After years of violently blockading abortion clinics, terrorizing women and doctors, and agitating for biblical rule, there is a smug sense of triumphalism coming from the pro-life organization Operation Save America/Operation Rescue.

From July 15 to 20, OSA/OR has been staging an extended protest in Jackson, Miss., aimed at closing the state's last abortion clinic -- a move the group hopes will "send a message" to abortion providers and lawmakers throughout the country.

(Check out a video in which the group's president, Flip Benham, talks with unabashed glee about shuttering the "abortion mill.")

Operation Rescue, you may remember, was the organization responsible for the infamous "No Place to Hide" campaign during the 1990s that distributed the home addresses and travel routines of abortion providers in the period before the first killing of an abortion doctor. (Background here and here)

Rather than being permanently discredited by those actions, the organization has survived, and even prospered. Indeed, with George W. Bush in the White House, OSA/OR and its ideological kin have cause to be optimistic about their prospects. After all, one of Bush's first presidential pen strokes prohibited U.S.-funded international organizations from mentioning abortion to the people they served. Since then there has been a torrent of nearly 2,000 restrictions and challenges to abortion introduced by legislatures nationwide, most notably the statewide abortion bans in South Dakota and Louisiana. During the same period, individuals in two states have been sent to prison for their involvement with self-induced abortions. (More info here and here)

On the other hand, polls indicate that most of the U.S. population still believes women should have the right to abortion. And if pro-choice people respond decisively, this week's protests in Mississippi (and counter-protests, which I will be joining) could serve as a rallying point for millions to not only push back against this assault on abortion but to unleash a movement against the whole Bush program of repression, empire and theocracy -- a movement capable of driving out the regime.

But any effective response hinges on abandoning the paralyzing and demobilizing search -- led by the Democratic Party and far too many pro-choice "leaders" -- for a mythical "reasonable center position" or "common ground" with the anti-abortion movement.

No matter how many people have been duped into joining the anti-abortion movement on the basis of "saving babies," as Bob Avakian has pointed out in his book "Preaching From a Pulpit of Bones," "The essence of the anti-abortion 'movement' has been to assert patriarchal control over women, including to insist on the defining role of women as breeders of children. The fundamentalist foot-soldiers of this 'movement' make this very clear. The following prayer offered at an Operation Rescue rally, cited in Life magazine (July 1992), typifies this: "Oh please, Lord, break the curse on women's hearts that says we don't need our men. Break that independence.'"

Besides, a fetus is not a baby. With its assault on basic science, including evolution, and its intentionally misleading and grotesque signs, the fundamentalist movement has misled many into imagining that aborted fetuses are cute little babies just waiting to be cuddled. In fact, 90 percent of abortions take place when the fetus is no longer than this string of o's: oooooooooooooo. Since there is no way these fetuses could become fully formed, independent human beings except as a subordinate part of a woman's overall biological processes for nine months, declaring that they all should be preserved means reducing women to incubators and slaves to their biology.

In some ways, OSA/OR does us a favor by being more open about its views than its brethren in the White House, Congress and, increasingly, the judiciary under the Bush regime. One of Operation Save America's T-shirts reads: "Homosexuality is a sin. Islam is a lie. Abortion is murder."

Less known, but perhaps more revealing: OSA/OR's office space was donated by Lincoln Log Homes International, whose CEO, Richard Schoff, was once a leader of Indiana's Ku Klux Klan. Fittingly, a picture of the famous segregationist George Wallace hangs in the hall not far from OSA/OR's door.

And a look at the cast of characters involved with OSA/OR over the years turns up a "who's who" of the Bush regime's most influential and demanding theocratic supporters. Among them:

  • Tony Perkins, who 14 years ago could be found at Operation Rescue's siege on the last abortion clinic in Baton Rouge, La. Today that clinic is closed and Perkins is the head of the Family Research Council. He organized the three "Justice Sunday" events to rally support to hammer through Bush's theocratic Supreme Court nominees.

  • Pat Robertson, who not long ago received a phone call from Karl Rove to discuss Samuel Alito before his nomination was made public and who penned the foreword to Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry's 1988 book. That book detailed the "righteousness" of defying "man's law" and launched the group's hundreds of violent blockades of abortion clinics.

  • Randall Terry himself, who became a fixture on nighttime talk programs last year as the lead on-the-ground operative of the theocratic power grab staged in the Terri Schiavo case.

  • At the core of OSA/OR's efforts is an attempt to tighten the patriarchal chains of tradition. Consider: There is not a single anti-abortion organization in the country that supports birth control. Beverly LaHaye, the founder of Concerned Women for America, a group whose members Bush has sent as delegates to United Nations commissions on women and children, put it this way: "The woman who is truly Spirit-filled will want to be totally submissive to her husband. … This is a truly liberated woman. Submission is God's design for women."

    As Benham, the OSA president, explains, it is this same ideal that motivates his thuggish approach to women at the doors of the clinics: "It seems ugly, my speech. But it's because we love them that we scream at them. You have to have a bad guy who will confront them."

    In reality, this traditional belief in domination by men and submission by women is exactly what must be uprooted if we are ever going to stem the cases of domestic abuse that have made the home, statistically speaking, the most dangerous place for females in America.

    It is against this backdrop that the "opposition" of the Democrat Party must be judged.

    Sen. Charles Schumer. D-N.Y., has called defending abortion a "game" the Democrats "can't afford to play" any longer. Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., has called abortion a "tragic choice," ceding the moral high ground to religious fanatics when, in fact, abortion should require no shame or apologies. As a key part of regaining seats in the Senate, the Democrats are running the vehemently anti-choice Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania. And revealingly, the Democrats recently unveiled a new "95/10 Initiative," which aims at reducing the number of abortions by 95 percent over the next 10 years -- but which doesn't even mention birth control.

    What all this proves is not that there's no popular support for abortion rights, but that the overwhelming popular support that does exist will be rendered worse than meaningless if it continues to rely solely on the Democratic Party.

    The simple truth is that a woman who cannot control her own reproduction has no more freedom than a slave. And if half of humanity is not free, then no one can truly be free.

    The clock is ticking toward the resolution to the battle over abortion. Operation Save America's website boasts that what the group accomplishes in the streets of Jackson will soon become law throughout the land.

    On the other side, the World Can't Wait Bus Tour and the Jackson chapter of the National Organization for Women are planning counter-protests all week long. There is little that could be more important this week than joining them in the streets of Jackson to help build a movement to counter the theocratic zealots in the only way it can be done: through the independent political action of millions to drive the Bush regime from power.
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