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Sherman Oaks Abortion Clinic to Hold Bomb Drills

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Times Staff Writer

Some time within a month, the staff and patients at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Sherman Oaks will be ordered to evacuate the building to escape a bomb, like those that have exploded in a number of eastern clinics where abortions are performed.

But, if everything goes according to plan, there won’t be any bomb. It will be only a rehearsal.

The birth control organization is instituting surprise “bomb drills” at its nine Los Angeles area offices as a precaution in the face of the increasingly militant anti-abortion movement, said Dr. Hugh Anwyn, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles.

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Administrators of several other Valley clinics where abortions are performed said the attacks on clinics elsewhere have made them more security conscious, but no others reported increasing precautions to the extent Planned Parenthood is. Several refused to discuss security plans.

The purpose of the bomb drills is “to raise the consciousness of the staff, making sure there will be a heightened awareness of what their individual roles would be if this occurs . . . emergency exits and that sort of thing,” Anwyn said.

The timing of the drill will be a surprise to the staff, just as a bomb scare would be in reality, Anwyn said.

It will be planned, however, to take place when there are no patients in surgery, “and no patients will be caught in gowns or undressed or in any way embarrassed,” said the clinic coordinator, Ann Berman.

“It will be like a fire drill, timing how long it takes to get out of the building by various exits, practicing who should notify who, making sure the staff has properly cared for all the patients, things like that.”

The one-story building, situated in a shopping center, usually contains about 50 patients and 25 staff members during operating hours, Anwyn said. Although Planned Parenthood also has offices in Agoura and Canoga Park, the only Valley site where abortions are performed is the Sherman Oaks office, he said.

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The outbreak of bombings of abortion clinics elsewhere “has certainly increased our concern for the safety of our staff and patients,” said Georgia Mercer, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood.

“While nobody has been physically hurt to date, that’s always a possibility because we’re not dealing with rational people.”

The number of bomb and arson attacks against abortion clinics in the United States rose from four in 1983 to 28 in 1984, including three bombings in Pensacola, Fla., on Christmas morning. The bombs have gone off when buildings were deserted at night and caused no deaths. There have been no attacks in Los Angeles, although a fire at a birth control center in San Diego in September was blamed on arson.

Planned Parenthood offices have been among those hit elsewhere, including bombings in Annapolis and Wheaton, Md., last year.

The organization’s clerks have been warned to be on the lookout for mail bombs, Mercer said. “That’s the kind of awareness that’s happening at all family-planning providers.”

Hiring Guards Too Costly

But there are no plans to hire guards, she said. “We talked about that, but with nine centers the cost was just prohibitive.

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“We alerted the cleaning crews, and we can see there’s been an increase in police monitoring. They seem to be doing more patrolling around our offices.”

Advice on dealing with bombings has been added to the guidelines distributed by the Planned Parenthood central office, she said.

“This is becoming a defense action by what was once just a women’s health care service,” she complained.

Paul Bates, a spokesman for Family Planning Associates Medical Group, which has offices in Northridge, North Hollywood and Glendale, said his organization has contracted with a security service to provide guards on days when abortions are scheduled at the North Hollywood and Glendale offices.

“As of yet, we’ve had no (bomb) threats,” he said, “But we’ve always been concerned about the right-to-life groups that have picketed us, and now on the East Coast they’re doing more than just walking around with signs.”

A spokeswoman for Westwind Women’s Health Services in Reseda said, “We got some dead-bolts (locks) and we asked the cleaning crew to keep their eyes open.”

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The office performs only about three abortions a week, she said. “We want to keep a low profile, just remain anonymous,” she said, although the office advertises “low-cost abortion” in the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory.

The bombings have been condemned by leaders of local anti-abortion groups.

“I hope they do increase their security,” said Susan Carpenter McMillan of Pasadena, spokeswoman for the Southern California Right-to-Life League. “We are very, very opposed to the bombings. They hurt our movement terribly, and we hope the terrible things cease.”

Edward Jamison, president of the California Pro-Life Council, an umbrella group that represents many local anti-abortion movements, said, “We’re opposed to this violence, and anyone who puts a bomb in an abortion mill is not helping the pro-life movement. But there’s greater violence going on inside those places. They’re in there killing children for money.”

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