S.D. Abortion Clinic on Alert Amid Fears of New Arson Attempt

Times Staff Writer

Local feminist leaders and administrators of a Southeast San Diego birth control and abortion clinic are keeping night vigils to thwart any attempt at arson or vandalism, according to the clinic’s director.

The Birth Control Institute on El Cajon Boulevard was firebombed twice in the last year. Local leaders from the National Organization of Women and volunteers started their vigil Saturday night and plan to sleep at the clinic at least through Monday.

Carol Roberts, director of the clinic, said she fears reprisal because some anti-abortionists who frequently picket the clinic shouted threats Saturday.


The tension began to increase Saturday when, according to police, anti-abortion activist Jaime Bernal was issued a misdemeanor citation for being in violation of a restraining order that prohibits picketers from shouting at women entering the clinic and from interfering with its business.

Bernal on Saturday parked a U-Haul truck that displayed a huge poster of a full-term aborted fetus with swastikas and the slogan “Kill the Helpless?”

Bernal and Lesley Payne are seeking a restraining order in Federal Court July 22 to prevent clinic workers from interfering with their rights to picket, said their attorney, Burton Shamsky.

In addition to Bernal, there were at least 20 other picketers at the clinic Saturday, most of them followers of the Rev. Dorman Owens, pastor of the fundamentalist Bible Missionary Fellowship in Santee.

Roberts said that after she asked Bernal to remove the poster Saturday morning, she heard threats from Owens and his group.

“He (Owens) said, ‘You haven’t seen the worst of this,’ and ‘That armored coat isn’t going to protect you’ in reference to the bars on the windows,” said Roberts, who has been director of the clinic for about a year and a half.

Owens denied having made threats and accused Roberts of harassing the picketers.

“No, we’re not responsible for the threats,” he said. Roberts “sits around and thinks of ways to arrest us so we won’t be out there.”

Owens and his followers have conducted weekly protests at the Birth Control Institute, a private nonprofit agency that offers gynecological care and abortions, and at Womancare, another nonprofit clinic, for more than a year.

The Birth Control Institute suffered about $200,000 in damage on Sept. 13 last year when a fire was started through a window in the darkened back area of the one-story building. The second fire was on March 16. Damage in that fire amounted to about $60,000. According to the Metro Arson Strike Team, both were arson. No suspects are in custody, and no charges have been filed in connection with either fire.

Roberts said counselors at the clinic have ushered women scheduled for abortions through the back door in order to avoid the protesters. About 20 women a day receive abortions at the clinic, she said.

Owens said that his group is non-violent and that it simply wants to stop women from having abortions.

“We’ll never stop the picketing until the abortions stop,” he said.