Foes in Abortion Fight Convene in Denver--as Police Watch
John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe and Amy Husk are opposites attracted to Denver this week.
He believes in direct action against abortion, sitting in and blocking entrances to clinics, hoping to dissuade pregnant women from entering and to convince them to give birth.
She believes in a woman’s right to choose an abortion and escorts women through the often hostile bands of protesters that gather around the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Portland, Ore.
Cavanaugh-O’Keefe was arrested here Friday during a door-blocking protest at Rocky Mountain Planned Parenthood, while Husk attended a workshop on the legal options that abortion facilities can use to squelch nonviolent and violent harassment of their patients.
In a bizarre accident of scheduling, the two main groups in the national debate over abortion--the National Right to Life Committee and the National Organization for Women--are both having their national conventions in Denver this week--a week that happened also to be one of the most crucial in the 13-year history of legalized abortion.
Under the watchful eyes of Denver police officers, roughly 1,300 delegates to each group are meeting in workshops to learn organizing skills, define issues and chart their battle plans. Earlier this week, the right-to-life movement narrowly lost a major Supreme Court decision on abortion, yet its members appeared buoyant. They were addressed by President Reagan via videotape Thursday and will have heard speeches by three possible Republican presidential candidates before closing tonight.
The NOW group, flushed with the Supreme Court’s reaffirmation of legalized abortion and its earlier decision on the treatment of handicapped newborns, seemed nonetheless on the defensive, and its members said they had spurned presidential politicking by choice.
“We’ve done that bit,” said Eleanor Smeal, NOW president. “There’s a strong feeling we’ve got to develop a more independent political movement, that we are strong, whoever is in office. The Democrats have never put us high enough on the burner, and the Republican Party has been taken over by the right wing. We’ve got to create the political climate and put a big thrust on things people think we can’t get in the Reagan era--like pay equity. Hogwash! Our biggest political successes were in the early 1970s, when Nixon was President.”
“They’re on the decline, and we’re on the up,” countered Dr. J.C. Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee. Speaking of appearances before his group by Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and TV evangelist Pat Robertson, all possible contenders for the GOP presidential nomination, Willke said:
“They’re clearly with us. These folks would apparently like to be elected. If coming here helps, that makes good sense. If coming here hurts, it doesn’t. They came. We have not gone to the Republican Party. The Republican Party has come to us. The Republicans recognize our growing strength and they’ve been giving us candidates that are pro-life.”
“They’re four, five years behind us,” replied Smeal. “They’re . . . being used (by Republicans).”
While Willke outlined a role for the right-to-life movement in the November elections and in 1988, Smeal talked of a new effort by NOW to press international issues and to cut military spending so money can be spent on programs like child care.
But the two conventions exist on a more personal, individual level also.
Amy Husk, angered by the actions of protesters at the women’s health center in Portland, where she lives, attended a workshop on “How to Counter Abortion Clinic Violence.”
She heard Edmund Tiryak, a Philadelphia lawyer and founder of the Center for the Defense of Abortion Services, suggest lawsuits against protesters based on racketeering and anti-trust laws and the use of any damages won in court to fund abortions for poor women.
In describing the activities of protesters in Portland, Husk said: “The atmosphere is screaming, yelling, calling women baby killers.” The center at which she escorts pregnant women was the target of a parcel bomb in December. “I’m angry that governmental bodies544698222that anti-abortionists feel they have the right to harass people,” she said.
‘A Gentle Compassion’
But, at a right-to-life workshop on sidewalk counseling--the last-minute attempt at clinic doors to divert women from abortions--the Rev. Michael T. Mannion on Thursday told activists: “The best sidewalk counseling takes place with a couple people and no political agenda and no protest agenda. If the woman’s your agenda, there’s a gentle compassion that has to come through: You’re there because you care.”
That drew disagreement from Cavanaugh-O’Keefe, who has been arrested 20 times in “nonviolent, direct action--doing what the baby can’t do, standing between the abortionist and his victims.”
“There’s a problem in focusing exclusively on the woman to the exclusion of the child,” he said. “The woman rejects your advice. Is your attitude to the child, ‘Good luck’? That’s an insufficient response.”
The next day, he was under arrest with 21 others.