Anxiety is often written on the faces of women seeking abortions or other services at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Sherman Oaks. And the clinic’s staff of more than 20 does its best to soothe.
But as a citywide anti-abortion protest neared, it was clinic staff members who needed reassurance and advice.
“We’re all anxious,” Stephanie Alexander, Planned Parenthood’s director of clinical programs, said Wednesday. “We’ve never dealt with something of this magnitude.”
Operation Rescue is a small but highly visible group of anti-abortion activists. Its members have shut down clinics in other cities by staging sit-ins and getting arrested. Operation Rescue has estimated that as many as 2,100 protesters nationwide will participate in three days of demonstrations scheduled to begin today.
The Sherman Oaks Planned Parenthood clinic, potentially a target for those protests, is one of the busiest in Los Angeles, seeing more than 20,000 women a year--more than 50 a day. Operation Rescue is keeping its plans secret, and Los Angeles police said the clinic in the 14100 block of Magnolia Boulevard is but one of as many as 17 in the San Fernando Valley that may be on the protesters’ list.
But the Sherman Oaks clinic is also the gathering point for several hundred pro-choice activists who will be dispatched to any clinic in the Valley that is the scene of a protest. Their aim will be to keep the clinics open.
Alexander and other staff members said preparations for the anti-abortion protest have been extensive.
They have included emergency drills to deal with bomb threats and intruders. Typical Operation Rescue tactics, which include crawling between staffers’ legs to enter blockaded doors, have been discussed at staff meetings. And the clinic is no longer divulging by telephone when it schedules abortions.
Degree of Confidence
All of that has instilled a degree of confidence.
“We’re all anxious, but it’s exciting in a way,” Alexander said. “We’ve been preparing for this for so long that in some ways we’ll be disappointed if we don’t get hit.”
Undercutting that confidence at the Sherman Oaks clinic, as well as at eight other Los Angeles Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortion services, has been a series of events that clinic workers believe that Operation Rescue, or the group’s sympathizers, is behind.
Alexander said women have been telephoning and asking clinic staff members unusual questions, aimed more at eliciting information about the clinic’s policies and abortion schedule than about its services.
Others have tried to bypass Planned Parenthood’s required consultation and set up appointments for abortions, she said. And some women have shown up without appointments, looked around the clinic and then left, she said.
At the Planned Parenthood clinic in Pomona, a woman who was not pregnant sought an abortion, expecting the clinic to agree to perform the operation without questioning the claim, Alexander said.
Operation Rescue members in other cities have used such tactics.
“We’re having to scrutinize everyone who comes through the door,” Alexander said.
Adding to the tension this week, hot tar being used to repair the clinic’s roof ignited the roofing crew’s truck and the clinic had to be closed Tuesday.
Staff members at other clinics are concerned as well. Representatives of clinics operated by Family Planning Associates in North Hollywood and Northridge refused to comment on any preparations for the protests.
An administrative assistant at a clinic in Canoga Park, who asked not to be identified, said: “We’ve been totally unscathed so far, and that’s the way we want to keep it. Every clinic that has the word woman in the title is a target.”
Preparations for the protests have also caused some clinic workers to re-examine their beliefs.
Colleen Hatzer, manager of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Canoga Park, which does not perform abortions, said she endorsed Operation Rescue’s right to protest.
“All we ask in return is that they . . . not deny anyone medical care,” she said. “A protest which blocks access to health care . . . is a very selfish act and it is therefore sad.”