‘It will be the poor women...

Times Staff Writers

Vowing to capitalize on the momentum created by Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion, about 125 anti-abortion activists in Orange County celebrated the news with a flag-waving and prayer-filled rally outside the Fullerton office of Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra).

About two dozen angry and dejected pro-choice activists also descended on the office to vent their feelings, but the groups kept their distance, so the day remained peaceful.

“The day of the unborn is here,” the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Orange County-based Traditional Values Coalition, declared to cheers and cries of “Amen!” from anti-abortion activists holding placards reading, “Thank You Lord for This Victory in Life” and “Feminazis Go Home.”


While Monday’s decision did not reverse the high court’s 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, Sheldon told the crowd that because the court freed states to impose sharp restrictions on abortion, “Roe has lost its feathers, its wings and its limbs.”

Pro-choice activists, however, suggested that they were not about to concede. Newport Beach resident Molly Lyon criticized the court for handing down the decision on the eve of Independence Day, calling the timing “absolutely obscene.”

“Sandra Day O’Connor is a man,” Lyon said. “If she were a woman, she wouldn’t have voted that way.”

Abortion foes would have been invigorated whatever Monday’s ruling, said Patti Headland-Wauson, a pro-choice activist and organizer of clinic defenders, who had hoped for a larger turnout at Johnson’s office.

“I’m not thrilled, believe me,” she said.

The rallies were perhaps the most vivid display of emotions in the county over the Supreme Court’s ruling, as residents--like those across the country--mulled the decision and looked ahead with concern or hope.

Some called the decision a curse. Others called it a blessing. Still others said only time will tell. But few seemed to be without an opinion on an issue that has divided the county, much as it has the nation.

Pro-choice advocates in the county took the Supreme Court decision hard but vowed that in the months to come, they will push their beliefs all the more forcefully in the political arena.

“It means we need to press our point a little harder, a little more vocally,” said Margie Fites Seigle, executive director of Planned Parenthood in Orange and San Bernardino counties. “We will do that by encouraging pro-choice persons to write to their legislators, to let them know that reproductive rights should remain a choice for all women in California.”

She said her frustration at the decision turns to anger when she considers the “two-tiered” health system that could develop across the country as a result. Women who can afford to travel to states that allow abortions will still be able to obtain them, she predicted, “but once again, it will be the poor women that are hurt.”

Locally, she foresaw little change. “Those who believe in the right of choice will continue to offer choices,” she said, noting that Planned Parenthood plans to expand services in the county to include abortion as well as contraception and prenatal care.

In the Costa Mesa office of Planned Parenthood, the reaction was equally heated. Workers said they had heard the news along with several women arriving for appointments, on a waiting-room TV.

“The patients were very upset,” said Dana McKinney, a registered nurse practitioner. “The common question from them all was, ‘How is that going to affect me?’ ”

Cathy Stewart, another nurse practitioner, said she fears that the court’s decision will eventually usher in further restrictions on abortion, creating an atmosphere in which teen-agers would “go to a back-street clinic or try to do it themselves with a coat hanger.”

“There has to be a choice,” Stewart said. “People talk about the United States and our freedoms. Is it really there with this sort of thing?”

Anti-abortion activists, meanwhile, basked in what most termed an unquestionable victory.

Randy Adler, pastor of Stone Mountain Church in Laguna Hills and an anti-abortion leader, said Monday’s ruling inflicted “a mortal wound” to Roe vs. Wade, the historic 1973 finding that a woman’s constitutional right of privacy includes the right to choose abortion.

“Roe is on her last leg now,” Adler said. “Probably by next year, she will be vanquished. We didn’t get all we wanted, but it came out pretty good for us.”

“The lines are definitely drawn as to what you believe and how much you believe in it,” said Jeri Muth of Tustin, an abortion foe who has participated in recent blockades of family-planning clinics organized by the New York-based Operation Rescue.

“It’s a victory for America,” said Dan Flores, 32, a fundamentalist Christian who handed out flags during the rally at Johnson’s office, which was closed for the legislative holiday.

“We’re chipping away at the foundation of the abortion system,” said Donald Smith of Anaheim, producer of the anti-abortion film “The Silent Scream.”

“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Orange County-based leaders of Operation Rescue in Southern California--a group opposed to abortions that has pushed the issue into the headlines with blockades of many Southland family-planning clinics in recent months--said Monday’s decision will help draw new supporters and bolster their efforts.

“We’re pleased to see the court has taken a significant step toward the protection of women from exploitation and their children from murder,” said Russell Neal, a group spokesman.

Neal predicted that Operation Rescue will escalate its blockades at various clinics in the months to come and that pastors will probably be put under increasing pressure to take a stand on the issue.

Participants will also aid other anti-abortion activists in pushing for state legislation and candidates who support their views, he said.

The national organization, based in Binghamton, New York, will try Saturday to blockade an undisclosed Southern California clinic. A rally will precede the operation at 7 p.m. Friday night at the First Church of the Nazarene in Pasadena.

Sheldon, meanwhile, said he envisions his group and other anti-abortion activists pressing for a state ballot initiative in 1990, with an eye toward outlawing public funding for abortions in California.

He also expressed hope that the decision would help revitalize legislation requiring juveniles to get parental consent for an abortion.

In addition, he predicted that conservative forces will continue to seek major restrictions on state money for abortions and related services, will seek stricter health standards for practicing clinics and will push for “fathers of the unborn” to argue their cases in court.

‘Civil Rights of the Unborn’

“We’re calling for all groups across this country who stood for civil rights to stand up for the civil rights of the unborn,” Sheldon said. “We believe a lot of good is going to come out of the Supreme Court’s decision.”

Several state and federal lawmakers from the county were equally bullish on the court decision, saying it will ultimately bring a new era of reduced state funding for abortions in California.

Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton) said he hopes that Monday’s ruling will persuade the state Supreme Court to reverse itself and give a green light to the ongoing efforts of state legislators to restrict the use of public money for abortions. During the last decade, lawmakers have voted narrowly each year to cut off such money, but the court has disallowed it.

“For the future, we Californians are probably going to see a significant change in the use of state tax dollars to finance abortions,” said Dannemeyer, who opposes abortion.

State Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) agreed, saying the ruling “changes the whole ballgame” on the issue of public money for abortions in California.

‘A Good Deal of Debate’

“I think we’ll probably find a good deal of debate on the issue,” said Bergeson, an ardent foe of abortion. “There undoubtably will be legislation for both sides of the issue and a good deal of confrontation. . . . Personally, I think the restrictions are necessary. It is in keeping with the wishes of the people.”

Several pro-choice advocates, however, maintained that the Supreme Court decision will have virtually no impact in California because of tough privacy provisions in the state Constitution.

“Politically, I hate to see the opinion,” said Ron Talmo, a law professor and civil rights lawyer, “because I think a woman should have an absolute right to her choice.

“But legally, for California, it means absolutely zero. It has absolutely no meaning here in California as far as the current state of our law.”