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Abortion Clinics Consider Security Measures : Safety: In wake of recent violence, Planned Parenthood officials discuss adding bulletproof windows and armed guards.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the days after a gunman opened fire at two abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass., killing two receptionists and wounding five people, local Planned Parenthood officials began taking measures to increase security at their Ventura clinic.

Administrators would not discuss details of the security arrangements, citing concerns about giving information to potential attackers.

But officials said they are considering installing bulletproof glass windows and stationing armed guards at the clinic. The agency may provide its employees with bulletproof vests. And officials said the agency will hire a security consultant to review the procedures currently in place.

The decisions were made at a hastily called meeting last week, a few days after the attacks on the East Coast.

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At the meeting, Cheryl Rollings, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, stood at the front of the conference room, taking security suggestions and writing them with a felt marker on a sheet of butcher paper. April Fernandes, director of the Ventura clinic, participated in the Santa Barbara meeting via speaker phone from Ventura.

The mood Wednesday afternoon, Rollings said, was “a combination of sorrow and grief and anger, anger that we have to be spending our time and energy figuring out how to protect ourselves.”

Officials said one of their concerns is finding ways to step up security without scaring away potential visitors.

“The trade-off is trying to create a place where staff and patients feel safe without creating the atmosphere of an armed fortress,” Rollings said.

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Cost is another factor. “Security is expensive,” said spokeswoman Terri A. Thorfinnson, adding that the ideal protection would be round-the-clock security guards, as the Secret Service provides to the President of the United States.

Officials said they have not set a limit on how much they would pay to protect clinic staff and patients. “You can’t put a cost on someone’s life,” Rollings said.

Planned Parenthood officials said they are not intimidated by the latest round of anti-abortion violence. “Our employees are not going to work with fear on their minds,” Thorfinnson said.

Fernandes of the Ventura clinic said the organization may expand in the next few years and open a clinic in east Ventura County, a stronghold of abortion foes that is currently without a clinic advertising that it performs abortions.

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But despite professions of fearlessness and talk of expansion, abortion providers say the Massachusetts shootings and the killings at a Pensacola, Fla., clinic have heightened their awareness about the dangers of their jobs.

“Somehow, we’ve ended up on the front lines of what seems like a war zone,” Rollings said. “Where do they teach you in Management 101 how to protect your patients and your staff from some nut who is out to murder people?”

Thorfinnson talks about “anti-choice hit squads,” and a “radical right conspiracy” to create “armed militias.”

Last Thursday night, Planned Parenthood officials said, they almost called police when a stranger lingered on the sidewalk outside for a few minutes. “We pay close attention to what’s going on outside the clinic,” Rollings said.

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A spokeswoman for another Ventura clinic, Family Planning Associates, said company security policy prohibits anyone from commenting on the clinic’s business. The clinic’s parking lot is patrolled by a security guard and signs warn against trespassing.

There was no such anxiety at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Simi Valley, where about 40 volunteers who oppose abortion provide free counseling, clothing and furniture to pregnant women.

Lisa Brisley, one of two paid staff members at the Crisis Pregnancy Center, said she is not afraid of the center coming under attack from a violent abortion-rights advocate. “We trust in God,” she said. “Because of our faith, we don’t have that fear.”

At the center, a converted doctor’s office in a building across from Simi Valley Hospital, Brisley condemned the anti-abortion killings in Massachusetts.

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“We don’t want any connection with that,” she said. “The Bible tells us that all life is precious.”

And though security was the focus of discussion, the loss of life was very much on the minds of the Planned Parenthood staff in Ventura County last week, officials there said.

Rollings said clinic directors offered to bring in professional counselors to help staff members cope with grief and stress stemming from the attack. But the workers preferred a more informal method of expressing their emotions, circulating sympathy cards to be sent to the staffs of the Brookline clinics and to the families of the slain workers.

The handwritten notes overflowed onto extra sheets of paper, building to a mass of some 30 pages that Rollings said will be mailed to the East Coast this week.

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“Hang in there, we’re all thinking of you,” one worker wrote.

Another worker added, “Sometimes the most needed and unfortunately necessary things in life can be the most difficult, as those of us in this profession know. So please don’t give up hope.”


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