Abortion Foes Face Resolute Opponent
Allene Klass hadn’t given much thought to abortion in 1971.
A nurse married to a doctor, she was in her early 30s and had just given birth to her fifth child. She and her parents ran a small, struggling rehabilitation hospital on the northwest side of town.
The Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion was still two years away. But abortions were already legal in Oregon and available at the University of Oregon Medical School, now OHSU Hospital.
When the state-run hospital decided to stop handling abortions, the Klass family decided to step in, becoming the state’s first independent providers.
The national debate over abortion exploded with the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe vs. Wade on Jan. 22, 1973--25 years ago this month.
“I had no idea what a big, important thing I was doing,” Klass said recently in her dimly lit office. “Even though I would never need an abortion, I felt very strongly that it was a woman’s right.”
Since adding abortions to services at Lovejoy Surgicenter, Klass has endured three firebombs--the most recent last spring--as well as daily pickets and hundreds of threats. The clinic performs nearly half of all abortions in Oregon, as well as offering podiatry, vasectomies, tubal ligations and plastic surgery.
Klass’ home has been picketed, and leaflets describing her as a baby killer circulate in the neighborhood of her beach house. Though she tried to shield her children, they were taunted by classmates. One public school teacher refused to have Klass’ daughter in class.
At the foot of Portland’s west hills, near a trendy shopping district, Lovejoy fills a two-story cinder-block building. Equally part of the landscape, pickets stand or sit, often keeping vigil with a sign equating abortion and murder.
Five days a week, often five hours a day, it’s 91-year-old Marion Hite who can be found out front. He’s been arrested seven times and spent a month in jail. “I think abortion is murder,” Hite said.
Lovejoy’s doors are unlocked, though bulletproof glass surrounds the receptionist’s desk and chicken wire protects Klass’ office window.
“I refuse to have a fortress,” Klass said. “I refuse to have a woman any more nervous than she already is for a surgical procedure, so you walk into a warm atmosphere where people smile rather than people checking if you have a bomb.”
In the late 1980s, Klass took Andrew Burnett, founder of Advocates for Life, and 33 other protesters to court for trespass and nuisance--and won. Of an $8.2-million judgment, she has collected nothing from Burnett and about $25,000 from some of the others.
“She took on one of the toughest crowds in the country, and we think one of the most dangerous,” said Kathy Spillar, national coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Burnett founded his group after picketing Lovejoy in the 1980s. The harshest thing he has to say about Klass--beyond asserting abortion is baby killing--is that she’s in it for the money.
Advocates for Life member Judy Hager agreed. “I’m praying for these women, hoping [God] will forgive them and show them the value of these children’s lives and help them get out of this bloody business,” she said.
Calling police promptly has stymied protests outside the clinic. “She made an all-out effort to stop us, and she did stop us,” Hager said. “It wasn’t the lawsuit or the jailings. It was the effectiveness of them coming in and just being able to knock us right out of the scene before we could have an effect.”
Without Klass and the clinic, women in Oregon would have been denied the right to an abortion, said former Oregon Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts. As a state senator, Roberts sponsored the 1969 bill that decriminalized abortion throughout the state.
“She has been very strong and been in a position where she has taken an awful lot of the brunt of this new right wing--not so new now--that came along and decided this is an issue, that we need to make it a moral issue,” Roberts said.
Klass had called herself “the main face to abortion” in Oregon. “People either liked me or hated me,” she said. “I had no idea this was cutting edge for women to have control of their lives, but it’s been a nice feeling to be in there.”
And, last year, the teacher who refused to teach Klass’ daughter called to apologize.