YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Month After Month, 'Soldiers' Fight in Bitter Abortion Battles : Abortion: A Planned Parenthood clinic is just one of the many fronts in this very emotional war.


Trudy Hayes is looking for a fetus.

She wants to find one and bury it in one of two Ventura County cemetery plots where anti-abortion advocates hold memorial services for the "Unknown Child."

"We're going to place an aborted baby in there," Hayes said, calmly and deliberately, her soft gray curls framing her faintly lined face.

"It can be done. They're found in trash cans all over."

Hayes, a 56-year-old church organist, is one of a growing number of foot soldiers in a war between abortion foes and pro-choice advocates in Ventura County.

It is a war that for the most part is being quietly fought, but one that also has escalated in recent months, partly as the result of two major developments in the past year.

In July, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the states have sole authority to deem abortion legal or illegal--making local opinions all the more important.

And before that, the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue pushed into Southern California and began blockading clinics, solidifying forces in Ventura County on both sides of the issue.

Now, with the Supreme Court ruling and Operation Rescue behind them, both sides have refined their tactics and are adjusting their strategies for political battles.

Trudy Hayes is just one of the combatants. And the skirmishing has become part of her life.

She and her husband, Bill, catalogue newspaper articles and brochures about abortion on their IBM personal computer. She has also helped organize two years of daily picketing at the Oxnard Planned Parenthood Clinic. And she has composed five ballads about unborn babies.

Then there is her continuing hunt for a fetus to place in one of the two donated cemetery plots, where anti-abortion mourners have gathered since 1984 on Memorial Day and All Souls' Day.

The plots at Oxnard's Santa Clara Cemetery and Camarillo's Mountain Memorial Park are dedicated "In memory of the unknown child."

The plots are empty for now. It has been hard to find fetuses, Hayes said. But she is determined.

"It's on our minds a lot," she said.

The imagery of war dominates the fight over abortion in Ventura County. At times it is a cold war. But there are other moments when the clash of values comes close to combat.

Both sides map their strategies with military zeal on a number of county battlegrounds.

Each claims to have spies infiltrating the opposition.

The anti-abortion movement likens abortions to the massacre of Jews in World War II concentration camps. Pro-choice advocates compare abortion clinic blockaders--sometimes dressed in masks and robes to represent the Grim Reaper--to the Ku Klux Klan.

Both sides claim the other is pushing misinformation and propaganda on an unsuspecting public.

They speak of the abortion fight as "the Vietnam of the 1990s," and some say it has already begun to produce its own version of "post-traumatic stress syndrome," the condition that plagues some combat veterans.

The tactics and the raw emotions that fuel the continuing struggle were evident during one of many recent skirmishes in Oxnard.

Outside the Oxnard Planned Parenthood Clinic, some anti-abortion protesters carried signs depicting bloody fetuses. Others clutched rosaries. Taped onto their cars were lists of women who allegedly died during abortions around the country.

The picketers stopped pacing as a doctor, known on sight to the demonstrators, drove into the clinic's parking lot.

"Good morning, Killer," yelled Bill Hayes, the 61-year-old protest organizer. "We haven't seen you for a while."

"Give him a kiss, Barbara," Hayes taunted, referring to Barbara Wells, who until two weeks ago was patient services director at the Oxnard clinic. "He needs some AIDS."

The "butcher's arrival" is the big event for those who regularly demonstrate at the clinic, Hayes said. The rest of the time is spent anxiously waiting for women to show up so the demonstrators can yell out that life begins at conception, and abortion is murder.

The protesters are fighting the pro-choice views of the Planned Parenthood workers and volunteers--that a woman has control over her body and therefore has the right to an abortion.

But the oft-heard arguments are not in evidence so much as the heckling, which recurs week in and week out.

The Oxnard clinic--where women can get abortions until their 10th week of pregnancy--is not the only place in Ventura County where women get abortions.

Abortions also are performed at the Family Planning Medical Associates Clinic and in the offices of private physicians.

Some hospitals--such as St. John's Regional Medical Center, a Catholic hospital in Oxnard--ban the procedure. But many other hospitals allow doctors to perform them.

The Oxnard clinic, however, has become the most visible abortion battleground in Ventura county primarily because of the daily protests there by Bill and Trudy Hayes, who have organized a loosely knit group of 15 to 20 volunteers.

Los Angeles Times Articles