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COLUMN LEFT / ASHLEY E. PHILLIPS : Call to Arms on Front Lines of Feminism : 'Pro-life' leaders escalate tactics in pursuing true agenda--the subjugation of women.

March 21, 1993|ASHLEY E. PHILLIPS | Ashley E. Phillips is executive director of Womancare Clinic in San Diego.

As we celebrate Women's History Month, we are ironically and tragically reminded that our fight against the oppression of women is far from won. We who symbolically place ourselves "on the front lines of feminism" must confront the fact that these truly are the front lines of a war against women. This war is being waged by fundamentalist religious zealots who have demonstrated that they will stop at nothing to inflict their belief system on others; they will terrorize and kill in order to further their religious agenda.

Like many other women's clinics in this country, the one I direct is not an abortion clinic. We are a nonprofit community clinic in San Diego offering a broad range of health-care services to women, including birth control, general gynecological care, cancer screening and prenatal services. Abortion services are available as part of a comprehensive package of reproductive health care. We are proud to help women as they take control over their lives.

In the early hours of March 9, five medical offices around San Diego were chemically bombed. Butyric acid, a potent toxin, was forced into our buildings with the intent of making us close our doors. Womancare was lucky. The toxic acid was discovered within minutes of its infusion. Emergency rescue squads, including hazardous waste and environmental health experts, helped supervise the cleanup in the middle of the night. Our building reopened for business that morning, although the smell--which has been likened to the odor of vomit, a backed-up sewer and rancid meat--remained.

The use of a toxic acid to inflict harm on people or property is a felony. Four women were hospitalized. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people were exposed to the lingering fumes. Pregnant women, the very people the "pro-life" community says they want to protect, were endangered. "Pro-lifers" state that the end justifies the means.

On March 10, a physician was shot in the back by a "pro-life" activist in Florida. The accused gunman had announced during church services the previous Sunday that Dr. David Gunn was going to "join Jesus." Not one of the parishioners called the police or warned the doctor. "Pro-lifers" state that the end justifies the means.

We should not be surprised by this violence; these actions are consistent with the rhetoric of "pro-life" organizations. A "pro-life" newsletter enjoined its readers by saying, "Let this nation know the laws of the Supreme Being take precedence over the laws of the Supreme Court."

Have these people forgotten that we live in a nation that not only mandates but celebrates separation of church and state? Have these people forgotten that a pluralist democratic society allows for a variety of ideas and traditions? When one group feels that they can legitimately legislate everyone's morality, no one is safe.

It is time to disclose the real agenda of the "pro-life" leaders. Using the abortion issue as an emotional tool that pulls on the heartstrings of Americans, they disguise their real goal: the subjugation of women. They know that the gains that women have made in the past 20 years cannot be sustained without control over our reproduction rights. They long for the time when women's lives were dominated by men. They are fond of saying that they respect women, but, when pushed, they admit that women are to be respected in the context of their "God-given" roles: wives, mothers and homemakers only.

As a feminist, I respect women enough to trust that they know how to make tough choices. I want to help empower women toward independence and healthy interdependence. I respect the differences and diversity in our lives. Pro-choice feminists stand firmly in support of a woman's right to control her own body. We support education about sexuality, family planning, birth control, pregnancy, prenatal care, abortion and adoption. We do not fear information, we applaud it.

Early this month, women and those who care for women were terrorized; one of us was murdered. The "pro-life" activists are no different from the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center, or from the zealots holed up in Waco, Tex.

The "pro-life" terrorists' message is clear: Continue to provide abortion services to women, and you, too, could be murdered. At minimum, you will be bombed with toxic chemicals. You will be threatened with biblical passages about locusts and condemnation. You will be forced to screen your mail for bombs, to look over your shoulder at strangers who scream and yell and whisper their threats.

On March 9, I was forced to face the threats and my fear. In response to the incredible support we have received from the women's community, I have been reminded that nothing less than courage is required.

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