These Doors Stay Open

Over 20 years ago, in December of 1994, two young clinic workers were murdered and five other people wounded in a shooting rampage at a Planned Parenthood clinic outside of Boston.

At the time, I was staff writer for Planned Parenthood of Connecticut (now Planned Parenthood of Southern New England). When, in early 1995, we began to plan the 1994-95 annual report, and as we took unprecedented steps to secure our own facilities, I thought long and hard about how to incorporate that December’s events into the document. With the support of both my supervisor, Susan Lloyd Yolen, and Patricia Baker, our executive director, I tossed out the usual format of reporting department by department. Instead, while the year’s essential statistical and programmatic information was included, I wrote an essay entitled, “These Doors Stay Open.”

Today, in light of the latest assault on reproductive justice, I am posting excerpts from that report—text that remains heartbreakingly and infuriatingly relevant.

These doors stay open

The final Saturday of 1994 was a winter Saturday much like any other. At Planned Parenthood centers across Connecticut, patients came in for pregnancy tests and birth control, Pap smears and annual exams, test results and information.

But on that Saturday, the predictable routine of opening the health center, answering the phones and checking in patients was more than a day’s work. It was an act of courage and defiance. The day before—Friday, December 30—two clinic workers in Brookline, Massachusetts were shot to death and five others wounded by a dangerous zealot who remained at large for over 24 hours before being captured.

On that Saturday, we in Connecticut honored those two young women in the best way we knew how. We opened our doors as usual, and saw our patients.

Escalating aggression

The Brookline shootings were the most recent example of escalating violence against Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health providers nationwide. Since 1993 we have seen the murders of five doctors and clinic workers, and the wounding of several others, as well as countless bomb threats, numerous clinic burnings and butyric acid attacks, and constant threats of violence to clinic personnel.

The attacks against Planned Parenthood and other reproductive healthcare providers do not come only in the form of bullets and bombs threats, and are not directed only against abortion providers. An increasingly conservative Congress is engaged in the unraveling of policies and programs that have, for decades, been part of the fabric of American life.

In this 30th anniversary year of Griswold v. Connecticut (the 1965 Supreme Court decision overturning state laws that prohibited even married couples from obtaining birth control) family planning is still a political football. Far right members of Congress try to justify defunding family-planning services by linking them with abortion. Unconcerned with facts—that only about three percent of patient visits to Planned Parenthood health centers are for abortion-related services—they have mounted a full-scale assault on Planned Parenthood (the plaintiff in Griswold) in particular and family-planning agencies in general.

Flawed contract

Are you concerned about teen pregnancy, AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and violence? So is the radical right. But their solutions, as outlined in the Christian Coalition’s “Contract with the American Family,” include everything from abolishing federal support for the arts to defunding Planned Parenthood, which the Christian Coalition accuses of “indoctrinating America’s children into its ‘safe sex’ philosophy” and “undermining parental authority and the bonds between parents and their children.”

Ludicrous as these accusations sound, they are central to the right-wing agenda. Far from protecting families, this agenda denies America’s rich religious and cultural pluralism; demeans women; narrows choices for all Americans; and gives powers of moral dictatorship to the very government the radical right says it wants out of our lives.

“I’ll come if you need me”

This past year was not an easy one for Planned Parenthood of Connecticut. It was a year that saw staff cutbacks, major reorganizing and continued uncertainty over healthcare reform. Our non-Medicaid patients, poorer than ever before, paid less for their care with us, while Medicaid reimbursements continued to be less than the cost of providing care. Significant resources were spent countering physical threats and political maneuvering from the radical right.

There is one place where Planned Parenthood and our opponents come together. They understand, as we do, that being able to control one’s own reproductive life is essential to women’s autonomy. But while we celebrate that autonomy, they are terrified of it. In the political arena they use undefined and charged terms like “family values” to keep us in our place. At reproductive health sites, they are using deadly force.

On the Monday morning after the Brookline shootings, a call came in to PPC’s executive director. On the line  was a donor who had contributed generously over the years. Now she was asking, “What can I do to help? Do you need a receptionist? I’ll come to any clinic if you need me.”

We did not need her to serve as a receptionist on that particular day. But the trust of patients, the dedication of staff, the generosity of donors and the backing of supporters are what keep Planned Parenthood going.

Nothing can protect us more than the outrage of ordinary people.

Reprinted with permission from the author

Photo via Shutterstock



Rhea Hirshman is a freelance writer and editor, and adjunct professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at the Stamford branch of the University of Connecticut.