Md. couple in Supreme Court clinic-blocking case to go on fighting abortion

October 14, 1991|By Ellen Uzelac | Ellen Uzelac,Sun Staff Correspondent

BOWIE -- Two weeks ago, when anti-abortion activists Jayne and Michael Bray had their fifth child, they gave her a name that seems to sum up their personal credo. They called their daughter Perseverance.

For 10 years, the Maryland couple has fought abortion: Mrs. Bray, a suburban housewife who sells Mary Kay cosmetics, has blockaded abortion clinics. Her husband, a pastor in the Reformation Lutheran Church, was jailed four years for conspiring to bomb them.

The Supreme Court, in the only abortion case it will consider this term, will hear arguments Wednesday in Bray vs. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, a Virginia case involving the right of women to have access to abortion clinics without interference from anti-abortion activists.

The case grew out of the anti-abortion movement's blockade of abortion clinics, a controversial tactic used by Operation Rescue, a national group that has held more than 900 demonstrations since 1988, most recently in the highly-publicized blockade of a clinic in Wichita, Kan., over the summer.

The Brays and Operation Rescue are on one side of the case, and several Washington area clinics and the National Organization for Women are on the other.

"We don't hate women," said the 35-year-old Mrs. Bray, a volunteer at a Christian pregnancy counseling center in Bowie that was founded by her husband. "We hate abortion. That is why we stand in front of clinics, why we suffer arrest, imprisonment, fines, beatings by police and time away from our families. We hate abortion."

The Brays and Operation Rescue appealed to the Supreme Court last year after a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., affirmed the authority of federal judges to prevent protesters from shutting down nine Washington-area clinics under a 120-year-old law that was designed to protect blacks from the Ku Klux Klan.

Federal courts in Virginia and, two months ago, in Kansas ruled that the "rescuers" interfered with a woman's constitutional right to travel across state lines to get abortions in the same way that the Klan interfered with a black's constitutional right to vote. In so doing, the courts said, the blockades amounted to discrimination against women.

The Bush administration has supported Operation Rescue in each of the cases, saying the Ku Klux Klan Act does not apply to clinic blockades because opposition to abortion isn't the same as discrimination against women.

"To compare us with the KKK is foolish, ridiculous, and an affront to us all," said Operation Rescue's founder, Randall Terry. "They might as well sue us under the federal cocaine statute. It has nothing at all to do with us."

Groups that support a woman's right to abortion say the KKK Act has served as a deterrent because the federal statute, unlike state trespassing laws, imposes harsh financial penalties and involves protracted and costly litigation. Further, it allows the use of federal marshals in keeping the peace.

"It's one thing to spend a couple of nights in jail and pretend you're Daniel in the lion's den or whoever your favorite martyr is, and it's quite another to be hit broadside in your bank book," said Patricia Ireland, vice president of the National Organization for Women, the group that initially sued Operation Rescue and the Brays in 1989 after they announced plans to blockade clinics in the Washington area.

Lawyers for the National Organization for Women will argue their case Wednesday. But pro-choice advocates don't seem particularly hopeful that they will receive a favorable ruling, given the growing conservatism of the new court.

"Clearly, the court is stacked against us," noted Eve Paul, general counsel to Planned Parenthood.

The court is set to hear the case one month before "The National Days of Rescue," anti-abortion actions planned by Operation Rescue in 100 cities the week of Nov. 17.

The use of blockading as a tactic has split opinion in the anti-abortion movement itself because it is highly confrontational, although Mr. Terry says he is committed to non-violence and has drawn much personal inspiration from the book, "My Life with Martin Luther King Jr.," written by Dr. King's widow, Coretta Scott King.

But according to Mrs. Paul, "It's one thing to have a peaceful sit-in, and we are certainly big believers in the First Amendment, nTC but these are not passive resistance tactics. These people are physically and verbally harassing women going into clinics. I'm not questioning their commitment or ideology, but they've gone far beyond peaceful demonstration. They are violent."

Operation Rescue officials say their "rescue missions" have resulted in about 50,000 arrests nationwide, and court fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars since the blockades began.

In Bowie, Mrs. Bray is putting her 1 1/2 -year-old daughter, Beseda, down for a nap. Beseda was named after Curt Beseda, an anti-abortion activist sentenced to 20 years in prison for bombing abortion clinics in the Northwest.

The Brays became acquainted with Beseda as a result of the imprisonment of Mr. Bray, who was released in 1989 after serving four years for conspiracy for the bombings of 10 clinics that provided abortions in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C.

"This is grass-roots upheaval," said Mrs. Bray. "We've taken the fight to the streets. I wished we lived in a different time -- we don't. I can only hope that I can pass on to my children a society that doesn't kill babies anymore."

"Until then," she said. "We will persevere."

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