Abortion foes target only clinic in Miss.

August 08, 1994|By Ann LoLordo H HTC | Ann LoLordo H HTC,Sun Staff Writer

JACKSON, MISS. -- The mission of the American Coalition of Life Activists is simply this: to drive out of business the lone physician performing abortions at the sole clinic in this state.

"We know what needs to be done, let's just do it! Let's join together and expose the last remaining child killer in the state of Mississippi," a leader of the new national anti-abortion group writes in a bulletin announcing its gathering here starting today.

The yellow pamphlet began appearing in Jackson July 28, the day before a doctor and his escort were fatally shot outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic. Now, more than a week later, the group's message is considered a chilling pronouncement as abortion rights activists in Jackson rally support for Dr. Joseph Booker Jr. and the New Woman Medical Center, where he performs abortions three days a week.

This Southern crossroads, sleepy in the summer heat, home to a mostly conservative, church-going populace, could become a flash point this week in the nation's always contentious abortion fight. Anti-abortion activists from Oregon to Virginia are arriving here to get the new national group off the ground.

The confluence of events has law enforcement officials and abortion rights activists on alert.

"We're not going to let what happened in Pensacola happen here," says Jeanne Clark, a Pittsburgh activist here to help Pro-Choice Mississippi organize support.

"Those two murders caused many of our volunteers to call and say, 'How can we help?' We're not going to let these extremists get between a woman and her doctor," adds Gail Chadwick, a spokeswoman for Pro-Choice Mississippi.

As ordered by the attorney general of the United States, federal marshals guard the Jackson clinic, as they do several others across the nation. A marshal escorts Dr. Booker to work at the clinic and his Gulfport office.

The 50-year-old physician, who has lived and practiced in Mississippi since 1984, says he will continue serving the women of Mississippi as long as he is able.

"I'm holding up mentally because the federal government has gotten involved. I feel much more safe," he says.

The American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA) would like Dr. Booker to be Mississippi's last abortionist. While the group says its members must sign pledges of nonviolence, some of its leaders have signed the statement supporting the use of lethal force "to defend the life of an unborn child" written by Paul Hill, the father of two who is charged in the shooting deaths of Dr. John B. Britton and James H. Barrett.

Local anti-abortion leader C. Roy McMillan, who is among a group of anti-abortionists nationwide under investigation by the FBI, is host for the week-long meeting. He says he has never advocated violence, but he has not condemned the alleged actions of Mr. Hill, who attended college and theological seminary in Jackson.

Instead, the 51-year-old grandfather decries abortion as murder and recounts violent acts in history committed in the pursuit of justice.

"I cannot condemn what a person did for a stranger that I would do unhesitantly to protect my family," the former public relations executive says.

That worries Pro-Choice Mississippi Director Christy Henderson: "He sounds like Paul Hill three months ago."

'On the front lines'

Since the Pensacola shootings, Ms. Henderson's one-room office has been abuzz with activity. The rallying cry has become "on the front lines for women's lives."

The Feminist Majority Foundation, the Washington-based organization that pushed the Justice Department to dispatch federal marshals to key cities, sent an organizing team to Jackson to prepare for the arrival of anti-abortion activists from across the country. Concerned that the anti-abortion coalition meeting would intensify the weekly protests at the New Woman Medical Center in Jackson, Pro-Choice Mississippi prepared a clinic defense strategy.

Ms. Henderson and Ms. Clark, of the Feminist Majority Foundation, met with high-ranking police officials, the president of the Jackson City Council and federal marshals to ensure their support. Two New York college students, on loan from the foundation's clinic defense project, telephoned supporters nightly. They recruited volunteers to man a line of defense around the clinic this week and videotape protesters' actions.

Even before the Pensacola killings, Pro-Choice expected it would have to prepare a clinic defense during the anti-abortion coalition's meeting. It had done so last summer when Operation Rescue, an activist anti-abortion group, targeted Jackson and other cities for protests.

But what struck the abortion rights group this time were the people supporting the newly formed ACLA -- some of the most ardent anti-abortionists. They included the Rev. Joseph L. Foreman of Milwaukee, national spokesman for Missionaries to the Pre-Born, and Andrew Burnett, of Advocates for Life Ministries in Portland, Ore., who arrived in Jackson last week.

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