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Vol. 75/No. 30      August 22, 2011

(front page)
Maryland: nine days of actions
defend women’s right to choose
Militant/Seth Galinsky
July 31 kick-off walk launches “Summer Celebration of Choice” in Germantown, Maryland, in response to “Summer of Mercy 2.0” actions by opponents of women’s rights.

GERMANTOWN, Maryland—Supporters of women’s right to choose stood up here to actions organized by Operation Rescue, a rightist organization that seeks to criminalize abortion.

The group had proclaimed July 31 to August 7 the “Summer of Mercy 2.0,” targeting Dr. LeRoy Carhart’s Reproductive Health Services clinic here. Carhart is one of the few U.S. doctors who perform abortions until the 24th week of pregnancy. He worked with Dr. George Tiller, who performed abortions in Wichita, Kansas, until his murder by a rightist in 2009.

The Summer Celebration of Choice called by Carhart and his clinic staff opened July 31 with a 1.3-mile walk around the neighborhood where the facility is located. More than 200 women’s rights supporters from as far as Illinois, Kansas, California, and Montreal joined the action.

“You have no right to deny someone a safe abortion, that’s ridiculous,” said David Ballard, 23. This was his first action defending the right to choose.

Supporters of choice maintained a presence at the complex for eight days from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Honks, thumbs-up, and shout-outs defending abortion rights from passersby far outnumbered hostile gestures. Some stopped by with water and food.

At times Summer of Mercy participants tried to provoke pro-choice supporters, entering their line or taunting them. But training sessions by Summer Celebration of Choice organizers paid off. Clinic defenders stayed disciplined and calm all week.

Dr. Carhart closed the clinic for the week but reopened it Sunday, August 7. That day Operation Rescue held its largest mobilization. More than 600 antichoice protesters formed a human cross along two roads near the clinic, while about 100 women’s rights supporters maintained the picket line at the entrance to the office complex.

“I think women should have a choice,” said Jordan Parker, 18, who lives in the neighborhood. He came with a friend to defend the clinic on Sunday and came back the following day. “I’ve seen the antichoice side here for the last three months and wanted to voice my support for the other side.”

“If a woman doesn’t have the right to choose whether and when to bear children, then who makes that choice for her?” said Linda Mahoney, president of the National Organization for Women in Maryland. “And what sort of status does she have in our society?”

When the clinic opened at 6:00 p.m., antichoice protesters met patients entering the office complex with signs saying “Abortion kills a human life” and “It’s a child not a tissue.” Pro-choice defenders outnumbered them with signs welcoming people to the clinic. Operation Rescue extended its protests through Monday. Some 40 clinic defenders helped escort patients, while 300 opponents massed nearby but didn’t try to physically impede entrance.  
State laws restrict access
“It’s sad to see laws being enacted that restrict the right to choose, even though most people support a woman’s right,” Sheri Laigle, 47, said. “We need to be more visible.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, states enacted 80 restrictions on the right to choose so far this year, more than double the 2005 record of 34. Many new laws target abortions performed after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is in danger. Some ban later abortions even if the pregnancy would cause “irreversible physical impairment” to the woman. The antichoice laws have passed with votes from Democratic and Republican legislators alike.

At a Summer of Mercy rally in Gaithersburg, Maryland, July 30, Rev. Patrick Mahoney, an Operation Rescue leader, said their goal is to push for more such laws and to pressure Maryland officials to shut down Carhart’s clinic. “We can’t live in the past,” Mahoney said, explaining that the group could not repeat its 1990 Summer of Mercy, which mobilized thousands to block access to clinics in Wichita, Kansas.

Joining the week’s pro-choice events were many who have volunteered as escorts at clinics; high school and college students; activists from the Feminist Majority Foundation, National Organization for Women, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood; Unitarian Church youth group; the Socialist Workers Party; and World Can’t Wait and Summer of Trust.

Kira Baughman, who works in Carhart’s clinic and was an organizer of the Summer Celebration of Choice, told the Militant that responding to Operation Rescue “these past eight days helped pro-choice activists from around the country come together, get to know each, and talk about what we need to move forward.”

Omari Musa in Washington, D.C, and Beverly Bernardo from Montreal contributed to this article.  
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