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Suicide Arsonist Rocks Iowa Health Center
A s reproductive rights activists across the U.S. gather to commemorate the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, they’ll of course cheer the defeat of South Dakota’s abortion ban. Clearly, it’s a victory worth toasting. At the same time, anti-abortion activists are not turning tail and vanishing. Bills to expand the reach of biased mandatory counseling about the psychological and physical problems that the antis attribute to the procedure—plus 24-hour waiting periods between counseling and surgery, parental consent or notification requirements for minors, and restrictions on insurance coverage—are continually introduced at the state level and, when passed, stymie access. What’s more, antichoice activity contributes to the near-endemic stigma surrounding the abortion experience.
On top of this, says the DCbased National Abortion Federation, the first nine months of 2006 were dangerous for providers. There were 10 blockades, 23 burglaries, 8 death threats, 7 incidents of assault and battery, 283 charges of trespassing, 51 acts of vandalism, 6 bomb threats, and 219 harassing phone calls or letters. During the same period, nearly 6,000 picket lines were set up outside clinic doors to jeer patients and staff as murderers, baby-killers, and worse.
One of the most disruptive incidents took place on September 11 when 45-year-old David McMenemy of Sterling Heights, Michigan orchestrated what was to have been a suicide-arson at the Edgerton Women’s Health Center in Davenport, Iowa. While the rest of the country was awakening to red, white, and blue tributes to the fallen, McMenemy, a former Marine with a history of mental illness, chose that morning to drive into the Center.
I ronically, the Edgerton Women’s Health Center does not provide abortions. Founded in 1971 as the Maternal Health Center—it changed its name in 2000—it serves approximately 5,000 family planning patients and delivers between 450 and 500 babies a year. The Center also offers comprehensive well-baby care to parents eligible for the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program. Although its patients are predominantly low-income women from the Quad Cities—Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois—rely on the Center for everything from prenatal risk assessment to post-partum care.
McMenemy’s sabotage closed the clinic for two weeks and stunned the people of Davenport. “He went right through the plate glass doors and drove into the lobby,” says a still-incredulous Libbet Brooke, a health educator at the Center. “He then tried to set his car on fire. He had gasoline in an empty pop bottle and the fire got going pretty quickly. It lasted until the sprinklers came on. The fire trucks came as soon as the sprinklers started. When the firefighters arrived, McMenemy walked out of the building and was immediately arrested.” He was charged and taken to Scott County Jail. McMenemy has since pled not guilty and is facing a 10-year sentence for second degree arson. According to the Detroit Free Press , he told police that he intended to die in the blaze.
Brooke estimates the rebuilding total will be near $200,000. Staff worked with contractors around the clock to get the Center up and running. “We worked constantly,” Brooke says. “It’s amazing how much damage can be done with a sprinkler. Of course, it’s better than having the building burn down, but it was major destruction.”
Yet despite this, Brooke concludes that it wasn’t all bad. Their landlord helped staff establish temporary satellite offices to attend patient needs during the reconstruction and was extremely supportive. So were patients and the general community. “It was touching to see how concerned our patients were. One after another they walked up and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re all okay,’” she reports.
In addition, local media attention amounted to a public relations blitz. “The community was inundated with information about us,” Brooke continues. “The fact that we don’t provide abortions, but do provide information about all pregnancy options is now out there.”
Eleanor J. Bader is a teacher, activist, and freelance writer whose work appears in the Brooklyn Rail , the New York Law Journal , Lilith , Library Journal and the Public Eye .
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CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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