part 2 of 2
In their lawsuit against the City of Denver, Lane, Sullivan, Powell and two women claim that the city has taken sides, choosing to align itself with Planned Parenthood. "Complaints...by Planned Parenthood, its employees and supporters are routinely and vigorously prosecuted, no matter how spurious," the suit reads, "but complaints by pro-life demonstrators are routinely ignored, no matter how meritorious."
Most neighbors, however, give the police department high marks for walking the line between respecting the protesters' rights and being responsive to the residents. It is the neighbors, rather than Planned Parenthood, who make most of the complaint calls to the cops.
Last spring, following Lane's break-in, Mayor Wellington Webb and representatives of the city attorneys' office, the police department and Planned Parenthood met with the neighbors to listen to their complaints and demands that something be done. In response, the police department sent a dozen officers door-to-door to survey the neighborhood--an action that the abortion protesters' suit cites as proof that the city has sided with Planned Parenthood.
Police officer Roger Barry, who was one of those who talked to the neighbors, denies that the survey was designed to stir up complaints against the anti-abortion crowd. "We wanted to know how the neighborhood was reacting," he says. "Who was disturbed and who wasn't--so that we could protect the rights of the majority."
The survey indicated that the intensity of neighbors' animosity dropped as their distance from the clinic grew. "After a block or so, it wasn't as bad," Barry says. "But those closest to the clinic were real upset about the constant noise, sometimes bizarre noise, and the photographs of aborted children."
Police officers work hard to maintain a neutrality they don't always feel, Barry says. There are pro-choice officers and anti-abortion officers, "but we're there to do a job--enforce the law--so we have to remain neutral."
An increasing number of laws pertain to such protests. There are federal statutes, including FACE (the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994), which prohibits protesters from physically blocking access to clinics. Recently the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling that clinics are medical facilities and that their patients could, and should, be protected from the stress created by loud protests.
And there are local laws. Following Boulder's lead, and in response to trouble at 20th and Vine, Denver passed the so-called bubble rule in 1992. Colorado soon followed suit with a state statute. Under that law, once an individual is within a hundred-foot radius of a health-care facility, that individual can require other individuals to remain at least eight feet away.
But within those laws is a lot of gray area. City Attorney Jim Thomas, who directs the lawyers who prosecute violations of municipal statutes, says enforcing the laws was almost easier in the past, when protesters openly trespassed on clinic grounds and chained themselves to doors. Now they rely on words--written and shouted--to breach the barrier.
And while the city's noise ordinance is fairly encompassing, what constitutes a violation is often left to an officer's discretion. "Either way, we couldn't win," Barry says. There was a genuine sigh of relief among the District 2 officers when responsibility for 20th and Vine was passed to District 6.
"I can't imagine why," deadpans Captain Gerry Whitman of District 6.
Accusations of unequal enforcement. Lawsuits. Angry neighbors. Angry protesters. Angry pro-choice sympathizers. The line the police department must walk is so fine that now a supervisor goes along with the field officers on every protest-related call, Whitman says, which ties up an inordinate amount of manpower.
Whitman's district is about to embark on an education program that will spell out for the various groups exactly what their rights are and how they can exercise them. The fact that there appears to be no end to the protests in sight frustrates everyone involved, Whitman says. "But the survey indicated that the neighbors don't want the clinic to move; they just want everyone--Planned Parenthood, the protesters and the neighborhood--to co-exist in peace."
The wording of Denver's disturbing-the-peace ordinance would seem to fit the situation at 20th and Vine to a T: "It shall be unlawful for any person to disturb or tend to disturb the peace of others by violent, tumultuous, offensive, or obstreperous conduct or by loud or unusual noises or by unseemly, profane, obscene or offensive language calculated to provoke a breach of the peace...so that others in the vicinity are or may be disturbed thereby."
But one man's caterwauling is another's free speech--and sometimes it's difficult for the police to make that determination based on a complaint. "It's a tough balancing act," acknowledges Thomas. "The issue is, when does the volume rise to the level of disturbing the peace? And that can be up to an individual judge or jury to decide...Our test is whether there is a reasonable probability of prevailing at trial."
And it's often difficult for the city to prevail at trial, because a witness may refuse to cooperate or be unable to positively identify exactly who in a large group was too loud.
At a recent disturbing-the-peace trial, Denver County Court Judge Larry Bohning found three anti-abortion protesters not guilty; he says lack of positive identification was the reason. The fourth defendant, Patrick Martin, was found guilty, not because he used the First Amendment as his defense, but because he was identified.
"The case was decided on the facts, not constitutional questions," says the judge. "I did rule that the city ordinance was not overbroad, so they may appeal that. But he was found guilty because he could be identified and because the facts supported the charge.
"He even proved how loud he could be in the courtroom."
After he was listed as one of the "Dirty Dozen," the U.S. Marshal's office placed Dr. Warren Hern under 24-hour-a-day protection for six months. Now the marshals are gone, and Hern lives in fear.
"Everywhere I go, I have to be aware of the potential for assassination," he says. "Every person I see loitering around my home or office is a threat.
"They want me dead. That's why using the term `pro-life' is such a hideous, hideous propaganda lie. David Lane, Ken Scott... they're fascist thugs, surrounded by more fascist thugs, who will stop at nothing, including murder."
Hern graduated from medical school in 1965, performed his first abortion in 1973, and has been a target of the anti-abortion movement ever since. He is one of the few abortion doctors willing to speak out publicly. But there's a price: His office is located across the street from Boulder Community Hospital, and anti-abortion protesters make this hospital zone anything but quiet.
"Scott stands there screaming at the windows...at me, at my patients, at my staff," Hern says. "I can't use the front entrance or front door of my office. He knows that I know that he knows that the last three doctors killed were going into or coming out of their offices."
The harassment doesn't end at the clinic--or with Hern. "One of my best nurses just quit because Ken Scott was harassing her wherever she went," Hern says. "She quit and is going to leave the state, she is so frightened.
"All their talk about free speech is just bullshit. This isn't a free-speech issue...it's about causing pain, terror and death."
Last week a federal jury in Dallas awarded an obstetrician-gynecologist $8.6 million from anti-abortion groups including Operation Rescue and the Dallas Pro-Life Action Network. The doctor had sued the groups for harassment, including death threats. Pro-choice groups hailed the award as a major victory.
"I applaud the result," says Hern. "It will help lay the legal groundwork for pursuing a lawsuit against these people."
In fact, a day after the Dallas decision, Hern joined a number of doctors and clinics--including Planned Parenthood in Portland, Oregon--that filed suit against the most extreme anti-abortion groups on behalf of doctors and lawyers nationwide. The class-action lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Portland, contends that the groups violate federal racketeering laws and the FACE law and seeks an injunction forbidding the defendants to have contact with abortion providers or to circulate "Wanted" posters identifying the doctors--therefore identifying them as potential targets for violence. The suit also seeks millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
Although Hern feels that the victory in Dallas "sends a message to these groups that there are limits, and [that] they have gone way beyond those limits," he thinks the lawsuits' message may be lost on people like Scott. "He's a fanatic," he says. "He doesn't have a job or a life...except to make mine miserable. He has no respect for the rules of civilized society...People are free to believe whatever they want, so long as they don't inflict those beliefs on the rest of us. If they want to believe the religious fantasy that life begins at conception, that's their right.
"But anyone who believes that these people are little old ladies quietly passing out pamphlets doesn't know what's going on. These are thugs. They're smart. They know what they're doing. There's a lot of them. And they mean to kill."
Lewis and her 21-month-old son live in a tiny apartment in Warren Village, a housing project for low-income single parents. Pictures of Tyler are everywhere. In a cowboy hat. A Rockies baseball outfit. As a toddler. As an infant.
Lewis's eyes fill with tears as she tells how she nearly had an abortion two years ago. Her parents had split up when Jennifer was a toddler, and she was raised by her grandparents.
She rebelled early and often. What she really wanted, Lewis decided, was a baby. "I had never had a real family," she says. "And it was like I had this need to make up for everything I had missed. I wanted to love a baby and be loved back."
She was seventeen. Her boyfriend, Jack, was fifteen; he said he wanted a baby, too. They started talking about how they'd get by--agreeing to finish high school and work nights, alternating so that the baby wouldn't be alone or with a sitter. Jack said he had practically raised his three sisters because his parents were never around; they could do this.
But when Lewis actually got pregnant, he wasn't so enthusiastic.
She called Planned Parenthood and was told to come to the clinic for counseling. The first time she went, there were no picketers and the staff was friendly, comforting. A counselor talked to her about the options: adoption, parenting, abortion. She asked what Lewis wanted.
They took her in for an ultrasound to confirm the stage of her pregnancy; they couldn't even spot the baby. That made it easier for Lewis to decide: She wanted an abortion. A date was set, and she was told to bring $250 for the procedure.
Jack was supposed to arrive that morning with $175, but he didn't show. Her mother's lover took Lewis to the clinic. By the time she arrived, she was already in tears. But nothing had prepared her for what she would experience next.
People were marching on the sidewalk, standing next to the parking lot entrance. They were carrying horrible signs with pictures of bloody, torn fetuses. And they were yelling, shouting cruel things at her. Vicious things.
"Mommy, no!" one woman screamed at her. "Mommy, don't kill me!
Some people in the parking lot were motioning for the car to come close to the clinic. These people hurried to help her out, smiling and telling her not to listen to the shouts and screams. But even safe inside the waiting room, she could still hear the voices.
"Mommy, don't kill me. I love you, mommy."
The staff took her in for another ultrasound. This time they could see the baby: Lewis was about nine weeks pregnant.
The voices from the other side of the wall echoed in her mind. She couldn't stop thinking about the photographs on their signs. She hadn't stopped crying since she'd arrived.
She changed her mind.
At that moment, Jack walked in. "I'm keeping the baby," she told him.
"Good," he replied. "I want you to."
Lewis felt that she couldn't stay in the clinic a moment longer. She grabbed Jack and went outside to talk. The protesters kept yelling.
Lewis was crying too hard to respond. But Jack turned to the protesters and yelled, "Shut the fuck up. She's keeping it."
The protesters erupted in cheers.
"God loves you," they said. One protester gave Lewis $10, which she spent on prenatal pills. A grandfatherly man, whom she later learned was Terry Sullivan, gave her a number to call in case she needed any help--"with food, or money or housing."
When Tyler was a few weeks old, Lewis took him down to the clinic to show Sullivan. "I wanted to show you the life I saved," she said.
Now, almost two years later, Lewis says she doesn't know if the protesters were the reason she decided to keep her baby or whether she would have reached that decision on her own. "I still think they're a little vicious...the way they go about it," she says. "But maybe that's what they think they need to do. It might have been the little push I needed, so I really can't say that I think they're wrong.
"Without their being so mean, maybe," she says, pointing to a photograph of Tyler, "I wouldn't have him."
On Saturday mornings, Nancy Brigham keeps her three sons inside the house, watching cartoons with the television volume turned up high. But she can still hear the protesters outside the clinic a block away at 20th and Vine.
"I used to yell at the protesters," she says. "But then I caught my middle son doing the same thing and realized that someone had to set the example here."
It wasn't always like this. When Brigham moved in fifteen years ago with her now ex-husband, the neighborhood was in transition. "We had trouble with drug dealers in some of the rentals and with some kids being out of control," she says. "We're only a couple blocks from City Park, and this area didn't always attract the best sorts of people."
That started to change as younger people like Brigham and her husband fell in love with the old bungalows, buying them to renovate and pushing out the drug dealers. "Though we still have to watch certain places," she adds.
Then, in 1987, when the Planned Parenthood clinic started performing abortions, a new element moved into the neighborhood: protesters. The picketing started with a priest and two nuns. They weren't any easier to deal with than today's fundamentalist crowd, Brigham recalls.
"I tried to talk to them once," she says. "I'm pretty pro-choice. But it just turned into a screaming match. They kept following, yelling at me, even when I turned to go home."
By 1989 the protests were headed by Terry Sullivan, and they were louder than ever. Some protesters used bullhorns and blew trumpets before the police cracked down on them. Others, such as Al Garcia, simply yelled so loud that Brigham could hear him over both her stereo and the television.
The summer of the Pope's visit was the worst. She didn't dare let her children outside. But she blames both sides for that fracas. "There was a lesbian organization that showed up from out of town," she recalls. "They were particularly obnoxious. One day they were rubbing themselves suggestively all over Al Garcia's car, saying really nasty things.
"I've always despised Al, but that day I almost felt sorry for him."
Like most of her neighbors, Brigham now does her best to ignore the protesters. She only calls the police when the noise becomes unbearable.
"It doesn't do any good," she says. "The city doesn't have the guts to enforce its own ordinances. I tried to show a copy of the disturbing-the-peace ordinance to a police officer, and he just walked away from me.
"They say it's their constitutional right. Meanwhile, this neighborhood suffers."
Terry Sullivan is standing across the street from the clinic and the protesters who acknowledge him as their leader. His van, plastered with anti-abortion slogans and posters, is parked nearby. It's almost as if he is trying to create some distance as he worries about the direction of the movement.
At 57 years old, with bright-blue eyes and a white beard and hair, he looks like a cross between Santa Claus and Karl Marx. The way some men talk about fishing or their first loves, Sullivan likes to reminisce about the heyday of social protests in the Sixties. His activism goes way back, to the days when he was a Freedom Rider in the civil rights vanguard and arrested in Mississippi in 1961 along with 300 other protestors. He was in Chicago in 1968 when leftists clashed with the Chicago police outside the Democratic Convention. "I was mostly busy trying to get a friend who'd had his head bashed in to safety," Sullivan recalls, "while all this screaming and fighting and tear gas was going on."
But Sullivan burned out on the movements of the Sixties when the protests became violent.
"Civil rights turned into Black Power," he says. "It went from Martin Luther King to armed Black Panthers. From sit-ins to riots, cities on fire, people killed. Even the Vietnam War protest went from stopping a war with love and nonviolent confrontation to the Weathermen setting off bombs."
Sullivan got out of the protest business and stayed out for twenty years. Then he found Christianity and a new cause: stopping abortion.
He showed up outside the clinic in September 1989 and has been there almost every day since, except when he was sick, in jail or attending some other rally. That doesn't leave him much time to work, but "God provides," he says. "I'm three years behind on my taxes and am pretty much hand-to-mouth. But this is what I do."
And he claims he's been pretty successful. His group has "ruined" the abortion business at Planned Parenthood, Sullivan says. "They used to do twenty or thirty abortions here on a Saturday morning," he adds, nodding at the clinic. "Today we counted eleven, and one more who turned away. We hope that two or three who are in there now won't go through with it.
"But if we saved only one baby, it will have been worth it."
Although he says he's sorry that the neighborhood has to put up with all the noise, he's not sorry enough to stop it. In fact, Sullivan quickly switches the topic back to saving babies, as though the neighbors should understand that they have to make sacrifices, too.
Sullivan himself has been arrested six times--most of them for disturbing the peace--and convicted in several cases. He's proud of the fact that the city has issued citations or made arrests more than 100 times since he arrived on the abortion-protest scene.
He's not proud of the way his cause is going, even if he thinks the media exaggerate the violence connected to anti-abortion protests. But the blame lies with the police and the clinic staffers and judges that make such protest more difficult, he says, rather than with the protesters themselves.
David Lane was just another face in the crowd "until he was attacked," Sullivan adds. "Then he went to Washington, and he was susceptible to those people who say that violence is the only thing the other side will understand...David doesn't think God is working fast enough.
"In the Sixties the media helped by not playing up the bombings and the riots. But now they can't wait to cater to someone like David, with his vanity and his sense of injustice," he says. "I was deeply disillusioned by what happened in the Sixties. I'm out here every day now to hopefully see that doesn't happen here. I don't want to see anyone--David, a doctor, a neighbor--hurt. But I'm not sure I can stop it."
Sullivan pauses as Mike Martin takes Powell's place yelling over the fence. "We don't hate you," Martin yells. "We love you. We just want to save your precious babies."
"We call that preaching to the wall," Sullivan says. "As long as the evil spirits are on that side of the fence, we have the moral high ground, but the moment we let them on our side of the fence, we've lost."
The morning protest is winding down. The escorts have taken down the blue sheets and the protesters are gathering their signs, talking about where to meet for breakfast.
Then a car drives slowly down the street and pulls into the driveway. The protesters start to yell.
"Don't do it. Don't kill your baby!"
The woman in the passenger seat is hard to see behind the tinted windows, but she appears to be shaking her head. Suddenly the driver throws the car into reverse and, tires screeching, drives away.
The protesters cheer.
"That's a save," Sullivan says, smiling.
Martin returns to the wall. "We LOVE you," he yells.
end of part 2
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Westword's biggest stories.