They were fed up.
It wasn't just the giant posters of mangled, aborted fetuses that steeled their determination. It wasn't the taunting, the yelling, the promises of eternal damnation, the threats from lunatics on ladders. It wasn't even the need for bulletproof glass at the clinic, or the Kevlar vests that doctors wore when they came and went from work.
It was simply this: There is no law without enforcement. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court had ruled that Colorado's 1993 "Bubble Law" — which prevents anti-abortion activists from coming within eight feet of anyone in a hundred-foot radius of a clinic without their permission — is constitutional. But whatever the law says, Planned Parenthood employees knew the reality on the street.
For a video of abortion protesters being harangued on the 16th Street Mall, click here.
Early on, the anti-abortion activists who gathered daily outside of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountain's Vine Street facility, the oldest clinic in Colorado, the first state to legalize abortion, had recognized that the women the law was written to shield were also the very people least likely to file complaints when that law was broken. In the words of Jo Scott, a woman who spends six days a week protesting and has become a heroine within the right-to-life community, "Mothers don't call the cops."
In fact, in the years since the law had been added to the books, the Denver District Attorney's Office had never prosecuted a violation of the Bubble Law.
So a handful of Planned Parenthood employees hatched a plan to catch the creeps. And it worked.
Jo Scott doesn't mince words.
Marijuana Deals Near You
"Feminists teach girls that there are no consequences to sex by telling them to use protection without teaching the emotional consequences. They teach them that they should be able to do anything they want with their bodies, and that's just not true," she said over lunch last fall at the Park Hill Golf Course clubhouse, where several protesters frequently dined after a long morning of picketing. "It's a lie. I watch girls being dragged into the clinics, being patted on the head, patted on the back, and they're crying, they don't want to do it. And they call that choice."
For three decades now, Jo's been picketing clinics: first in San Diego, and then, after meeting her future husband, Ken Scott, at Planned Parenthood facilities in Denver. In 1996, Ken pulled up at the national Operation Save America protest in San Diego driving a van covered with pictures of bloody fetuses. Jo was first drawn to Ken's shouting ability; it was admiration at first syllable. She saw that he wasn't weak, like the other pro-life men who would show up at a rally, ask her out, and then suggest they spend a Saturday morning doing something other than preventing abortions.
She wishes that there were more Christian men like Ken ready to take the lead in the movement. "Women will always nurture first," she says. "If you take a mass murderer who has cut off the heads of 25 people, they want to make him better, when he should be put to death."
Jo and Ken started a long-distance relationship over the phone. Her marriage was dissolving over her husband's use of drugs, and with her two boys grown, there was nothing tying her to San Diego. Soon Jo moved to Colorado, and within a year of meeting Ken, she married him. These days, Ken spends his weekdays driving a truck, Jo spends hers on a ladder or sidewalk outside an abortion clinic, and they protest together on Saturdays. They take Sundays off only because the clinics are closed, but spend every spare moment and penny trying to overturn Roe v. Wade.
In 2007 alone, Jo says, she convinced eighty women to rethink their planned abortions through what she calls "sidewalk ministry." She doesn't just talk about abortion, but tries to share Christ her Lord and Savior with anyone passing by. "I'm not just a pro-lifer," she explains. "I'm a Christian first." She gives a silver dollar to any woman who commits to not having an abortion. Made of precious metal, it's a symbol that mother and zygote are precious in the eyes of God.
And the yelling? The in-your-face taunting? The promises of eternal damnation? "I don't do all those things that other people say I do, because in 29 years I have learned that those things don't work," she insists.
But on August 20, a jury determined that Jo Scott had done something bad enough to warrant a conviction for "prohibited activities outside of a health-care facility," and Denver County Court Judge Alfred C. Harrell sentenced her to 180 days in jail, suspended on the condition that she not engage in similar activity for a year.
Jo had been caught in a carefully set trap. Last year, concerned with escalating tensions outside of the Vine Street clinic, Stan Roebuck, then PPRM's head of security, came up with a plan — and asked four Planned Parenthood employees to give up a few Saturday mornings, without pay, to put the plan in action.
In pairs, the volunteers would make Saturday appointments, then arrive at the clinic in a way certain to attract attention. They'd drive around looking lost, park on the street rather than in the lot, then head toward the Vine Street Clinic, walking past the waiting protesters — all the time watching for anyone who came within eight feet.
On May 10, 2007, Julie LaBarr, who runs a Planned Parenthood education program, and Kevin Warner, an IT specialist for the non-profit, arrived together at the Vine Street clinic for separately scheduled appointments. They parked on the street, Kevin turned on the small digital recorder in his pocket, and the two got out of the car and walked toward the facility. Jo Scott was right behind them on the sidewalk. As she urged LaBarr not to have an abortion, she moved close — closer than eight feet. LaBarr and Warner called the police, LaBarr filed a complaint, the Denver DA pressed charges, and the case went to trial — Denver's first prosecution of a Bubble Law violation.
In the early '90s, when Diana DeGette was still in the Colorado Legislature, she noticed that anti-abortion activists were getting more active — both on the federal front and here at home. "These protesters started physically blocking access to women's health clinics, forcing women to face a gauntlet of psychological abuse, having people spit in their faces — and it wasn't all women going in for abortions," DeGette remembers. Protesters "were blocking women from going into health clinics for mammograms, pap smears or STD tests."
To guarantee that patients were able to exercise their civil rights, she and other Colorado lawmakers pushed for the "bubble bill," which then-governor Roy Romer signed into law in 1993, making Colorado the first state in the nation to legally protect access to abortion clinics. And even though Colorado has seen only three convictions for violating the statute in the fifteen years the law has been on the books, DeGette considers it a success because the measure almost immediately bought women a measure of privacy — while maintaining the free-speech rights of others. The eight-foot "floating bubble" provision was designed to give people like Jo a chance to offer literature and counseling to patients while giving patients enough room to refuse that offer.
In court, James Rouse, Jo's lawyer, argued that his client could not have knowingly come within eight feet of anyone since she doesn't keep a tape measure handy when protesting — "I wasn't born with sonar," she says — but a video from Planned Parenthood's closed-circuit TV sealed her fate.
The digital recording that LaBarr and Warner had made that morning was also presented as evidence. Jo points out that the recording didn't show LaBarr or Warner asking her to leave them alone, as they'd told Denver police officers they had in their initial statements. But under the law, a patient does not have to say anything to anyone who comes closer than eight feet. Jo also considers the recording evidence that she was the victim of a conspiracy: "Do you know anyone else who goes to their doctor's office wearing a wiretap?" she asks.
PPRM vice president Leslie Durgin concedes that Jo Scott's case stemmed from a "concerted effort by Planned Parenthood employees to reinforce the Bubble Law." Roebuck was killed in a motorcycle accident last fall, and neither LaBarr or Warner, who both testified at the trial, would talk about the case with Westword, but at least two other Planned Parenthood employees told police that Jo Scott had violated their rights by coming too close this past spring. Their complaints were combined into one case that was eventually dismissed by the district attorney.
Jo Scott's case isn't quite closed. There's the possibility of an appeal challenging the conviction, and according to Rouse, "we're still working on that." If left to her own devices, Jo would ignore the law and simply file a motion based on moral grounds — much like the motions she filed with the court before she acquired Rouse as an attorney, focusing more on what happens inside Planned Parenthood clinics than what happened out on the sidewalk that day. "Planned Parenthood continues to kill more people than anybody in the world," she says.
For her, this is the lens through which everything is viewed. For example, she believes that there would be no immigration debate in this country if we outlawed abortion. People cross the border because of simple supply and demand; if all those aborted children were allowed to enter the workforce, there would be no shortage of laborers in this country and therefore no jobs to attract immigrants.
Not surprisingly, Jo's attempt to transfer responsibility for her actions to the nation's legal system and its support of Roe V. Wade failed to impress the court. And during the trial, Judge Harrell ordered the defendant to refrain from making statements about abortion in court, as they had no factual bearing on the case. Courtroom spectators were also barred from wearing T-shirts with anti-abortion slogans.
When Jo Scott protests these days, it's no longer on Vine Street. This summer, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains opened a new, flagship facility near Stapleton, one with ample parking so that patients don't have to park on the street. And once the new landscaping matures — including several tall, strategically placed evergreen trees — it will be hard for any protesters to see onto the grounds.
But enhanced security wasn't the sole impetus for the project, Durgin says. Until 1986, when PPRM's headquarters moved to 950 Broadway, administrative operations shared space with the clinic at the Vine Street building. At Stapleton, administrative and clinical operations are again combined, and both the Vine Street and Broadway buildings have been sold. Though the first half of the capital campaign for this new facility was carried out in secrecy for more than a year, PPRM managed to successfully fund the $10 million project with private donations.
The new campus of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains occupies 3.25 acres, an entire city block between East 38th and 39th avenues and Poplar and Pontiac streets, just off busy Quebec and right by the Renaissance Hotel. Much of the 52,470-square-foot building used to be a United Airlines call center back when Stapleton International Airport was a major hub for the airline. To the north sits a commercial site shielded from view by a steel fence topped with barbed wire; directly to the west stands an abandoned Denver firehouse and an empty industrial building. To the south are some modest, single-family homes.
Protesters took advantage of the facility's construction to open a new front. Last year, a group calling itself the Collaborators Project upped the ante on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, giving general contractor Weitz Construction a January 31, 2008, deadline to abandon the project or face continued protests at the Lakewood home of Weitz CEO Gary Meggison and at every major local construction project with which Weitz is involved.
Protesters also targeted subcontractors, with varying degrees of success. Steve Lucht says he pulled his Lucht's Concrete Pumping trucks off the site when he found out what he was helping to build, then donated the $1,800 he would have made on the job to Families Against Planned Parenthood, a group affiliated with the Collaborators Project. Another contractor whose company wasn't even working with Weitz says his wife was alarmed one afternoon when two anti-abortion activists walked up her secluded mountain driveway to tell her that her husband's company was building a death camp in Denver.
Despite the threats, the building was completed ahead of schedule and opened in August.
Will Duffy, a full-time employee of radio host/preacher Bob Enyart, "Thank God for Bob," December 16, 1999 headed the Collaborators Project and says the success of the group's efforts should not be judged by whether or not the facility opened. Its goal was to hurt Weitz financially and create an example that anti-abortion activists could use to dissuade other companies from building Planned Parenthood clinics.
But Duffy didn't come up with the idea himself. Back in 2003, Chris Danze brought construction on a Planned Parenthood facility in Austin, Texas, to a halt by targeting the general contractor, who eventually pulled his firm off the job, forcing Planned Parenthood to assume the role of general contractor. The owner of a construction company himself, Danze got involved after a subcontractor on the job questioned why this particular health-care facility needed bullet-proof glass, and told Danze about it. (According to Durgin, Austin's Planned Parenthood introduced a pledge-a-protester fundraiser during the construction delay and saw donation revenue jump by 60 percent.)
When Danze heard that Duffy and his colleagues were considering a similar campaign, he called and asked if he could help. Danze spent a week in Denver last October sharing everything he'd learned in Austin. And Duffy passed it on last month, when he says he helped an anti-abortion activist in Portland, Oregon, mount a successful campaign to convince a general contractor not to take the job of building Planned Parenthood's new facility there. A similar protest in Aurora, Illinois, delayed construction on another facility for two months last year.
During the Democratic National Convention, Bob Enyart invited a few black evangelicals, including Alan Keyes, to Martin Luther King Park, just a half-block west of PPRM's new campus, to publicly ask Planned Parenthood to respond to allegations that it built clinics in black neighborhoods in order to execute a plan of systematic genocide on minorities.
"We chose Stapleton because it's a medically underserved area, a rapidly growing area, the fastest-growing neighborhood in Denver, and was ideally suited for us financially and for its location," responds Durgin. Stapleton is far from a majority black neighborhood these days. And, she adds, in stark contrast to the national average, PPRM sees more unintended pregnancies in Caucasian women than minority women.
I'm sorry, I can't really talk right now. I'm in the back of a police car," Ken Scott said, as calmly as if he were ordering ice cream or picking up his dry cleaning. He passed his cell phone — Ken says he went willingly with police, so handcuffs weren't deemed necessary — off to his pastor, Bob Enyart.
Despite his campaign vows to see the end of Roe v. Wade and his selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate, Enyart and his die-hard band of anti-abortionists do not consider John McCain a friend. They were very displeased when James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, threw his considerable mass-media evangelical weight behind the McCain-Palin ticket on September 3. And the video endorsing the heathen liberal McCain at the Focus on the Family welcome center? That was just too much.
And so, armed with hundreds of fliers, a bunch of DVDs and their lungs, some of the more faithful in Enyart's flock drove to Colorado Springs on September 4 to demand that Dobson retract the endorsement. Enyart and Ken Scott marched into the welcome center and, in the spacious lobby, propped up eight poster-sized signs each emblazoned with one word: Doctor Dobson Broke His Oath To God. It was a reference to Dobson's pledge never to endorse a candidate or piece of legislation that in any way cedes an inch to the pro-choice majority. When Enyart and Ken refused to leave, the police were called, and they were taken into custody and booked on trespassing charges.
"Jo is on probation, so if she gets arrested, she'll spend six months in jail," Ken said of his wife. "So she wasn't with us inside. She's outside with Leslie Hanks, passing out fliers and DVDs."
As vice president of the Colorado chapter of Right to Life, Hanks helped lead an attack on Dobson in the summer of 2007. In her view, incremental policy change is pointless while abortion is still legal, and the National Right to Life movement, in which Dobson is a key figure, was too soft on baby killing. Shortly thereafter, National Right to Life severed ties with the Colorado chapter, and instead linked up with the tamer Colorado Citizens for Life.
The irony of Colorado's most ardent anti-abortion activists taking issue with McCain isn't lost on pro-choice politicians. "It's been a pretty insidious chipping away at choice," says DeGette. "Just because John McCain is a maverick, it doesn't mean he's a moderate. He is 100 percent against choice. He supports every plank of the Republican anti-choice platform and hews to the Christian Coalition line. So does Sarah Palin."
Ken Scott's Colorado Springs case is far from his only run-in with the law. His file lists almost three dozen arrests, some for personal problems — he took a baseball bat to his ex-wife's boyfriend's car — and many connected to his protest activities. In the mid-'90s, his antics earned him a restraining order to stay away from Dr. Warren Hern, his home and his Boulder clinic. "The Fight of Their Lives," February 13, 1997
Pueblo resident Andy Holman owned several residential properties within spitting distance of the Vine Street clinic in the late '90s, and recalls the time he "got fed up with their bullshit." He marched into the alley behind the clinic and confronted Ken on his ladder, informing him in no uncertain terms that he would press charges for disturbing the peace if Ken continued yelling. An argument ensued, and Holman called the police, filed his complaint and wound up in court. "The judge threw it out, though, because I threw a wadded-up newspaper at Ken, and the judge said I had 'fired a missile' at him, or something ridiculous like that," he recalls.
Although Holman says he had to sell a few of his properties at sub-market prices because of the anti-abortion protests that rang through the neighborhood, he eventually befriended Scott. Holman's daughter, Shana, worked at the Vine Street clinic and recalls how once Ken learned her name, he'd ask her how many dead babies it took to make her car payment. "It was all very surreal," she says. "Ken once stopped yelling at me from his ladder and quietly told me the tag was hanging out of the back of my dress. Then he went back to yelling about Nazis. He was wearing a devil mask that day."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
If Ken wants patients entering the new Planned Parenthood facility to see his devil mask, he's going to need a higher ladder. But even though he and Jo have had to adjust their tactics at Stapleton, where a ten-foot-high fence lined with fabric surrounds the campus, they remain every bit as ardent.
At a hearing scheduled for September 30, Judge Harrell will decide whether to grant the district attorney's request that the terms of Jo Scott's probation include a requirement that she stay away from all Planned Parenthood facilities for a full year.
Otherwise, there's no guarantee that she won't break the law again. Because as it is, Jo plans to continue standing out in front of Planned Parenthood six days a week, Bubble Law be damned, until the facility no longer performs abortions. "I occasionally might take a step too close to another Planned Parenthood employee," she says, but that's a risk she's willing to take. "I serve God. I don't serve man."
To hold the fundamental belief that you are doing God's work is to have an unblinking faith in the inevitability of your actions — even if these actions could land you in jail for six months. But Jo Scott believes the only law she's bound to follow is God's law, and as long as the laws of society contradict the laws of her belief system, then society is corrupt and her obligation in the whole social contract is void. In fact, she considers herself a hero: "If I were a fireman and I saved three lives in a day, I'd be on the news!"