Their Own Osamas

Abortion clinics and counseling centers faced terrorism long before everyone else

Broward County Commissioner Ben Graber, a gynecologist who has performed abortions in his medical practice, similarly declined comment. Graber is listed on the Nuremberg Files,, a Web list of doctors who perform abortions, abortion-clinic workers, and others with ties to the procedure. When one of the people on the list dies, a line is drawn through the name. Ninety-one names have been stricken.

About three years ago, long before September 11, Planned Parenthood instituted a procedure for opening the mail at all of its clinics. The change came in the wake of a spate of anthrax hoaxes.

In October 1998, ten clinics in five states received anthrax threats. And the terrorists didn't stop there. In February 1999, 30 clinics received the warnings. And in January 2000, Planned Parenthood clinics in 21 states, including two facilities in Collier County, Florida, received anthrax hoax letters addressed to the clinics' accounting departments. All of the mailings tested negative for anthrax, and the clinic where Paula works didn't receive any of these letters.

Michael Shavalier

Still, she donned the gloves that October 15, opened the door, and reached for the mail.

Just then, the clinic phone rang. Tracy, the clinic manager, took the call. A worker at the Pembroke Pines Planned Parenthood clinic had just opened a letter that contained white powder. It had come in a legal-size, white envelope, and the return address appeared to be the U.S. Secret Service. Printed on the bottom of the envelope in red lettering were the words "Time Sensitive" and "Urgent Security Notice Enclosed."

Tracy hollered to Paula, who looked down at the mail in her hands, which was similarly addressed. "We got one," she responded. Paula walked toward the mail office pinching the corners of the envelope between her thumbs and forefingers. She could feel something lumpy inside. Tracy rushed out of her office. "Stay right there!" Tracy shouted. "Don't move!"

Paula froze. Since September 11, Paula had been expecting something. "It seems to me that when times get crazy, crazy people get crazy," she puts it.

This was the kind of incident she and her coworkers had trained for, drilled for, even been through interactive computer training to deal with. The staff went into action. The air conditioner was turned off so that the spores, if the powder indeed turned out to be anthrax, wouldn't spread. The police and the fire departments were called. Clients and staff were ushered outside. Paula remained isolated with the envelope until the fire department retrieved it. She felt secure because the letter hadn't been opened and she was wearing the gloves. But Paula went to the emergency room to be tested for exposure and began a regime of antibiotics as a precaution.

Paula tested negative for anthrax. So did the letters that the three Broward County clinics received. Nationally, more than 500 clinics received similar letters in October, most of them signed by the antiabortion extremist organization the Army of God.

On November 8, a second wave of more than 280 letters arrived via Federal Express. Security chief Adler intercepted the deliveryman in the parking lot of the Fort Lauderdale clinic after hearing that a similar missive had arrived at a Boca Raton clinic. Adler held out an orange haz-mat bag and asked the man to drop the delivery inside. "He was shaking," Adler recalls.

Though the feds last week arrested fugitive Clayton Lee Waagner for the mailings, Paula doesn't believe it's over. She considers the Army of God (a loose-knit antiabortion group based in Virginia) and other pro-life extremists to be terrorists. "We have our own Osamas," she says. A coalition of women's groups agrees. They are asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to designate the Army of God a domestic terrorist organization.

Although Paula supports prosecution of the Army of God, she thinks other extremists will take its place. "You won't get to the heart of the organizations," she says. "The only thing you can do is to fortify yourself."

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help