There was once an abortion clinic on Ponce de Leon at Juniper Street. I remember learning about it in 1979. Behind it were the offices of the Council on Battered Women. With its secret, cramped offices and counselors with limited resources, but good hearts and good intentions, the Council and its attached shelter offered hidden bedrooms weighed down by waiting lists filled with the names of desperate women and children needing protection from horrific lives.
The abortion clinic and the shelter anchored a block of quiet, intense sadness at the end (or beginning, perhaps) of a 2½ mile trail of despair that defined Ponce de Leon in those day. It was a quiet corner. A dark corner. The irony of the two facilities huddled so close together was lost on no one.
The unassuming Midtown Hospital was housed in a once grand, brick home with towering white columns on a large corner lot facing onto Ponce. No signs in the yard announced what went on behind the grand entrance. No advertisements in the newspaper solicited the unfortunate business. Nevertheless, it was always busy and the license plates on the cars in the small parking lot hidden in the back were not all from Georgia.
A plain, unmarked door at the rear of the building led to a waiting room that looked less like a hospital and more like a DMV waiting room. The staff had kind eyes that had simply seen too much. They had strong and authoritative voices dulled by the repetition. The clients waited mostly quiet and lost in their own thoughts, accompanied by a spouse, a boyfriend, or a family member. Or they sat alone, each contemplating the numb reality of that very moment in their lives.
Oregon 1976 was the first clinic bombing; then another in Ohio in 1978. By 1983, there were hundreds of incidents of vandalism and threats on clinics and doctors. The staff knew it. The clients knew it. The City’s leaders knew it. Everyone just stood still, held their breath, and hoped it all would pass.
Then “street interventions” began and clinics across the country, including Midtown Hospital, hired armed protection and welcomed volunteers who took shifts escorting clients safely through the onslaught of pamphlets and hateful messages from their cars to the plain door. I did not tell my family I had volunteered. They would have understood and even supported me, but they would have worried and I didn’t want them to worry.
The media got wind. The public became aware. The intensely private actions taking place inside those walls were rattled by radicals with an agenda but no compassion or comprehension. Staff’s eyes saw things very differently now. Bomb threats emptied the hospital of everyone except the doctor and one nurse caring for the woman still on a table in the middle of taking back her life.
Then, overnight, the hospital and the women’s shelter were gone from Ponce de Leon. The light had become too bright on that corner. Women’s shame is best left in darker, quieter spaces. Downtown expansion into Midtown, and a lot of developer money, made the decision easy, quick, and painless for public officials and proper society.
As recently at 2009, Dr. Tiller was shot and killed in Kansas because he offered women in his care a choice. In January of THIS year (2012), a family planning clinic in Florida was bombed with a Molotov cocktail. Legislation is on the docket in almost every state, including Georgia, proposing to limit a woman’s right to control her own body and her own life; legislation to keep women under control and in the dark.
This ATLGal believes the struggle to protect a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body and how to care for her children ebbs and flows in and out of the light, but the reality of women’s lives continues to be kept dark and violently controlled. The recent throw down between the Susan G Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood shed some light and I cannot help but delight in the lesson learned: if you bring the fight onto the open streets, then good women and men are prepared to go to battle. That is so cool. Let’s take it to the street, not just onto Ponce de Leon.