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National Clinic Access Project

Project History

NCAP began as the National Clinic Defense Project in 1989 by mobilizing 10,000 volunteers in response to Operation Rescue's threat to turn Los Angeles into the first "abortion-free city."  For more than three years, Operation Rescue (OR) staged massive efforts to blockade and close clinics, and each time, thousands of pro-choice volunteers outnumbered and out-maneuvered the anti-abortion forces.

BUFFALO, NEW YORK -- In February 1992, the Feminist Majority Foundation dispatched organizers to Buffalo, New York at the request of local clinics to prevent four weeks of massive clinic blockades planned by Operation Rescue as a national siege. The Feminist Majority's Clinic Defense Team set up offices in the local YWCA, organized trainings for volunteers, started volunteer phonebanks, expanded publicity efforts, and worked with the four clinics in the area to adapt clinic access strategies to local needs and circumstances. As a result, abortion rights supporters decisively defeated Operation Rescue. At no time was a Buffalo-area clinic closed down by blockades. Demoralized and divided, Operation Rescue ceased all activity in the area some two weeks short of its plans. The national media dubbed Operation Rescue's efforts in Buffalo "Operation Fizzle" for failing to meet their announced objectives.

"No words can express the gratitude this community, our clinic staff, the physicians, patients, myself, and all pro-choice people owe the Feminist Majority Foundation. It was your training and organization that brought together such a powerful response to Operation Rescue." - Marilyn Buckham of Buffalo, NY

NEW YORK CITY and HOUSTON, TEXAS – During the Summer of 1992, Feminist Majority Foundation clinic organizers trained and mobilized more than 12,000 pro-choice volunteers in NYC and more than 3,000 in Houston, TX to defend clinics against Operation Rescue’s threatened blockades during the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.  Badly outnumbered, OR cancelled its plans in NYC and instead focused on Houston, calling in other anti-abortion organizations including Lambs of Christ and Rescue America.  Again, pro-choice clinic defenders outnumbered anti-abortion forces, keeping Houston area clinics open. 

MELBOURNE, FLORIDAOperation Rescue next announced it would target a clinic in Melbourne, FL for 6-week long “training camp” in the spring of 1993.  For more than three months, FMF clinic defense organizers worked with community volunteers to defend against a variety of tactics.  During this period, an anti-abortion extremist shot and killed Dr. David Gunn outside a clinic in Pensacola, FL. 

Recognizing that anti-abortion extremists had shifted strategies from blockades to tactics of intimidation and violence directed at health care workers, the Feminist Majority Foundation's legal team sought to establish safety buffer zones around targeted clinics and the homes of health care workers. The Legal Team won a precedent-setting case, Madsen v. Women's Health Clinic, establishing a buffer zone injunction around the Melbourne, FL clinic, Aware Woman Center for Choice. The injunction was upheld by a unanimous Florida State Supreme Court decision and by the U.S. Supreme Court (1994). Today, some 40% of the nation's clinics are protected by buffer zones.

JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI -- Operation Rescue had targeted clinics in Jackson, Mississippi as a part of its July 1993 seven-city "Cities of Refuge" attack. The Feminist Majority Foundation Clinic Defense Team mobilized some 400 volunteer clinic defenders to keep the Jackson clinic open. Abortion rights advocates outnumbered the anti-abortion opponents more that 3 to 1 and the clinic remained open. The FMF Clinic Defense team has repeatedly defended the now (2015) only abortion clinic in all of Mississippi -- the Jackson Women's Health Organization.

CLINIC DEFENSE AROUND THE COUNTRY – Ever since 1992, NCAP has sent trained teams of community organizers to targeted cities to assist local communities in mobilizing and training pro-choice volunteers to keep clinics open. In total, the Project has mobilized and trained more than 60,000 community volunteers to support clinics and counter anti-abortion harassment and blockades in 54 cities in 29 states, including:  Los Angeles, CA, Buffalo, NY, New York City, Houston, TX, Birmingham, AL, Little Rock, AR, Minneapolis, MN, Jackson, MS, Chicago, IL, San Diego, CA, Atlanta, GE, Wichita, KS, St. Louis, MO, Pensacola, FL, Melbourne, FL, Denver, CO, Dallas, TX, Columbus, OH, Philadelphia, PA, Charlotte, NC.

WICHITA, KANSAS – In 2002, Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue (aka Operation Rescue West), moves the organization’s headquarters from Southern California to Wichita, Kansas, with the stated purpose of closing down Dr. George Tiller’s clinic, Women’s Health Care Services.  Some half dozen of his followers move with him, including Cheryl Sullenger who had been convicted and served almost two years in prison for conspiring to bomb a California clinic.

Newman and ORW launched its “Year of Rebuke” campaign targeting Dr. Tiller, his employees, and those who do business with the clinic and/or Dr. Tiller personally with relentless harassment, including going through clinic staff’s personal trash; protesting at restaurants with pictures of aborted fetuses; picketing their homes and following them in vehicles to establish their daily routines. 

Dr. Tiller and his clinic were long the target of extreme levels of violence, including shootings and a bombing.  In 2001, Operation Rescue staged a six-week siege of his clinic.  The blockades persisted with local law enforcement unable to do more than arrest and release the blockaders on misdemeanor trespassing charges.  The blockades were eventually ended when a federal judge ordered US Marshals to protect the clinic.  Dr. Tiller was shot and wounded in 1993 by an anti-abortion extremist who had participated in OR blockades in Atlanta, and was affiliated with the Army of God

Dr. Tiller and his clinic also faced nearly constant legal harassment, including two criminal grand jury investigations initiated by Operation Rescue and another anti-abortion group under a citizen petition provision of Kansas law. Both grand juries found no basis for charging Dr. Tiller and were adjourned. And beginning in 2006, then-Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an anti-abortion zealot, launched an investigation of Dr. Tiller's clinic that eventually led to 19 criminal charges carrying a potential sentence of up to nineteen years.  In March 2009, Dr. Tiller was found not guilty of all 19 counts.

Feminist Majority Foundation clinic defense teams were deployed to Wichita repeatedly to assist pro-choice community volunteers and clinic staff in responding to OR's various campaigns. On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder while he was attending services at his church. Roeder had participated in Operation Rescue demonstrations and had a note on the dashboard of his car with Operation Rescue's Cheryl Sullenger name and phone number at the time of his arrest. Roeder had met and been in communication with Army of God members prior to shooting Tiller.

NEBRASKA and MARYLAND - Immediately, Operation Rescue announced the “Keep it Closed” Campaign as its number one priority; their objective was to prevent Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who had worked with Dr. Tiller in the Wichita clinic, from providing abortion services in Wichita. In August 2009, Operation Rescue organized a siege of Dr. Carhart’s clinic in Bellvue, NE, and has since staged similar activities at Dr. Carhart’s sister clinic in Maryland. FMF’s NCAP team has traveled to and worked with Dr. Carhart and his clinic staff, community volunteers, and law enforcement in both Nebraska and in Maryland in response to Operation Rescue’s campaign of harassment and intimidation.

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA - The NCAP team has also traveled and worked with community volunteers, clinic staff and doctors in Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after Dr. Tiller was murdered, extremists in Charlotte began distributing WANTED posters on four doctors who performed abortions at the area’s clinics. The doctors were also stalked at their homes. NCAP staff worked with local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute these threats.

WICHITA, KANSAS - In 2013, a new abortion clinic opened in Wichita, Kansas. Founded by former Tiller employee Julie Burkhart, South Wind Women's Center provides abortion and comprehensive family planning care for women. NCAP deployed team members to work with the clinic, law enforcement and pro-choice community members to help ensure clinic workers and patients remain safe in spite of continued harassment and threats by Operation Rescue and other national anti-abortion extremist groups.

ALABAMA, MISSISSIPPI, LOUISIANA, FLORIDA, INDIANA, NEW MEXICO - In the summers of 2010 – 2015, as new threats have emerged and anti-abortion extremists have staged national sieges of clinics in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, and New Mexico, FMF’s National Clinic Access Project has worked closely with community volunteers, clinic staff and doctors, and law enforcement to respond.

CENTER FOR MEDICAL PROGRESS – During the summer of 2015, anti-abortion extremist group the so-called Center for Medical Progress created and began releasing series of deceptively edited and surreptitiously recorded smear videos targeting Planned Parenthood and its lawful fetal tissue donation programs. Operation Rescue President Troy Newman is a board member and key advisor to the group. FMF's National Clinic Access Project started to receive reports of an escalation in severe harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against abortion providers immediately following the launch of the smear campaign.

Clinics have been arsoned, vandalized and doctors and clinic workers' lives have been threatened since the release of the first smear video. The FMF, together with our partners at the National Abortion Federation, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America called upon the Department of Justice to investigate this alarming increase in harassment, intimidation, and threats. Anti-abortion Congressional leaders and state politicians have used these deceptive and fraudulently obtained videos as an excuse to further their agenda to ban abortion and attack and defund Planned Parenthood as well as family planning. These actions have further emboldened anti-abortion extremists on the ground.

NCAP is mobilizing and training more pro-choice community volunteers to defend clinics in the wake of these increased threats and violence. In addition, the Feminist Majority Foundation is calling upon Congress to investigate the Center for Medical Progress and its deceptive editing of fraudulently obtained video footage to mislead the public.