THE ANNEX OFFICE OF THE AUSTIN, Texas, concrete contracting firm Maldonado and Danze is really just a dirt yard with a small trailer at the end of a turn-around. But inside the trailer are the seeds of a powerful new way to save children from abortion: Stacks of letters-letters just like the ones owner Chris Danze has already used to bring construction of the "Choice Project," a $4.4 million, 25,000-square-foot Planned Parenthood complex, to a stunning halt.
"Our organization respectfully requests that your firm not participate in the construction of the abortion chamber Planned Parenthood is attempting to build at 201 East Ben White Boulevard," reads the letter Mr. Danze has, since August, mailed to scores of Austin-area construction firms. "Periodically and at the conclusion of this project ... we will forward a list of those companies that participated in the construction of this child-killing complex to the business and church communities throughout Texas."
The "organization" the letter refers to is Texas Contractors and Suppliers for Life (TCSL), a group founded and headed by Mr. Danze, who is not only a concrete contractor but also a longtime pro-life activist. The letters, along with a nonstop e-mail campaign and hundreds of phone calls from pro-life activists, were enough to persuade at least 40 construction companies and suppliers to bow out of, or boycott, the Choice Project-including every concrete supplier within a 60-mile radius of Austin.
For Planned Parenthood, that was the backbreaker: Concrete hardens too quickly to be hauled over long distances. Without a local supplier, laborers can't pour a foundation. That, coupled with the exodus from the project of land-clearing, plumbing, glass, and trucking firms, forced Texas general contracting giant Browning Construction to announce on Nov. 4 that it too was ditching the project. As of Nov. 24, the gates at 201 East Ben White Boulevard were locked, and Austin's newest abortion clinic was still only a plumbed dirt lot.
How and why did Mr. Danze and a tiny band of grassroots activists take on the abortion behemoth Planned Parenthood in Austin, an ultraliberal college town? Spend a little time with Mr. Danze and the "why" becomes clear: The plain-talking Roman Catholic holds put-up-or-shut-up views on the sanctity of life-and he doesn't take any nonsense.
Last month, he met with WORLD at his annex office, wearing blue jeans, a hint of razor stubble, and some well-reasoned philosophies on the role of churches and industry in social issues. "Business people," he said, "have a responsibility not to participate in a project that hurts the society, and women and children." Churches, he added, can use business pressure-withholding construction contracts from pro-abortion firms, for example-to effect change. That's what happened in Austin: When they heard about the Choice Project boycott, church building committees began requesting the names of construction firms still working for Browning-and blacklisted them from future church business.
Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortionist, isn't hurting for business. While abortion overall is in decline, the number of pregnancies Planned Parenthood terminates is rising, according to the group's annual reports. Planned Parenthood Federation of America reported performing 213,026 abortions in 2001, an 8 percent increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, the group is referring fewer mothers to adoption agencies-79 percent fewer than four years ago, according to Virginia-based American Life League.
So, in July, when Mr. Danze learned of Planned Parenthood's plan to build a new abortion clinic near Austin's poor neighborhoods, he decided to make a stand. By August, he had decided on a strategy: He mailed letters to 25 Austin-area concrete suppliers and contractors informing them of the nature of the Choice Project, and asking them not to participate. "If you work for [Browning on this project], you're not working for me" was the essence of his message, Mr. Danze told WORLD.
By mid-October, all 18 concrete plants in the Austin area had agreed to boycott the project. Meanwhile, Mr. Danze, working with Mark Hamilton and Craig Teykl, two other men in the Austin concrete business, targeted firms and subcontractors in other trades. In October, for example, Mr. Danze contacted the owner of the company that provided portable toilets for the Choice Project site. The owner "said he was pro-life and a Catholic, but that Browning was a good account for him," Mr. Danze remembers. "He said, 'Danze, you're playing hardball now.' I said, 'Yes sir.' He said he'd talk to his priest about it." Three days later the portable-toilet company pulled out of the project.
By November, at least 40 firms had signed on to the boycott. Some were on board ideologically, Mr. Danze said. Other companies that agreed not to supply concrete gave no reason, but economic pressure is probably high on the list. Mr. Danze admits he's blunt when he talks to company owners about the project: If they participate, he'll have to put them on his list, he tells them. That means they might find their church work-a gold mine in the construction industry-drying up.
Former Austin Mayor Bruce Todd, a Planned Parenthood supporter, branded that tactic "economic blackmail." But Loyola University economics professor Walter Block points out that liberals are themselves prodigious employers of economic pressure. "Unions are forever boycotting [nonunion] businesses, and lefty independent booksellers refuse to sell conservative books. It's pretty much the same type of folks who are now whining [in Austin] about economic extortion.... If these people are opposing boycotts, they're hypocrites."
The success of the Austin boycott has sparked the interest of STOPP (Stop Planned Parenthood), a division of American Life League in Stafford, Va. Jim Sedlak, who founded STOPP in 1985, said Mr. Danze's strategy is especially effective: "It's unique and we want to export it." Mr. Sedlak plans to visit Austin to pick Mr. Danze's brain-then pass along his battle plan to pro-life activists in Madison, Wis., where a new Planned Parenthood clinic is in the planning stages.
Mr. Danze told WORLD he hadn't expected to be able to force Browning Construction off the Planned Parenthood job. But it happened. Now he won't predict whether the boycott can stop the Choice Project for good. But he's hoping: "The Austin community is wide awake to Planned Parenthood now. We're playing hardball. Serious hardball."