Cover Story

Delta force

"Delta force" Continued...

Issue: "Abortion: Delta force," Jan. 22, 2005

But on the "direct action" front-including sidewalk counseling, which Mrs. Seale regarded as the most immediate way to save individual lives-the movement had lost some steam. Groups like Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) had pressed successfully for the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994-or "FACE"-which banned the blocking of abortion clinic entrances, chilling pro-life demonstrations. FACE laws put "a lot of confusion" into the movement, said Pat Cartrette, executive director of Pro-Life Mississippi (PLM). Pro-lifers weren't sure they should be outside clinics and serious penalties-a $10,000 fine or six months in prison-could be enforced.

But from the lull in clinic activism emerged a new type of activist. "People became involved who weren't involved before," Mrs. Seale remembers. "People who had been uncomfortable with doing rescue said, well maybe I can't do that, but I can lick envelopes, I can pass out literature, I can start a crisis pregnancy center."

And Mississippi's pro-life movement began to grow again. Today, the state's network of 30 crisis pregnancy centers, several medically equipped, provides loving, viable abortion alternatives to women considering abortion. Sidewalk counseling also remains viable: Mrs. Seale leaves her house each Thursday at 5:30 a.m. and drives 100 miles to Jackson. She is among about a dozen regulars who counsel at the state's lone clinic.

In some cases, Mississippi's ex-abortion-clinic operators brought problems on themselves. One clinic closed because the abortionist was caught dumping medical waste in the Natchez Trace. Community pressure, including strategic use of zoning laws, shuttered another. A third closed its doors after clinic workers were caught illegally dispensing drugs. Two clinics closed because the abortionists lost their medical licenses.

Pro-Life Mississippi helped with that. In 1991, the New Woman Medical Center (NWMC) opened on Briarwood Drive in Jackson. Two years later, PLM (formerly Right-to-Life Jackson) moved in next door.

It was a tactical maneuver. From offices tucked between an insurance agency and a CPA, PLM volunteers kept vigilant watch: How many times, for example, did an abortion patient drive up to the clinic in her own car and leave in an ambulance-or in a security guard's private car?

That question led directly to the NWMC's demise. Mrs. Cartrette said volunteers in 2003 observed at least three ambulances leaving the clinic, hospital-bound. PLM already knew of lawsuits involving NWMC abortionist Malachy Dehenre. (They also knew that Dr. Dehenre had been accused of murdering his wife and that his 1987 trial ended in a hung jury.)

"We started watching closely and checking on other lawsuits," Mrs. Cartrette said.

As ambulance runs gave way to patient legal action against Dr. Dehenre, PLM obtained documentation and shared it with the state attorney general, public-health department, and medical licensure boards in Mississippi and Alabama, where the abortionist was licensed to practice. In August 2004, the Mississippi board temporarily suspended Dr. Dehenre's license, forcing NWMC to shut its doors. Four months later, the Alabama Medical Licensure Commission indefinitely suspended Dr. Dehenre's license, declaring him guilty of "gross malpractice." He had perforated the uteruses of at least three women and caused the death of another-an Alabama woman whose husband rushed her to an emergency room, where she perished 18 hours after Dr. Dehenre aborted her baby.

One more abortion clinic down, one to go, Mrs. Cartrette says now. Currently in PLM's sights: the Jackson Women's Health Organization, the last Mississippi clinic standing. It may be vulnerable. Health department inspections conducted in 2002 revealed multiple violations of the state's informed-consent and 24-hour-waiting-period law. The same inspection revealed that clinic workers were using photocopied counseling forms complete with the abortionist's signature.

The health department has never levied fines or penalties against JWHO, but Republican State Rep. Joey Fillingane said the existence of an official steady record of violations since 1999 is proving useful to conservative lawmakers in arguing for tighter abortion controls.

Not every control sails past judicial scrutiny. For example, JWHO has a pending court challenge on one of last year's new laws, the measure that prohibits clinics from performing abortions after the first trimester. That kind of protection for the unborn earned Mississippi an "F" on NARAL's state-by-state report card on "reproductive rights."

The failing grade elicits a chuckle from Rep. Fillingane: "That's one test," he said, "where you want to score at the bottom."

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