Where the Conflict Over Abortion Is an Everyday Drama
by Edward Lewine (photograph by Ruby Washington)
The New York Times, November 1, 1998
Two teen-age girls in puffy down coats stared at the ground and walked toward the Ambulatory Surgery Center of Brooklyn. . . . As an officer watched, three people behind a police barrier said the rosary before an image of the Virgin Mary and a photograph of a bloody fetus.
Another woman clutching a rosary approached the girls and handed them a brochure suggesting alternatives to abortion. Then a volunteer for the center stepped up. "You don't have to take that if you don't want to," she said as the girls disappeared behind its glass doors.
There has been nothing in New York City to compare with the fatal shooting on Oct. 23 of a doctor in Buffalo who performed abortions. But advocates on both sides of the debate agree that there is plenty of action. "The protesting is not as severe here as it is in the rest of the country," the president of Planned Parenthood of New York City, Alexander C. Sanger, said last week, "but there are regular protests."
Since opening at its current site five years ago, the center - where about 10,000 abortions a year are performed, officials say - has received daily attention from members of Helpers of God's Precious Infants, abortion opponents who say they are trying to help young women and advise them of their options.
The group was founded in 1990 by Msgr. Philip Reilly of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Neither the monsignor nor members of the group agreed to be interviewed. They gave the telephone number of their lawyer, Kathleen O'Connell, who described them as "very religious people who believe that through prayer they can change people's hearts."
The Ambulatory Surgery Center filed a lawsuit last year against the Helpers and others, including Bishop Thomas V. Daily of the Diocese of Brooklyn. The case, which is pending, was filed under the city's 1994 clinic access law, which states that protesters cannot intimidate or block people from clinics.
The administrator of the Center . . . said that members of the Helpers intimidated women entering and leaving the clinic, yelling at them and photographing them. "They follow patients," he said. "They stop patients from entering the building. They promise medical care that they can't give."
Ms. O'Connell denied that any of this was true. "The police testified that no one was blocking the entrance," she said. "No one was harassing the women and no woman had ever complained to the police."
Edward Land, the lawyer for the center, pointed out another portion of the police testimony. "One officer said that on an average of three times a week he has to tell the Helpers to back off," he said. Mr. Land is asking for financial damages and for the imposition of a 20-foot buffer zone around the Center.
A few neighborhood residents, all of whom said they were against abortion, stood along [the] street on Wednesday. "I don't mind the cops being around," Jose Ruiz said of the daily police presence. "I like the protection."