Summit Women’s Health Center faces one of its most important battles to date.
Currently located in a somewhat abandoned area of Middle Street in Bridgeport, Summit is scheduled to move into a newly renovated location on Main Street within the next two weeks. A pending zoning appeal filed by City Council President John Fabrizi, scheduled for hearing on May 14, may prevent the move, and possibly put Summit out of business.
Summit’s new location is in a less isolated, more residential area that possesses an adjacent parking lot, rather than the one 150 feet away from the current entrance. It is also more convenient for those using public transportation.
It would be the perfect location for a new clinic. But Operation Save America, the national anti-abortion organization formerly known as Operation Rescue, has made Summit into a flagship of their anti-abortion campaign.
The announcement of Summit’s new location on Main Street has heightened tensions outside the unassuming building on Middle Street, including an over 200-person protest a few weeks ago and the increased efforts of Yale and Wesleyan abortion-rights groups alike.
Summit has procured all the necessary documents, permits and contracts to purchase the property on Main Street, but Fabrizi recently filed a zoning appeal challenging the zoning enforcement officer’s approval of the new site.
Summit’s attorney, Jennifer Jaff, cites the major concern regarding the move as the fact that if the city takes the position that the pending appeal constitutes a “stay,” Summit will not only be unable to move into its new location, but will also be unable to stay in its current location because the city is taking it over in November, and, therefore, they will be out of business.
“Summit had preliminary approval from the zoning officer before it purchased the property. They wanted to ensure they could carry out business at their new location,” Jaff said. “[The] Bridgeport zoning regulations could not be clearer, and Summit did everything right. Fabrizi is just wrong. If he read the zoning regulations, he’d know he was wrong.”
Jaff said she is confident the appeal will be dismissed. The real issue seems to be whether it can be dismissed before being detrimental to Summit.
The Rev. Flip Benham, the executive director of Operation Save America, has traveled from Texas to attend several rallies in Bridgeport. On March 8, he gave a talk at Yale called “Civil Disobedience and the Pro-life Movement.”
The group’s purpose, to “take up the cause of pre-born children in the name of Jesus Christ,” is being fulfilled by the numerous protesters — “angels” — who go to Summit in the early morning twice a week to protest.
“Over 100 babies’ lives have been saved [by the organization’s efforts in Bridgeport],” Benham said. “I’ve changed the hearts of many people. I’ve changed the heart of Norma McCorvey.”
McCorvey is the “Jane Roe” in the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in America.
“What you’re seeing in Bridgeport is happening all across the nation,” Benham said. “[Operation Save America] is simply bringing people to the gates of hell — to the battleground where little children die.”
Marilyn Carroll is one such person “helping people find the love of Christ.”
“We’re not protesting,” Carroll said. “We’re proclaiming the gospel and reaching out to the needy and the lost, trying to bring them to God.”
Though Carroll “can’t take the credit for saving their lives,” she says that through their presence outside Summit, “over 1,000 babies’ lives have been saved.”
Men with megaphones “preach” and insult women who arrive at the clinic. A two-paneled poster with a pile of dead bodies bearing the caption “Hitler’s Holocaust” and a picture of a fetus labeled “America’s Holocaust” stands among the protesters.
“It’s America’s Holocaust,” Carroll said. “It’s worse than the Holocaust.”
Yalies get involved
Yalies have taken up the abortion issue, from forming The Pro-Life League, to establishing the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale, or RALY, Escorts, and similar organizations devoted to “protecting a woman’s right to choose.”
Twice a week at 6:30 a.m., a group of Yalies drives to Summit and serves as escorts for the women arriving at Summit. They walk the women from their cars, or the street, as many women do not drive to Summit, past the protesters and to the entrance to Summit.
“The first time we got to the door, we were shaking. But by now most of us are pretty used to it,” Alice Wolfram ’03 said. “Without escorts, I am not sure women would be able to enter the clinic.”
RALY and Escorts cite their services as necessary, even though the Free Access to Clinic Entrances, or FACE Laws, were passed almost a decade ago.
“It’s easy to get lost in the bubble of Yale and think that everyone is pro-choice,” RALY organizer Sarah Gray ’04 said. “The pro-choice movement has gotten complacent, and it wasn’t until we got started with RALY that we realized the need for us to volunteer.”
Poppy Alexander ’04 agrees.
“I think it’s really clear once you’re down in Bridgeport that abortion may be legal, but there’s not freedom of access to it yet. It’s scary to think of what the clinic would be like without escorts there,” she said.
But though members of RALY and Escorts are routinely insulted — protesters refer to the latter group as “Deathscorts” — these Yalies don’t respond.
“The protesters are so extreme, so out there; there’s really no point in responding to their insults,” Alexander said. “It’s like fighting a brick wall.”
Yale’s abortion-rights organizations have been circulating petitions to “show the City Council that there’s support for the move and for the clinic in general.”
Jaff appreciates their efforts.
“Without Yale and Wesleyan students petitioning and sending letters to city officials, we never could have mounted the grass-roots support [that we have],” Jaff said. “Summit is immensely grateful for all the work that the Yale students have done — They’ve proven that they are there, they are vigilant, and that we can pass the mantle to them.”
The move and beyond
Even should the move go as planned, the end of the tensions surrounding this issue is not in the near future.
While Jaff is confident that anti-abortion activists can’t maintain large-scale protests, she predicts “there will be some nasty protests at the beginning.”
“But we will expect police to enforce trespassing laws [and the FACE laws] and make the appropriate arrests,” she added.
Carroll does not see her “evangelizing” coming to an end any time soon.
“I don’t think my job will ever be done because there’s always going to be sin and evil that we’ll have to stand against,” Carroll said. “If it’s not child-killing, it would be something else, like pornography or homosexuality.”
One of the only things abortion-rights and anti-abortion activists seem to agree on is the importance of what happens to the Bridgeport clinic. Both Jaff and Benham see the events surrounding Summit as a microcosm for the nation as a whole.
“What’s happening in Bridgeport is happening all across America,” said Benham. “The people are saying, ‘I’m not going to let God’s image in little boys and girls be destroyed.'”
Likewise, the abortion-rights movement continues.
“This is not just a local issue about Bridgeport,” Jaff said. “This is a national issue. If this clinic can be shut down by repeated intense pressure, then every clinic in this nation is a target.”