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Profile: Eleanor Smeal

Eleanor Smeal was a participant or observer in the following events:

National Organization for Women logo.National Organization for Women logo. [Source: National Organization for Women]The National Organization for Women (NOW) files a lawsuit against Joseph Scheidler, Scheidler’s organization Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980), and other anti-abortion organizations. NOW is joined in the suit by the Delaware Women’s Health Organization and the Pensacola Ladies Center (see March 26, 1986), and later the Summit Women’s Health Organization (see 1986). The lawsuit is part of a strategy devised by NOW president Eleanor Smeal to use federal antitrust laws to charge Scheidler and others with being part of a nationwide criminal conspiracy to close women’s health clinics through the use of violence and terror. The suit becomes known as NOW v. Scheidler. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002; Ms. Magazine, 12/2002] The lawsuit seeks a nationwide injunction to stop the clinic invasions, and asks the courts to make those responsible for the attacks pay for the damage they caused. In 2002, the future president of NOW, Kim Gandy, will say of the lawsuit: “NOW decided we had to stop the violence. Scheidler and his gang were calling in blitzes—they would attack clinics without warning and hold staff and patients hostage. Clinics were being blockaded and invaded. If we did not act, we thought clinics would not be able to stay open.” NOW attorney Fay Clayton will say the case seeks “to ensure that the constitutional right [to abortion] recognized [in 1973] would exist not just in theory, but in reality.” According to a 2002 Ms. Magazine report, the case only targets anti-abortion protesters who engage in criminal acts such as criminal trespass, assault, and conspiracy to block access to clinics. It makes no effort to halt peaceful protests as protected by the First Amendment. The lawsuit claims that PLAN and others engaged in what the federal racketeering law prohibits: namely, a “pattern of racketeering activity,” including the use of fear, force, and violence, in order to prevent people from receiving and providing legal abortions. Clayton maintains that the actions met the legal definition of organized crime. [Ms. Magazine, 12/2002]

Entity Tags: Summit Women’s Health Organization, Fay Clayton, Eleanor Smeal, Delaware Women’s Health Organization, Joseph Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League, Kim Gandy, Pensacola Ladies Center, National Organization for Women

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Eleanor Smeal, the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), holds a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, to highlight the need for more volunteers to protect women’s clinics. At the conference, Texas clinic owner Marilyn Chrisman Eldridge describes the extensive damage wrought after anti-abortion activists set her Corpus Christi clinic on fire; the fire destroyed not only her clinic but seven neighboring businesses. She concludes by telling the gathered reporters: “I cannot close without telling you that whenever I turn the key in the ignition of my car, I worry that a bomb might go off. The hatred of the antis [anti-abortion protesters] is such that I fear I will be murdered. That is how bad it is getting.” Patricia Baird-Windle, owner of the Aware Woman Centers for Choice in central Florida, describes how activists trained by Operation IMPACT (see June 6, 1993) have verbally and physically harassed her staffers and her patients. She concludes: “You must not think that these protesters are all peaceful, religious people are misguided and rude, perhaps, but harmless. The hardcore group arrayed against us is paid. Domestic terrorism is their job. They are extortionists pure and simple.” Baird-Windle will later describe the reporters as largely “disengaged” and uninterested in exploring “the prophesy of impending violence that we had handed to them.” [Baird-Windle and Bader, 2001, pp. xiv-xviii] Days later, Florida abortion provider Dr. David Gunn will be murdered (see March 10, 1993).

Entity Tags: Marilyn Chrisman Eldridge, Aware Woman Centers for Choice, David Gunn, Eleanor Smeal, Feminist Majority Foundation, Patricia Baird-Windle

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

John Salvi shortly after his arrest.John Salvi shortly after his arrest. [Source: Sonya Rapoport]Anti-abortion activist John Salvi, a former hairdresser, murders two receptionists at two separate women’s clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Murders Receptionists, Sprays Bullets in Clinics - Salvi quietly enters a Planned Parenthood clinic, asks receptionist Shannon Lowney, “Is this Planned Parenthood?” and then shoots her to death with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Salvi then sprays the lobby with gunfire and departs. Minutes later, he enters the Preterm Health Services building two miles away and kills the receptionist, Lee Ann Nichols (some media sources identify her as “Leanne Nichols”). He again sprays the building with gunfire, but this time flees after security guard Richard Seron returns fire, in the process dropping a satchel containing a second gun and some 700 rounds of hollow-point ammunition. Eyewitness Angel Rodriguez later tells reporters: “He was completely calm and took his time. He kept the gun low on his hip and ran backwards, firing at least five shots. He was trying to scare people, and it worked.”
Shooting at Norfolk, Virginia Clinic - Police identify Salvi through a gun shop receipt he has left behind in the satchel, but are unable to find him until law enforcement officials arrest him for a non-fatal shooting at a women’s clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. In all, Salvi kills two and wounds five more.
Condemnation - Some anti-abortion groups are quick to condemn the shootings. The Reverend Flip Benham, leader of Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), tells reporters: “You don’t use murder to solve the problem of other murder. It is heresy.” Eleanor Smeal of the Fund for the Feminist Majority says, “While there are two sides to the issue of abortion, there are no two sides to the issue of shooting people for their opinions.” Law enforcement officials cannot find direct ties between Salvi and anti-abortion organizations.
'Ready to Go Off' - A woman who attended beauty school with Salvi, Karen Harris, later recalls: “He never showed emotion. He always had a straight face. But the main thing was how he would stare at people. He’d just stare and stare and wouldn’t look away.” Doreen Potter, who employed Salvi at a hair salon, later recalls that he flew into a rage a week before the shootings when she told him he couldn’t cut a client’s hair. After the incident, she will say, “this guy looked like he was ready to go off.” [Time, 1/9/1995; Washington Post, 3/19/1996; Washington Post, 1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39; CBS News, 4/19/2007; Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
Federal Authorities Ignored Warnings of Violence at Brookline Clinic - Planned Parenthood officials will later say that they had received an increased number of threats to their Brookline clinic in recent weeks, in part because that clinic is involved in testing the controversial RU-486 “morning after” conception prevention pill. They also say they had requested extra federal protection (see February 1994), a claim the US Attorney for the area refuses to discuss with reporters. [Time, 1/9/1995]
Convicted of Murder, Suicides in Cell - Shortly after his arrest, anti-abortion activists will rally in support of Salvi outside his Norfolk prison (see January 1995). In 1996, Salvi will be convicted of the deaths and sentenced to life without parole; soon after, he will commit suicide in his jail cell (see March 19, 1996).

Entity Tags: Karen Harris, Operation Rescue, Eleanor Smeal, John Salvi, Fund for the Feminist Majority, Lee Ann Nichols, Doreen Potter, Shannon Lowney, Angel Rodriguez, Philip (“Flip”) Benham, Richard Seron, Planned Parenthood

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Scores of family planning clinics in at least 12 states have received letters containing anthrax threats, according to officials of feminist and abortion-rights organizations. Eleanor Smeal of the Feminist Majority Foundation says that over 200 clinics and advocacy organizations received letters in early November, all delivered in Federal Express envelopes. The envelopes that were opened contained a suspicious white powder and letters signed by the Army of God (AOG), a violent anti-abortion group (see 1982). This was the second such mailing in recent weeks; the first mailing was comprised of some 280 letters containing threatening letters and white powder purporting to be anthrax. None of the powder in any of the envelopes contained real anthrax; the letters were apparently hoaxes. Some of the letters in the latest mailings said: “You’ve ignored our earlier warnings. You’ve been exposed to the real thing. High-quality.” Groups targeted by the mailings include the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, Catholics for a Free Choice, Advocates for Youth, and the American Association of University Women. The persons responsible for the mailings somehow obtained the account numbers of two pro-choice organizations, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Abortion Federation, and used those accounts to pay for the mailings. The mailings have been traced to at least three drop-off locations in Virginia and Philadelphia. More packages are believed to be en route, and Federal Express is trying to intercept them. “I think the people responsible are despicable,” says Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation. “They actually used our account number and our address, so our members would feel comfortable opening them.” Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says: “These letters are designed to terrorize us, and disrupt our work and our lives. That’s terrorism, plain and simple, and we take it very seriously.… The fact that they would forge the names of our staff members to terrorize employees is truly evil. Their heinous activities will not succeed.” Brian Emanuelson of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection says, “These were intended to be a threat to scare people and we want to make sure this is not what they say it is.” [CBS News, 11/9/2001] The anthrax mailings were from anti-abortion activist and AOG member Clayton Waagner (see 1997-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Feminist Majority Foundation, Brian Emanuelson, Army of God, American Association of University Women, Advocates for Youth, Catholics for a Free Choice, Eleanor Smeal, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, Planned Parenthood, Gloria Feldt, Clayton Waagner, National Abortion Federation, Vicki Saporta

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

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