Decent Coverage

Well, Sunday has come and our interview has come to fruition.  Here we are, in living color, doing what we’ve been doing for 20 years.  Stanley is 90 and I’m 86.  Truly, we need new young blood. All that low key interviewing was leading to a major story about the Abortion Debate Raging in Danbury. We certainly didn’t expect to be featured so prominently and the coverage seems to go on and on.  I have gotten it on my computer the best I could.   Comments would be appreciated as to whether this liberal paper did a fair and balanced report.



DANBURY — The pro-choice and pro-life forces have found common ground in decrying the murder last month of Dr. George Tiller, who performed abortions in Kansas. Dawn Tendler, the owner and director of Medical Options, a Danbury abortion clinic, said this week she was “horrified” by the murder. “It’s just murder,” observed Dorothy Vining, another protester.And she is joined in that sentiment by some of those who protest regularly in front of her clinic.”We absolutely condemn it,” said protester Gerald Leblanc.Despite the agreement on that matter, the tension between Tendler and the protesters continues unabated.

One of the protesters, Jack Leitner, pointed out there are about 3,300 abortions in the United States every day. “We grieve for those 3,300 babies, just as we grieve for George Tiller,” Leitner said.

Tiller was gunned down May 31 by an anti-abortion zealot while Tiller was attending church.

In December, when Medical Options, the only clinic in Danbury that offers women abortions, moved from its long-established base on Main Street — its home for 20 years — to new offices on Hospital Avenue, it took pro-life protesters about a week to find it.

The protesters have gathered in front of Medical Options for years to oppose abortion. “They didn’t notify us,” Vining said with a smile. “They just up and left.”

And so the pro-choice/pro-life confrontation continues. The protesters picket Medical Options every Tuesday and every Saturday, rain or shine — the same arguments, new location.

“Oh, yes,” said Tendler, when asked if the protesters found the new offices. “Sometimes they march,” she said. “Sometimes they leaflet. Sometimes they follow people into the hallway.”

And sometimes — as happened this month — people yell things at the protesters.

In this case, it was “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“Usually, it’s ‘Get a job,'” Vining noted.

This debate, now 36 years old, if you count the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 as its official beginning, seems to have no ending.

Occasionally, there are attempts at reconciliation. In his graduation address at Notre Dame University on May 17, President Barack Obama — while acknowledging the debate, at its heart, may be “irreconcilable” — asked for “Open hearts. Open minds, fair-minded words” from both camps, in hopes they might find ways of reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, and abortions, in the United States.

Then, two weeks later, on May 31, an anti-abortion zealot gunned down Tiller. It was the last in a string of threats and acts of violence against Tiller, who ran an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan., and who — on the principle that some women needed them — was one of the few doctors in the United States who performed third-term abortions.

No clinic in Connecticut, including Medical Options, offers third-term abortions, Tendler said.

“I was horrified,” Tendler said of Tiller’s death. “I knew him personally. He was one of the most kind, most thoughtful persons I’ve ever met.”

There is another point of common ground between the two camps, although it is one not always acknowledged as such: that no woman wants to have an abortion.

“Nobody says, ‘Oh honey, let’s have sex. Next week we’ll go have an abortion,”’ Tendler said.

Instead, the women who come to Medical Options, she said, come for many reasons, none of them useful in creating stereotypes to condemn.

“Some are victims of sexual assault, or date rape,” Tendler said. “Some are teenagers. Some are women who are in their 40s and thought they were going through menopause.”

Some women are accompanied by their boyfriends or husbands. Some aren’t. The teenagers almost always come with a parent.

“I would say 95 percent of the girls under 18 who come here come with a parent,” Tendler said.

The number of women using the clinic is dropping, she said. Medical Options now performs about 850 procedures a year. In the 1990s, the annual number was more like 1,800.

Yet for the past decade, statistics show the number of abortions in the state has increased, according to the state Department of Health. There were 12,908 abortions in Connecticut in 2000 and 14,534 in 2007.

Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, credits the increase to the lack of restrictions on those seeking abortions in the state. In Massachusetts and Rhode Island, teenagers need parental consent before getting an abortion. In Connecticut, they don’t.

“If you’re a minor in Connecticut, you need your parent’s consent to get a tattoo or an aspirin in school,” Wolfgang said. “You don’t need it for an abortion.”

However, Susan Yolen, vice-president for public affairs for Planned Parenthood in Connecticut, said it’s hard to know if a few years of data represent a real trend, or simply a variance that might change. “I’d like to see a few more years — 2010, 2011,” Yolen said. “It might even out.”

The state’s increase came while the number of the abortions in the U.S. declined about 8 percent.

Tendler said there may be at least two other reasons for the national decline in abortions. One is that people are becoming better educated about birth control. The other is that women now are much more comfortable with being unmarried single mothers.

“There’s less stigma,” Tendler said. “People see the Hollywood women doing that and think it’s all right.”

At the same time, a recent Gallup Poll showed 51 percent of Americans identify themselves as pro-life, while 42 percent said they were pro-choice.

Last year in the same poll, 50 percent of those questioned called themselves pro-choice, while 44 percent said they were pro-life.

Rachel Jones, a senior research associate with the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based group that studies sexual and reproductive health in the U.S. and internationally, expressed some skepticism about the poll numbers, saying they seemed to be a conservative reaction to the election of a more liberal president.

“The same types of polls showed much more concern about things like gun rights,” Jones said.

But Peter Wolfgang of the Family Institute of Connecticut said the polls may reflect a real change in American opinion.

“I’m sure sonograms have had a lot to do with it,” he said. “When you see one, it’s impossible to deny the baby’s humanity.”

It may also be due to a change in the national pro-life campaign, which in the mid-1990s de-emphasized its insistence that Roe v. Wade be overturned, instead advocating for more incremental changes in laws and trying to change hearts and minds at the local level.1

Tendler said at least one pro-life group in the region has asked her to sit and discuss some common ground.

But the irreconcilable differences remain. Tendler pointed out that in Connecticut, a woman’s choice to seek an abortion is the law.

“We have a pro-choice legislature, a pro-choice attorney general and a pro-choice governor,” she said. “We have Roe v. Wade codified into our legal statutes.”

And for the protesters outside Medical Options, and others who agree with them, there can be no compromise.

“You can’t find common ground here,” Leblanc said. “This is a matter of life or death.”

“How long will we keep doing this?” protester Vining asked. “Until we take our last breath.”

Contact Robert Miller


or at (203) 731-3345.

It’s Hard to Find Common Ground on Abortion Debate