Community Development Block Grant

On January 22, 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Roe v Wade decision which declared that the constitutional right to privacy extended to abortion.  Supporters of legal abortion rejoiced, although some did object to the fact that the decision allowed some restrictions on the procedure.  At the same time, the pro-life movement declared it as a dark day in history.

Over the next few years, however, the pro-life movement actually took “possession” of January 22.  They started organizing large rallies on that day across the country and ultimately launched the annual “March for Life” where hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers came to Washington, D.C. to express their opposition to legal abortion.  The pro-choice movement could only watch feebly from the sidelines.


In late 1997, as a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, it dawned on me that the next January 22nd would be the 25th anniversary of Roe v Wade.  I started to think about how we could “take back” that day.  Remember that this was a time when abortion providers were under attack.  The bullets were flying, clinics were being bombed, every day was another battle in the constant war.  Ironically, I came up with the idea of actually having a party, a celebration commemorating the work of the doctors and staff at the abortion clinics.  Indeed, for years at the annual NCAP conference, we always had a dinner dance to help us wind down after a full day of seminars and lectures.

But I started wondering why we shouldn’t go a step further?  I had been in Washington, D.C. long enough to know that other organizations, from the realtors to the bankers, regularly had formal, black tie parties.  Why couldn’t we do the same thing?  Why not have a real “grown up” party?

At first, some of our members were reluctant.  It was almost as if it would be a sacrilege for the doctors and staff to “dress up.”  But within a few weeks, the idea spread like wildfire.   On email and over the telephone, people started talking about what they were going to wear, how they needed to rent a tuxedo and other logistical issues.  While they were still nervous opening up their car doors, I could tell they were even more nervous about how they were going to do their hair that night.

To make the evening extra special, I booked the main ballroom at the famous Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.  I then spent weeks looking for a live band and finally found one that I liked.   Everything was in place.

Since they were in town anyway, we offered our members a series of lectures during the day.  They sat through speeches on “head and heart” counseling and how to advertise on the Internet, but it was clear that no one was concentrating.   They were thinking of their “coming out” party.  Finally, the time arrived.  My staff and I got there early and stood at the door greeting folks as they shuffled in.  I was literally taken aback.  I had gotten to know these folks intimately, had talked to them for years about the protestors and the murders, was accustomed to seeing them in their scrubs or casual “clinic wear,” but now they were coming into the room with flowing gowns and jewelry that had been in storage for years.  Instead of bullet proof vests, the male doctors now had shiny tuxedos.  They were different people.  They were finally having fun, getting all “gussied up” as one person put it.  The music, the food and, yes, the booze flowed all night.

A few weeks earlier, I had spoken with a writer for the “Style” section of the Washington Post and she thought it was fascinating that abortion providers would even consider having a party.  I invited her to come and she readily accepted.  The next morning, after a very long night of revelry, our conference attendees had copies of the Post delivered to their hotel rooms and there on the front page was an article entitled “Dinner Break From a Hot Issue.”   The joy of those interviewed jumped from the pages.  Doctors who drove to


their clinics with blankets over their heads for security purposes openly talked to the reporter about the great time they were having for that one evening.   Clinic owners spoke candidly about how proud they were of the work they performed.  Directors of clinics talked about the women they served and about whose gown they were wearing.   We had created an alternate world for one magical evening.

Within a few days, everyone was back at their clinics.  Waiting for them were the local protestors, the anonymous phone calls, the nasty unsigned letters and the myriad of issues that come up daily in a medical facility.  But for weeks, they just talked about “the party.”

On that night, we had taken back Roe v Wade.

Cranston Abortion

Cranston Abortion

This past weekend, I got a great treat.  I was alone in my house.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love my family.  But I have to admit it was fun to just putter around the house, drinking wine at 1:00 in the afternoon, taking a nap, drinking wine at 5:00.  At one point, however, I found some old newspaper clippings and noticed an article about something I was involved in when I worked for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.

In the 1990’s the anti-abortion movement would hold massive demonstrations in front of abortion clinics.  It seemed like they could get hundreds of people at the drop of a hat to converge on a local facility.  They would march to the front door and sit down, preventing women from entering the clinic.  Of course, the clinic staff would immediately call the police but in conservative cities like Fort Wayne, Indiana or Birmingham, Alabama the police would just watch the demonstration.  That’s right – they would do absolutely nothing.  Hundreds of protestors were clearly trespassing but the police would just sit on their hands and let the demonstrators do their thing.  It was totally outrageous.

One day I was talking to a friend of mine who worked for Senator Alan Cranston of California and I told her about this problem we were having.  We started to think about how we could get local police to enforce the trespassing laws in those cities.  We came up with a brilliant idea.

In those days, just about every city in the country received “Community Development Block Grant” (CDBG) funds from the federal government.   These CDBG dollars were used for all kinds of projects:  to build affordable housing, construct new sewer lines, repair roads, etc.  Cities got millions and millions of these dollars (I know, those were the good ole days).

So, one night, when the U.S. Senate was in session Senator Cranston proposed an amendment to a bill saying in so many words that if the police did not do their job and arrest the trespassers, then that city would lose its CDBG funds.  Before the anti-abortion Senators knew what was going on, the amendment passed and ultimately became law.

The first thing we did was write a letter to every mayor of every major city in the country to tell them about this new law, just to put them on notice.  Our announcement caused an explosion around the country.  For example, within two days of the letter going out, I got a call from the Mayor of Philadelphia asking me about the new law.  No, that’s not entirely accurate.  What he actually said was “What the *%$)(#*@&% is this new law all about?   What the *#%()@#*%$# are you doing?”

After picking myself off the floor, I politely told him that he just had to make sure the police did their job and he would have nothing to worry about.  “*$()@*@(#%$,” he concluded and hung up the phone.  We never had a problem in Philadelphia again with protestors.

Also, whenever we heard about a demonstration that might take place, just to make sure I would call the Mayor of that city and warn him or her that they stood to lose a crap-load of money if the police ignored the protestors.  All of a sudden, police started making arrests in the most conservative of cities.

A lot of people are down on government.  They say there’s too much of it, it’s broken, keep it out of my face.  I get the argument.  But there are times like this one when government actually helped us guarantee that women would be able to exercise their constitutional right to have an abortion.

Is this a great country, or what?