ANTHRAX SCARES have thrust the United States into new consciousness,
we're told. Suddenly, regular Americans are fearing for their lives not only
when they fly, or travel or rise high in an elevator. We're worrying at home,
at the office, wherever we open the mail.
Last Wednesday on ABC's 20/20, Barbara Walters invited the mayor of Belfast
to share his experience. We're speaking to someone who is familiar with what
we're going through, Walters said. But Belfast has no experience of assault by
anthrax. Cincinnati has.
Early last week, I received the following account from Debi Jackson,
director of Cincinnati Women's Services:
"Feb. 18, 1999, will be forever etched in my memory," Jackson writes. "I
came to my clinic, Cincinnati Women's Services, on that morning expressly to
counsel a patient who was unable to talk to me at any other time. I had a few
minutes free before I was leaving to enjoy the rest of my day off. I chose to
take that time to open the mail. . .
"The last piece that I opened was a business-size manila-colored envelope
with a return address label from a medical instrument company with which I was
unfamiliar. When I opened the envelope and saw the paper smudged with a brown
powdery substance with a crudely drawn skull and cross-bones, I felt a shiver
run down my spine.
"Above the skull was typed 'anthrax' and below was typed 'have a nice death.
' I asked one of my staff to close the door to my office so no one but me
would be exposed."
You don't have to go to Northern Ireland to find people familiar with daily
terror. Abortion providers have lived with it for decades.
Last week, 90 Planned Parenthood clinics in 13 states received anthrax
threats, and many papers quipped that women's clinics were the most prepared
to handle suspicious packages; the least rattled, the most informed. When it
comes to looking for experts, however, major media have gone elsewhere.
The National Abortion Federation (the professional association of abortion
providers in the United States and Canada) released a press statement Oct. 15.
"This type of threat is unfortunately not new to abortion providers," the
federation's director, Vicki Saporta said. "Those who are opposed to a woman's
right to choose have not hesitated to resort to bio-terrorist threats and
attacks to advance their personal agenda."
In response to anthrax threats received at more than 80 clinics from late
1998 to 2000, NAF developed a brochure, "Anthrax: Bio-terrorism Against
Reproductive Health Care Clinics." The manual has been distributed to abortion
providers around the country, as well as to law enforcement officials,
including the ATF and FBI.
A smart U.S. attorney general would commission a special print run of those
brochures for national distribution -- and pay NAF a grateful sum for having
such useful materials to hand. Caring broadcasters would interview Saporta. A
friendly American who, with others, has figured out how to protect her
constituency from anthrax would be a more reassuring figure to see on national
TV than the mayor of a far-off town associated in the U.S. mind (sadly) only
with 30 years of unending terrorism and war.
What about our anti-choice U.S. attorney general would make him loath to
distribute the NAF's materials to a frightened nation, or even to tell the
people that such safety manuals exist? What is about our national media that
make them reluctant to cast women's rights defenders as anti-terror heroes on
par with 'HazMat" teams and firefighters?
In 1999, Debi Jackson in Cincinnati was the first person in the city's
history to receive an anthrax threat. Her office was shut down for two days,
after which she and her staff returned to work.
Want to see model Americans who refuse to let terror stop them? Who
maintain their beliefs, their values, and keep on doing what they know is
right no matter what? Meet Debi Jackson and the staff of Cincinnati Women's
Services. Meet Vicki Saporta and the North American organizations that
comprise the NAF.
Laura Flanders is the host of Working Assets Radio, heard Monday through Friday on KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco.