FORT MEADE – Maryland abortion clinics have largely escaped the violent attacks by anti-abortion activists that have shattered clinics elsewhere in the nation. So far.
“It’s always a concern. It’s on-going,” said Tom Stokes, director of security for Maryland’s seven Planned Parenthood clinics. “It (violence) has never been a problem with any of our clinics, but that’s not to say it couldn’t be.”
That’s why Stokes and 24 other Maryland clinic workers were at Fort Meade on Friday watching agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms detonate different types of explosives that have been used against clinics around the country. The bombs included pipe bombs, letter bombs and a crude coffee can contraption.
As the clinic workers and about 15 law enforcement officers stood by in silence, the devices went up in orange balls of flame or clouds of smoke and great echoing booms. The innocent-looking letter bomb blew the mannequin that was holding it to pieces. Another bomb launched the windshield right out of a car.
“We’re not commenting,” said one worker after inspecting the gutted 1986 Chevrolet Celebrity that had been blasted moments before. “It’s scary enough as it is.”
Despite the drama of Friday’s demonstration, Maryland has not been a “hotbed” of violent abortion protests, said Ann Glazier, director of clinic security for Planned Parenthood’s national office.
BATF has reported only five attacks on Maryland clinics since 1982, including arson and bombings. And Maryland has had no reported violations of the 1994 federal law protecting access to clinics and prohibiting violence against them.
Instead, Glazier said, Maryland clinic workers have seen nonviolent protesters who take down the license plate numbers of the cars in clinic lots and then contact the owners. Such activities are fueling a current push to strengthen Maryland’s freedom of access law so that it would bar protesters from following doctors or distributing leaflets targeting them.
Mainstream anti-abortion groups were quick to distance themselves from violent protests. Patricia Kelly, assistant director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, emphasized that pro-lifers try to “defend the sanctity of all life,” and do not believe in harming clinic staffers.
Kelly said she could not think of a recent incident in Maryland that would spark the need for additional security training at clinics, but “if they feel they need that to be comfortable, I certainly don’t object to it.”
The three-hour BATF training session also included an examination of detonation devices and a discussion of clinic evacuation plans.
“We want to give the main crux of bomb-threat awareness, what to do if you encounter a suspicious package,” said Mark Siebert, the BATF’s group supervisor for arson and explosives.
But for the hyper-careful clinic workers, even the thought of an explosives training session was reason for caution. When the BATF originally called Stokes about the training, he checked the offer out with an FBI contact before agreeing to come.
Stokes said he plans to add information from the seminar to the four-hour security education sessions that Planned Parenthood staffers attend four times a year.
Diane Lewis, director of a Baltimore Planned Parenthood clinic, said she will continue to watch her back.
“You’re pretty mindful of what can happen if you’re not careful,” she said. “It’s not a problem now, but we’re trying to foresee what may be in the future.”