written for newsletter in Sept. 2002

Firebombs and Violence

Everett Clinic Destroyed

Inspired by offering freedom of choice to women in Central Washington, in 1983 we decided to open a second clinic, this time in Western Washington. Little did we know how Everett would forever change our lives.

"Our vision in choosing Everett was real grassroots: there were women there who needed services...It was so exciting when the sign went up, when the walls got painted, when we saw our first clients, made the first bank deposit. Months later I was sitting in a soot-filled burned-out office. We worked so hard with no money just to keep the doors open...But today, FWHC is a strong organization, and still expanding - it is so uplifting."
- Audrey Fine,
former Everett Co-Director

We rented space in an office building next door to a dentist, and across the street from police and fire stations. As we prepared to open, we attended a local health fair to hand out speculums, abortion information and other educational materials. Abruptly, even before we opened for clients, anti-choice picketers filled the sidewalks and parking lot.

From that moment forward, we were harassed and threatened every day. They surrounded clients from car door to clinic door, carrying enormous placards, screaming "baby-killers." Anti's videotaped our faces, cars and license plates. We were followed home at night. We received death threats and car-bomb threats.

They called to harass, make fake appointments, or just hang up - up to 700 calls per day - blocking the phone lines making it impossible for women to make appointments.

We requested the police to enforce the laws against trespass, harassment, and blocking public sidewalks, but response was minimal. This was long before Congress passed FACE, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances bill in 1995.

In the early morning of December 3, 1983, the first fire-bomb exploded at Everett FWHC. Fire fighters stopped the blaze before it spread to the rest of the building, but all our medical and office equipment was destroyed. Phones were melted; paint peeled from the walls. Smoke, soot and water covered everything. Thankfully, no one was injured.

It took two months to rebuild, install and alarm system required by our insurance company, purchase new equipment and reopen. All during construction, harassment continued.

"I spent every Saturday at the clinic taking photographs which ultimately became evidence in Federal Court. It was an eye-opening experience as to how powerless women are when the power is in the hands of the police, the city officials, or the US Congress. It changed the way I look at everything..."
- Marcia L,
President of Everett NOW in 1984

Within a few weeks of reopening, a second fire was set. This one caused much less damage. We reopened within a few days. A large community rally was organized by pro-choice groups led by Everett National Organization for Women. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) began a federal investigation. But it was too little, too late.

In April 1984, a third fire-bomb went off. Damage was severe and widespread. Our insurance company immediately canceled our policy and the building owner canceled our lease.

Debts from the destruction and the financial loss of double startup costs nearly forced the closure of the Yakima clinic. Supporters from around the country raised money making it possible for Yakima to stay open.

Legal Recourse Sought

Months after the third fire, officials named Curtis Beseda as a suspect. In court, he admitted setting fires in Everett and Bellingham. Even so, we knew he was just one among dozens who created an atmosphere of violence against the clinic.

With an incredible team of volunteer attorneys associated with the Center for Constitutional Rights, we decided to file a federal court lawsuit under RICO (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization). Some defendants settled out of court rather than going to trial.

Six years after the first fire-bomb, the trial began in Seattle in 1989. The jury ruled in our favor! Defendants were ordered to pay more than $300,000 in damages which was automatically tripled under RICO. The antis appealed and the damages were never paid.

In summer 1995, five years after the appeal was filed, the 9th Circuit ruled. Without considering the evidence, they reversed the jury's decision on a technicality.

We filed the RICO lawsuit to hold antiabortion terrorists accountable for their violence that closed our clinic and to stop them before they destroyed another. Today, women in Everett have access to a local abortion provider. Police know that ignoring clinic violence won't make it go away. The lawsuit had a chilling impact on anti-clinic activities in Washington.

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of FWHC in WA in 2000

updated October 18, 2007

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