Fire Bombs, Clinic Closed, Federal Court Lawsuit

The Everett Events: A Chronology

Everett 1983 ...

Buoyed by making a real difference in Central Washington, the Feminist Women's Health Center decided in 1983 to open a second clinic in Everett, then an under-served region of the state. Little did we know that our lives would be forever changed by what awaited us.

Beginning with Everett FWHC's opening in August 1983, we were harassed and threatened on a daily basis. The sidewalk and parking lot became a war zone. When clients arrived, the antiabortion zealots created a human gauntlet waving enormous placards of fetus pictures, screaming "baby-killer," and surrounding clients while they walked from their car doors to the clinic doors. They videotaped and photographed clients and staff and copied down license plate numbers.

They followed us home at night. We received death threats. The callers knew our names and appearances. Each night as we headed for our cars to go home, we wondered if starting the engine would set off a car bomb, for they had threatened a car bomb was next.

Inside the clinic, harassing and threatening phone calls along with fake appointment calls blocked the phone lines making it nearly impossible for legitimate clients to get through to make an appointment. We counted as many as 700 of these calls in a day!

Police response was marginal, implying this was the social cost of providing abortions. All we wanted the police to do was enforce the laws against trespass, harassment, threats, intimidation, and blocking public sidewalks. FWHC sought legal assistance and began the process toward a court injunction.

Fire-Bombs ...

In the early morning hours of December 3, 1983, the first fire-bomb hit. Fire fighters stopped the blaze before it spread to the rest of the building, but medical supplies and equipment were destroyed. Thankfully no one was in the building.

We've included a page of photographs that reveal the blackened interior, melted telephone equipment and paint peeling from the walls in the aftermath of the intense heat of the fire.

The day after the fire-bomb, clinic workers sat in the burned out office protecting what remained, rescheduling clients, monitoring the antiabortion fanatics, in the winter cold with no electricity or heat. Women still came, stepping over fire-hoses, "I have an appointment..."

The stress of being fire-bombed on top of the daily opposition had a huge impact on the personal lives of FWHC's dedicated staff. But, we resolved to rebuild the clinic and two months later we reopened.

Even as we rebuilt, the harassment continued. Police took no proactive measures to curb further violence. In fact, they suspected us of setting the fire ourselves to collect insurance money. They refused to investigate other suspects until after we each took a lie-detector test!

In March, a second fire was set. This one caused much less damage, partially because of our newly installed, expensive, alarm system. Within a day, the clinic resumed seeing clients. Again, local police were listless in their investigation.

Pro-Choice groups organized a large rally where community leaders condemned the violence, honored the brave women of the health center, and urged tolerance for varying views on abortion. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) joined the investigation.

Too Little, Too Late ...

FWHC continued to pursue a court injunction to place limits on the time, place and manner of picketing. Between the first and second days of the court hearing on the injunction, a third fire-bomb was set. Damage this time was widespread inside the facility. Although we won the injunction, we lost the clinic.

As a result of the third fire, the insurance company canceled our policy. The owner of the building canceled our lease and took the contents of our office to an unnamed storage facility.

Imagine if you will, losing almost everything in a fire... what is left, you do not have access to... the emotional toll of constant personal threats ... the police have been unable or unwilling to help... ironically you spend days in court seeking an injunction to limit the destructive activities outside a clinic that's now burned-out inside... you don't know what or when the next attack will be. With enormous financial pressures, you must decide what to do next.

Initially FWHC had no intention of closing the Everett clinic. But though we tried for years, it was not possible -- logistically, emotionally, and especially financially -- to start over.

The destruction of the Everett clinic, and the financial loss of the startup investment, nearly caused the closure of FWHC's other site in Yakima, which would have been a tremendous loss for women in Central Washington. Supporters around the nation sent donations making it financially possible to keep the Yakima FWHC open.

Inspiration to overcome the obstacles came from the certain knowledge that reproductive freedom makes a huge difference in the lives of women.

Evidence of a Conspiracy Emerges ...

Months after the 3rd fire, local police questioned but chose not to prosecute Curtis Beseda. However, Federal authorities took the violence more seriously and it paid off. Beseda fled to Canada and Federal Marshals arrested him later when he tried to reenter the U.S. On the witness stand, Beseda admitted he set the three fires in Everett and another in Bellingham. He was sentenced to 20 years.

During Everett FWHC's nine month tenure, we were the target of an organized campaign of terror, harassment, death threats, intimidation, trespass, and arson intended to close our clinic and deny women their constitutional right to abortion. The Everett clinic was destroyed and we nearly lost the Yakima clinic due to the Everett debts. Though many people participated in the damaging attacks on our clinic, only one person paid the price. Only Curtis Beseda went to jail.

Over time, evidence surfaced that antiabortion groups had specifically made plans to close our clinic.

When attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights and National Lawyers Guild heard about our experience and frustration, they agreed to represent FWHC pro-bono. This was our opportunity to hold the perpetrators accountable for taking away women's choices in Everett. Further, the attorneys to represent us were some of the best civil rights attorneys in the country.

Almost two years after the clinic closed, in February 1986, FWHC filed a federal court lawsuit against organizations and individuals charging them with RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act) violations. In order to prove RICO violations, we had to prove a conspiracy to commit a pattern of illegal acts designed to close a business enterprise.

Some of the original defendants settled out of court. Their monetary settlements made possible a down payment to buy a building for our clinic site in Yakima where we are today. After experiencing the loss of our lease and insurance in Everett due to the arsons crimes against our clinic, it was impossible to find clinic space to rent in Yakima. Being able to secure a clinic space was made possible with the downpayment from those who committed crimes against FWHC.

The Federal Court Trial using RICO ...

The trial began six years after the clinic closed, four years after the lawsuit was filed, and after lawyers and clinic workers spent thousands of hours in discovery and preparation. In the summer of 1990, after a three-week trial, a federal court jury ordered defendants Dotti Roberts, Curtis Beseda, and Sharon Codispoti to pay over $300,000 in damages. This amount was automatically trebled (tripled) under the provisions of RICO.

As expected, the defendants appealed the decision. Though awarded nearly a million dollars, FWHC did not receive one payment.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appointed a three judge panel to hear the case. At the hearing, Judge Noonan's questioning was surprising. After sitting quietly while the defendants' lawyer spoke, Noonan was argumentative with our lawyers. "His face turned red and he rose up out of his seat to lean over the bench and harangue our attorney," reported a FWHC health worker.

Afterward, we discovered that Judge John Noonan Jr., who was appointed by President Reagan, had served on the national board of the National Right to Life Committee. Not only was he personally antiabortion, but he was a national leader, writer, lecturer, and activist against abortion.

Motion to Recuse Judge Noonan ...

FWHC immediately filed a motion asking Judge Noonan to recuse himself (step aside) because we had reason to question his impartiality on this matter. In his writings, Noonan spoke disparagingly about abortion providers, revealing his bias against them as physicians and business-owners. Furthermore, he urged judges and lawyers to adhere to a higher moral authority than constitutional law. Judge Noonan completely ignored the recusal motion.

By 1994, in a case from Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that antiabortion demonstrators could be sued under RICO even if they did not possess an economic motive to close clinics. [This case eventually made it's way to the US Supreme Court and a final decision was rendered in Feb. 2003.] There was still no response from the 9th Circuit on the motion asking that Judge Noonan recuse himself because he could not be impartial or on the main case regarding the appeal of the jury verdict. This was ten years after the clinic closed.

Interestingly, controversy over Judge Noonan erupted again in 1995 when he reversed Judge Judith Rothstein's landmark decision in a Washington state "right to die" case. Because of Noonan's lack of impartiality, the 9th Circuit consented to rehear the "right to die" case en banc (by all judges of the court) and the full 9th Circuit reversed Noonan's opinion.

Jury Verdict Overturned on a Technicality ...

It was not until August 1995, more than five years after the appeal was filed, that the 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled on our RICO suit. What they had to say was outrageous.

The 9th Circuit ruled that FWHC should be precluded from bringing a RICO case in federal court because we should have raised the conspiracy evidence in state court at the time we requested the injunction. They disregarded the fact that this would have been impossible because several specific facts were not known at that time. We did not yet have the confession and conviction of the arsonist or other facts related to his connection to the other coconspirators. Nor did we know that the clinic would close and we would lose our financial startup investment.

Furthermore, at the time we filed the federal RICO case, it was unclear as to whether it was legally possible to raise a federal RICO claim in state court. Indeed, two district court judges ruled in our case that we were not prevented by our state case from filing this federal court action. Still, the 9th Circuit disregarded the lower court rulings and used this technicality to throw out our case, without considering the evidence of conspiracy and damages, nor the will of the jury.

Judge Noonan refused to recuse himself. We asked the 9th Circuit to reconsider our case en banc. They denied en banc consideration without explanation.

As a result, after a federal court jury ruled that defendants conspired to shut down our clinic through arson and other acts of terrorism, FWHC ended up forced to pay the anti-abortion defendants' court costs of $19,058 in 1996, thirteen years after the first fire-bomb gutted the Everett FWHC.


If you would like to donate to Feminist Women's Health Center, you may give online or send a tax-deductible donation to FWHC, 106 East E Street, Yakima, WA 98901.

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." -Justices O'Conner, Kennedy and Souter in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey

Feminist Women's Health Center home
Welcome to Feminist Women's Health Center
Women's Health
Poetry and Prose by feminists
Your Stories-Real Life Personal Abortion Stories
Abortion info from Feminist Women's Health Center Birth Control Comparison
Teens - sexual health info
Women's Health Questions and Answers
Espanol - Spanish
Take Pro-Choice Action
News & Views
Resources: books, websites, organization
Abortion Clinics - Feminist Abortion Network For Sale - speculum, tools for self exam, books Links Site Index Search

Feminist Women's Health Center