Birmingham Clinic Bombed By Army of God by Adam Butler (March 1998)

Black soot covered the front of the clinic, broken glass lined the walkway, and two people lay near the door. An ambulance rushed one to a nearby hospital where she underwent several hours of surgery and was listed in critical condition. The other victim was dead at the scene. The anti-choice movement had once again resorted to violence in order to strike out against women and reproductive rights.
At approximately 7:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 29, a crude bomb exploded at the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic, Birmingham, Alabama, showering the area with the nails that had been placed inside the device to act as shrapnel. Hit by the blast was head nurse Emily Lyons and off-duty police officer Robert “Sandy” Sanderson, who had been moonlighting as a security guard at the clinic.

Lyons lost an eye and suffered severe injuries to her other eye, legs, hands, and abdomen. Sanderson died, making him the victim of the first fatal clinic bombing in U.S. history. He was 34.

“I think Sandy would say, ‘Why?’ Nothing was accomplished, and the life of one good man is lost,” Sanderson’s brother-in-law, Travis McCluskey, said. “Sandy was the first victim of this type of bombing, and we make a plea that he be the last. Please, please, let this not happen again.”

Saddened and angered by the bombing, local pro-choice organizations and activists united to produce a rally in response to the attack. Among others, the Birmingham Clinic Defense Team, Refuse and Resist, the National Organization for Women, People of Faith for Choice, and the Alabama Freethought Association combined efforts with Alabama community members and held a demonstration on Sunday, February 1.

The event, which hosted speakers from each of the groups mentioned above, included an “open mike” session during which individuals were allowed to voice their concerns over the recent violence. The rally ended with a candlelight vigil for Robert Sanderson’s family, Emily Lyons, and all other clinic workers and activists who continuously risk their lives in defense of reproductive freedom.

In a letter sent to the clinic’s address, responsibility for the bombing was claimed by the “Army of God,” the same terrorist organization credited with the 1997 bombings of a gay bar and women’s clinic in Atlanta. According to the author or authors of the message, the letter was to “serve as a warning” to “anyone in or around facilities that murder children.”

Said Honey Gilmore of the Birmingham Clinic Defense Team, “We must not submit to the scare tactics of the anti-choice movement.” After the bombing, other clinics in Alabama and neighboring states have remained open with added security.

Adam Butler, student leader of the Birmingham Freethought Society, is active with the newly-formed Emergency Coalition for Choice, which has organized a March 7 rally at the clinic, a March 10 tree-planting ceremony at the site of the crater left by the bomb, and a March 14 program featuring Gloria Steinem, Catholic for Free Choices’ Fran Kissling, and Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Foundation, among many other speakers.

Freedom From Religion Foundation