Fort Abortion / Behind cinderblock walls, steel-plated doors and bulletproof glass, Dr. D amon Stutes has taken up arms in the war over a medical procedure that 's not only legal but -- in his opinion -- moral and ethical as well
Fort Abortion / Behind cinderblock walls, steel-plated doors and
bulletproof glass, Dr. D amon Stutes has taken up arms in the war over a
medical procedure that 's not only legal but -- in his opinion -- moral and
ethical as well
Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer
It is late afternoon at the West End Women's Medical Group, where Dr. Damon
Stutes is fiddling with the tools of his trade -- a stethoscope, a
prescription pad, a clip full of Black Talon bullets, a Glock .45-caliber
pistol and a 9mm Beretta.
Above Stutes' head are two television monitors. One plays an endless color
video loop of Stutes and his buddies rollicking across the Nevada desert on
off-road motorcycles. The other runs constantly shifting images from more
than a dozen surveillance cameras -- some hidden, some not.
Bulletproof glass -- its thick prism blunting the harsh Nevada sunlight --
offers a safe view of the enemy from all angles of this 5,000-square-foot
building with its eight-foot steel doors.
Welcome to Fort Abortion, the most secure such clinic in the United States,
if not the world. And welcome to the world of Damon Stutes, all 6 feet, 10
inches and 300 pounds of him.
``Abortion is moral,'' Stutes thunders. ``Abortion is legal. It didn't
arise out of some ACLU smoke-filled room -- except they don't smoke, do
they? Hey, this is the law of the land. It's about providing a legal, moral
and ethical service to women that they desperately need and that tens of
thousands of women have died for. This is the moral high ground, man!''
The enemy is what Stutes calls ``the pro-death people'' -- his sobriquet
for the self-described ``pro- life'' forces.
Stutes is a 43-year-old gynecologist who has done 30,000 abortions over the
past 18 years. He loves what he is doing -- he dotes in a
fatherly/brotherly way over the women who come to his clinic, as well as
the eight women who work there.
And he absolutely rails against the anti-abortion forces at any
opportunity, mostly for what he terms the movement's murderous and
intimidating tactics. But there's something else, too.
``He just does not like to be pushed around,'' says Stutes' mentor, Dr.
Eugene Glick. ``He's a true American, and he and Teddy Roosevelt would have
gotten along fine.''
What Teddy Roosevelt -- the original Rough Rider himself -- might have
marveled at is the degree to which Stutes has gone to protect himself, his
staff and his patients against possible attacks.
``He's the most armed doctor I know,'' said Ron Fitzsimmons, executive
director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, an organization
that lobbies government on behalf of clinics.
In North America, two doctors and three clinic workers have been murdered
at abortion facilities during the past two years. Two other doctors and
five other people have been shot and wounded.
``In terms of the entire package -- doctor and clinic -- Damon's got to be
number one,'' Fitzsimmons said. ``It's a fortress. He's on red alert, all
the time. And it's a shame that he's had to go to that length to protect
himself and his staff and his patients.''
Stutes, as Fitzsimmons and many others will attest, is not an ordinary man.
He doesn't fit the stereotype of the golf-playing anesthesiologist who
worries about his real estate investments, or the frenzied emergency-room
physician who patches up the bloody victims of car wrecks and drug wars.
On Stutes' desk, under the black Kevlar carrying case for his Beretta, are
copies of such magazines as Cycle World (the motorized kind), American
Rifleman and the Journal of the American Medical Association.
He has a shredder in one corner of his office, because he has found that
abortion foes sift through his garbage, looking for home address labels on
magazines and envelopes. Stutes shreds, constantly.
Down the hall is a row of five examining rooms, each with its own
ceiling-mounted speaker and hydraulically operated patient tables that,
like the lifts in a garage, whoosh upwards several feet to meet Stutes'
As he prepares a 25-year-old university student for a five-minute abortion,
Stutes absent-mindedly taps his size-15 New Balance running shoes to ``Blue
Monday'' by Huey Lewis and the News.
His scrubs, those monochrome pajamalike uniforms doctors wear, are
custom-made for him in wild and zany color patterns. When people first see
him, they look up. And up. It is something, Stutes has found, that works to
his advantage in these parlous times.
``Being six-ten is a lot different from being five-seven,'' his friend,
Glick, says. ``One can afford to be more outspoken and less tolerant of the
(anti-abortion) people. But he's a gentle giant. He's been forceful all his
life in defense of his patients, and he has been very forceful and critical
of other doctors who didn't treat patients well. And he was right. Every
In fact, there is nothing polite about the way Stutes approaches the
volatile battle over abortion. He has little patience with political
correctness or the arcana of diplomacy and even less with the people who
shoot doctors and clinic workers.
``You know,'' Stutes says, ``the rest of the world is kind of fascinated
with the preoccupation Americans have with sex. Of course, the result of
having sex is getting pregnant, and sometimes the result of getting
pregnant is getting an abortion.''
Minutes later, he can switch easily into a relaxed and informed
conversation about guns and personal security, an avocation he developed
long before he decided to be a doctor. Glick, who knows him well, says
Stutes is so comfortable in that world that ``he could easily have been a
Stutes grew up in Lansing, Mich., where his father sold Chevrolets. Young
Stutes joined the National Rifle Association at age 12. He talks about
going varmint shooting years ago with an FBI pal who trains snipers.
``I like guns, I collect guns and I'm prepared to use guns,'' he says,
facilely taking the Glock apart in a few seconds. ``I'm not playing a game
here, and this gun is not for flash. If it comes out, it's going to bark.''
A few years ago, when things heated up against doctors who perform
abortions, Stutes took stock of his professional life, faced the stark
possibility that it could end rather suddenly, and went hunting for an
``Every attack on every (abortion) facility in this country over the past
20 years has been studied,'' he says evenly. ``By me.'' Apparently, the
doctor studied well.
One million dollars later, he opened what even veteran Reno police officers
say is one of the most secure buildings they've ever seen, far outstripping
the security of local banks and rivaling (or in some ways, exceeding) that
of the local casinos.
``It's a state-of-the-art place, man,'' said Reno police Lieutenant James
Ballard. ``There's a lot of trick surveillance stuff out there. Makes it
good for us, because we can't put a cop out there 24 hours a day.''
``This is a scratch building, designed to be the way it is,'' Stutes says.
``It was done by an architect who has designed prisons and hospitals.''
Although obviously proud of what he had wrought, the architect begged off
talking publicly about it on the grounds that if it got out that he was
building abortion clinics, some of the attendant controversy might tar his
The walls of Stutes' clinic are made of cinder block, filled with concrete
and reinforcing steel bars. The building has a blue-steel roof that slopes
-- firebombs or gasoline roll right off. Anyone who manages to climb on the
roof will probably fall off and, for his troubles, will land in a bed of
Exterior doors are steel, and the entrance to the building has two sets of
double doors with bulletproof glass. This entryway will soon be converted
into a sally port (or ``mantrap,'' as some security specialists call it)
similar to those in state prisons.
After you enter one set of doors, it locks behind you and you wait for an
attendant to electronically open the next doors. If the visitors don't have
the right answers, the sally port keeps them in a mini-jail until the cops
Exterior windows are made of bulletproof glass, and the windows in the five
examining rooms, where abortions are performed, are set high enough so
nobody can see in. Interior doors have magnetic locks that can be opened
only by certain wall-mounted buttons.
Motion detectors abound, their tiny lights winking at the slightest
movement. Outside, mounted under the eaves, are black-domed surveillance
cameras, similar to the ones in casino ceilings, and there are backup
cameras in different locations. On one of the 40- foot light poles that
line the driveway and ring the parking lot is another camera, far out of
reach of any spray paint-armed protester.
Unlike most office buildings in the neighborhood, the front of Stutes'
building, set back from the street across a no-man's land filled with
sensors and other security devices, has no doors.
Patients go down a driveway -- and this is a key to the building's security
-- to reach a parking lot that is 70 feet from the street, at the rear of
the building. The main door, which is on the parking lot side, is locked.
Any protester who comes down the driveway is spotted in plenty of time for
Stutes or his staff to call for reinforcements.
``If there's an attack here,'' Stute's says, ``my heartbeat is not going to
go up. I call 9-1-1, I tell the police there is an attack and I tell them
I'm armed and I'm locked in.'' Hunkered down.
On the west side of the clinic is a remote-controlled commercial- grade
overhead double-garage door, made of overlapping quarter-inch-thick steel
plates that form a sandwich over a layer of insulation. This is where
Stutes drives in every morning, a bulletproof vest covering his ample
There are other security devices in the building, but Stutes doesn't want
to talk about them. And there's one interesting one he reluctantly won't
discuss, but clearly would love to brag about because ``it was my own
``It's a special feature that will help the SWAT team,'' he says. ``That's
the trump card. The bad guys come in and think they have it all under
control; and they don't.''
``I know the security aspect is more interesting,'' he sighs, moments
later, ``but you also should know that we use state-of-the-art medical
equipment, such as halogen examining lights with fiber- optic tubes that
eliminate heat that might bother the patients.''
``We opened up December 1,'' he says. ``Then we got real popular after
Brookline (where two clinic workers in Massachusetts were shot to death on
December 30.) People called up, who'd heard about my place, and said, `Hey,
how do you do that?' ''
Since his clinic opened, he said, nobody has mounted a protest, an
unexpected dividend that is in stark and somewhat pleasant contrast to
Stutes' earlier years as an abortion doctor, when demonstrations and
firebombings were routine.
Despite the danger and the distraction, ministering to pregnant women is
something Stutes says he's wanted to do all his life and when he talks
about it, all his natural anger and righteousness fulminate to the top,
like a Coke that is poured too fast. The more wound up he gets, the more
elemental his language.
``You want to go back to why I'm risking my life on abortions?'' he asks.
``When I was 12, two of my junior high classmates -- two girls -- stopped
coming to school. Turns out both had died from illegal abortions. This was
in 1963, and everybody's attitude was that `they had it coming, for having
``These girls were raped! They suffered the death penalty because they were
the victims of rape! But nobody ever said anything about killing the guys
who raped them. Hey, this is a violent crime. A woman who gets raped -- she
not only has to go through the dangers of being pregnant, but then she has
to raise a kid? Hey, [fuck] that.''
After graduating from the medical school of Michigan State University in
1976, Stutes wended west and spent four years at Kaiser Permanente Medical
Center in Sacramento. From 1980 to 1987, he was in private practice in Yuba
City, doing ``a few abortions every week until the pro-death people came
after me. Hey, I'm not killing any more babies than the guy who
(masturbates) and leaves the sperm in a washcloth.''
``Finally,'' he says, ``the pro-death people threatened me and said, `If
you don't stop, we'll picket your practice,' and I got all the usual death
threats. I said, `There's no way I'm going to bow down to you.' ''
One night, as he was driving home on his 1,100cc Honda V-65 Sabre
motorcycle, ``a guy in a Trans- Am tried to T-bone me.'' Stutes escaped
through some high-speed turns and later learned that the guy chasing him
was a local doctor.
``That was the last day in California that I didn't have a gun with me,''
he says. The siege against his Yuba City practice continued, and he soon
contacted Glick in Reno and asked about venturing over to Nevada to help
out at Glick's clinic.
``I came up and started with him, and then I closed my practice in Yuba
City,'' Stutes says. ``I thought, `Well, if I'm going to be in danger for
doing a few abortions, I'd rather be in danger for doing a lot more.' Now I
do about 3,000 a year.''
By 1988, Stutes was working full time in Glick's clinic, but by 1992 the
harassment Stutes thought he had left in California was coming full bore in
``We had frequent picketing,'' Glick says, ``and people screaming at our
patients and screaming at the doctors. It was quite nerve- racking. My
approach was to reason and make (the protesters) see me as a human being
with a different idea, which was not necessarily successful.''
That fall, the clinic, at the time less than a secure medical building,
suffered four firebombings and an attack by one protester who injected
vomit-smelling acid in the walls of the bathroom.
A few months later, Glick retired -- ``I was 65 and wanted to phase
out'' -- and Stutes bought the practice.
Now that he is ensconced in his fortress, it is almost as if Stutes has
given a war and nobody wants to come. Once in a while, one of the local
abortion foes drives out and hangs out for a few desultory hours, but other
than that, it's been quiet. Of course, it is not as if Stutes goes
unnoticed in the enemy camp.
``I guess he feels he needs a safe place to kill babies[sic],'' said Janine
Hanson, state president of Eagle Forum, a national organization she
described as ``pro-family, pro-life and pro-Constitution.'' Eagle Forum
likes to keep tabs on Damon Stutes.
``Frankly,'' Hanson says, ``I've been praying for him. He needs a lot of
prayers. Maybe he's gone off the deep end.''
Stutes has been listening to his enemies' charges for years.
``Watch this,'' he says. He grabs a videotape and slides it into the mouth
of his VCR. A priest on a talk show says it's not so bad that abortion
providers get shot dead once in a while.
``I am really pissed,'' Stutes says, pointing up at the TV screen. ``Not
only does this guy call for my murder, but my wife's murder, my children's
murder, my UPS driver's murder. I'm not calling for his murder, or taking
away his rights.
``I'm simply saying, `Leave me and my patients and my staff alone. Take
your debate to church or the legislature, but leave us alone. We're doing
what is moral, legal, ethical and right.' ''
The videotape ends. He slams the clip back into his .45, snaps on the alarm
system and heads for the fortified garage. Another day at Fort Abortion.
VIOLENCE IN THE BATTLE OVER ABORTION
Dr. Damon Stutes has built himself a fortress of a clinic in Reno, largely
because of the stepped-up war being conducted against abortion doctors and
their clinics. These are the most serious of the incidents that have
happened over the past two years: -- March 10, 1993 -- Dr. David Gunn was
shot to death outside a Pensacola, Fla., clinic, the first American doctor
killed during an anti-abortion demonstration. Michael Griffin was convicted
and sentenced to life in prison. -- Aug. 19, 1993 -- Dr. George Tiller was
shot in both arms as he drove out of the parking lot at his Wichita, Kan.,
clinic. Rachelle (Shelley) Shannon was convicted and sentenced to 11 years
in prison. -- July 29, 1994 -- Dr. John Bayard Britton and his escort,
James Barrett, were slain outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic. Paul
Hill, 40, a former minister and an abortion foe, was convicted of state
murder charges and sentenced to death. In a separate federal trial, Hill
was sentenced to life without parole for violating the new federal
clinic-protection law. -- Nov. 8, 1994 -- Dr. Garson Romalis, who performs
abortions in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, was shot in the leg while eating
breakfast at home. No arrests have been made. -- Dec. 30, 1994 -- A gunman
killed two staff workers and five other people at two abortion clinics in
the Boston suburb of Brookline. A 22-year-old hairdresser named John Salvi
was later arrested and charged with murder.
Source: Associated Press
2/26/95 , San Francisco Chronicle, All Rights Reserved, All Unauthorized