Monday, January 21, 2008


Local views still spark debate 35 years after Roe v. Wade
By NICHOLAS BERGIN Sunday, January 20, 2008

John Gaines/The Hawk Eye

Dan and Donna Holman have a personal crusade against abortion. The couple met at an anti-abortion rally six years ago.

Nearly 35 years after the Supreme Court of the United States decided one of the most controversial cases in its history, Roe v. Wade, a local woman has lost her own battle with the law.

Anti-abortion activist Donna Holman, 72, of Keokuk will observe the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court decision from a jail cell in Johnson County.

Holman is serving a 30-day stint after being convicted of third-degree harassment, which stemmed from a November 2006 confrontation with patients at the Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa clinic in Iowa City.

Donna Holman and her husband, Dan, have become known throughout the region for their in-your-face abortion protests. Using graphic pictures of aborted fetuses, the Holmans have targeted politicians, speakers and abortion rights advocates.

The Holmans' view of the issue and how the Supreme Court's decision affected the United States leaves no room for debate. To them abortion and all other forms of chemical or surgical birth control are the ultimate sin -- murder.

"They have normalized baby-murder here in America," Dan Holman said. "They have accepted the murders of 50 million Americans -- 4,000 Americans murdered per day, one out of every three babies is being aborted.

"It is evident that these people (aborted fetuses) are people," he continued. "They were people prior to 1973, and they are still people today. You don't change reality by changing the law.

"They are what they are. They are human beings. They are people."

Others don't see things so black and white.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that a Texas criminal abortion law dating to the 19th century violated a woman's 14th Amendment rights. The ruling overturned the patchwork of state abortion laws.

For those advocating abortion rights, the court's decision gave women control of their bodies and the right to choose when to have a child.

"If the mother doesn't feel she is prepared to do that (have a child), then I don't think she is ethically bound to carry that baby to term," said the Rev. Roger Mohr, president of the local American Civil liberties Union and minister at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Burlington. "The baby does not exist without the mother. If the mother doesn't feel she can handle it, we have to respect her decision."

The act of abortion has been documented throughout human history and prehistory, Mohr said.

"Abortion, that is something that has always happened. Back in the day, the way that you performed abortion was you carried the child to term then laid it out on a rock and abandoned it," he said.

Abortion is a medical procedure, and before women had the option of receiving it in a medical clinic, they often resorted unsafe abortions under unsterile conditions, Mohr said.

"We don't have to do that anymore. And I would like to think at this point we have gotten to the point where we realize it's not always a good time for a baby," he said.

Making abortion, contraceptives and sexual education available to women -- and teenage boys -- has revolutionized the opportunities available for women in their education, careers and personal lives, said Cherry Klein of director of Burlington-based Planned Parenthood of Southeast Iowa.

"They have the ability to plan when they might have children so they can work their education their jobs and their personal lives around that," Klein said, noting the women sometimes had their lives shortened because of repeated childbearing.

Being able to choose when and whether to have a child also helps ease financial strain on women and families, she said.

"In a lot of situations, it has allowed women to have happier marriages and family lives because they don't have the stress of not being pregnant all the time or having more children they might want or be able to provide for," Klein said. "Those (issues) still are big stressers for women."

Never give up

No argument or jail time will ever change either Dan or Donna Holman's mind or stop their protests.

The Monday before Donna Holman's arraignment hearing in Iowa City, the couple discussed their beliefs, and why they do, what they do.

The couple has a tidy, single-story, ranch-style home in Keokuk.

For the interview, Donna Holman wore a purple sweater with the names of her grandchildren embroidered on it in white print. Around each name was an embroidered heart. She has five children, Dan Holman has three children, and together they have 16 grandchildren.

Their living room window is cracked and broken where someone threw a rock through it. Over the hole is taped a sign reading "Life the first inalienable right."

While he talked about his wife's trial, Dan Holman made dough for homemade multi-grain bread.

The couple has a video of the incident that led to Donna Holman's current incarceration.

In the video, she's outside the Iowa City Planned Parenthood clinic wearing sandwich boards with pictures of aborted fetuses, and she is trying to hand literature to women entering the office. The women refuse the literature, and Holman follows them to the office entrance, stands in the doorway and shouts at them as they enter the building.

"They (Planned Parenthood employees) didn't like people in the waiting room hearing me say 'thou shall not murder,' " Donna Holman said of the incident.

In the tape, Dan Holman can be heard in the background shouting, "Your baby wants to live. It's not a piece of garbage. ... How can you pay a total stranger $500 to rip the legs and arms off your baby?"

Within minutes, two police officers showed up and began questioning the Holmans and others.

Donna Holman was given a 30-day suspended jail sentence and placed on a year of probation for third-degree harassment.

As part of her probation, she was ordered to receive a psychiatric evaluation and comply with any treatment recommendations.

Holman refused because she believes "psychiatry to be a psuedoscience on par with astrology, fortune telling and palm reading," she wrote in a statement to the court.

Last Tuesday, a judge ordered Holman to serve the sentence for not complying with the terms of her probation.

The Holmans called the arrest "bogus" and unjustified.

Still, it was hardly surprising.

Dan Holman has said he's been arrested more than 300 times and has spent considerable time in jail.

Four years ago, he was ordered him to stay away from the Iowa City clinic after he made comments sympathetic to Paul Hill, who was executed in Florida for killing an abortion doctor.

"Some day, I hope I will have the courage to be as much a man as he was," he told the New York Times.

A perfect match

The Holmans met about six years ago while protesting abortion in New England. Donna is a widow, and Dan, 61, is divorced.

They married after a three-month courtship. Donna Holman can recite to the day exactly how long they have been together.

The couple appears to be a perfect ideological and domestic fit.

He bakes bread, works around the house and does the mechanical work their "Truthvan," a van they have covered with posters of aborted fetuses and anti-abortion slogans.

Donna Holman does laundry and writes letters to newspapers. Together, they travel the country protesting. Their activities are financed by Missionaries to the PreBorn, a Milwaukee-based anti-abortion group founded by the Rev. Matt Trewahella.

Recently, they returned from a protest tour in Iowa and South Carolina in which they followed the campaign of presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to more than 60 events. At the events, they displayed pictures of aborted fetuses with the caption "Hillary's Holocaust."

The Holmans don't attend any area churches. They worship from home and have started a local branch of the Missionaries to the Preborn.

The couple said area churches don't focus enough on the issue they believe is paramount, and they said churches generally regard them as too radical.

The Holmans maintain they will never give up protesting abortions or using graphic images.

"Do they have pretty pictures of an abortion?" Dan Holman asked rhetorically. "If they have a pretty picture we'll show it. God said show the bloody city her abomination, and that's what we're doing."

The Holmans said they use the graphic images because they work.

"We know that graphic images change hearts, change minds," Dan Holman said. "I don't think we're confrontational enough."

Actions lead to reactions

Reactions to the Holmans' protests, literature and frequent letters to the editor occasionally make headlines.

In December, a 71-year-old Fort Madison man made news when he accosted Dan Holman with a broom handle while Holman was protesting a Clinton campaign event in the Lee County community.

The Holmans frequently are harassed, too. Their home and their possessions have been vandalized repeatedly.

While many viscerally oppose the Holmans' use of graphic images, others in the community support their goals.

A member of the Fort Madison Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, Mary Abolt said that while Right to Life does not support the use of graphic images to get its message across, that does not mean she believes what the Holmans do is wrong.

"I think there are all kinds of ways to approach this issue," she said. "At least when people see (the Holmans signs) they get to think, 'it's not right what we're doing in the United States Killing our children.' "

Abolt said the Fort Madison Right to Life group avoids using graphic images so it can participate in community events.

"If we associated with the Holmans and presented ourselves like they do, we wouldn't get in the rodeo parade," she said.

Even though the ACLU disagrees with the Holmans' position on abortion, Mohr said it supports their right to protest.

"We support their right to say what they want to say and say it how they want to say it," the Unitarian Universalist minister said. "They have the right to try to present their case. Even if they do it in a tasteless and lurid manner primarily for the shock value."

As long as the Holmans make their point in a lawful way, on public property and don't harm or harass people, area law enforcement take the same approach.

At the local Planned Parenthood clinic, Klein agreed the Holmans have a right to protest and said the couple generally doesn't scare patients away.

To the contrary, Klein said the Holmans protests actually help galvanize Planned Parenthood's supporters, resulting in an influx of donations.

Looking toward the future

The abortion debate likely will not disappear soon and pundits expect it to play a role in the 2008 presidential general election.

The next president likely will appoint new judges to the Supreme Court as old ones retire. The cases they hear could affect abortion laws across the country.

However, many see abortion as little more than a wedge issue used by politicians and people like the Holmans.

Mohr said he has faith that people will see past the Holmans' graphic images and protests and respond to the issue logically.

"The American people are smart enough to look past just the bold images, to think through the issue and to respond in a way that is more than just a visceral gut level response," he said.

At Planned Parenthood in Burlington, which does not perform abortions, Klein said the clinic would rather the debate to focus on preventing abortions through birth control and education that is age-appropriate and research-based, as required by a state law passed last year.

"Comprehensive sexuality education includes abstinence as the best method, but also discusses birth control, pregnancy prevention, self esteem, sexually transmitted diseases and a wide range of health issues that teens really need information about," Klein said. "They are programs that studies show actually work."

Klein said studies have proven abstinence-only education does not work and does not prepare teens to deal with their emerging sexuality.

The Holmans admit there is no way to completely stop abortions or people having sex outside of marriage, but they still strive to have abortion and birth control outlawed.

"It never ends, but it can be outlawed," Dan Holman said. "It's just like outlawing any other kind of murder."

"The Bible says children are a blessing," Donna Holman said. "The reason God put us on earth is to multiply."

The only sexual education they advocate is abstinence. They believe sexual education "sexualizes kids, makes them promiscuous and adds to the overall baby-killing problem," Dan Holman said.

The couple also believe women's place is in the home and they should not seek careers or education.

One of the reasons they chose to protest Clinton events is because "Hillary models the 21st century role reversal of women," they wrote in a recent Missionaries to the Pre-born Iowa newsletter.

John Gaines/The Hawk Eye