Charlotte's Web

At the Routh Street Women's Clinic, Charlotte Taft created a controversial feminist enclave and waged war with anti-abortion zealots. Then she questioned her movement's gospeland it all fell apart

At the same time that Charlotte was finessing the management study, a widening fissure threatened to destroy the clinic culture from within. Lindsay Thorpe was the first business manager at the clinic and a personal favorite of Dr. Braun. Thorpe declined comment for this story. But court records detail how her troubled personal life became entangled in the web of clinic culture.

Lindsey was having marital problems and grew afraid she might lose her children. Court records show that while under treatment for severe depression, she attempted suicide in May 1992 by trying to asphyxiate herself in her garage. She did, however, return to work the next day.

Morgen Goodroe learned of the suicide attempt through a mutual friend and brought it up at an administrative meeting. The ensuing discussion included allegations that Lindsay was abusing drugs, though she would later deny she had.

Lindsay was subsequently confronted by the administration regarding reports of her drug use and attempted suicide. As was customary in the clinic culture, she was asked to share her feelings. She declined to discuss her suicide attempt other than to say it had nothing to do with her job performance. She was in therapy now, on medication and feeling better.

Yet Lindsay's troubles were far from over. After a heated argument with her husband on Father's Day, records show, she voluntarily committed herself into the Richardson Medical Center to receive intensive treatment for her depression. She only stayed a week, but during that week, the staff at Routh Street held a meeting and explored their own feelings about Lindsay's situation.

On June 24, 1992, while Lindsay was still in the hospital, Charlotte informed her that the Routh Street board of directors had met and decided to give her an unpaid leave of absence until July 15 so she could concentrate on her personal life. According to Charlotte, Lindsay was angered by this decision, refused to take the leave, and said, "you'll have to fire me first." Two days later, Charlotte did just that.

Lindsay was outraged. She had been released by her doctor to return to work; she needed to work because her husband had just left her. But Charlotte stood firm, feeling Lindsay's job performance had been compromised by her personal problems and her unwillingness to follow the agreements of the clinic culture.

On September 3, 1993, Lindsay sued Routh Street for wrongful termination and invasion of privacy. The allegations she raised put the entire clinic culture on trial. No one had ever publicly questioned the rules that the clinic played by, but now Lindsay was alleging that the clinic invaded her privacy, discriminated against her, violated her rights. She alleged the clinic had no legitimate business interest in discussing her attempted suicide and personal problems. She contended that her "depression, emotional instability, and adjustment disorder" were due "in large part to the controlling, interfering, and manipulating manner in which Routh Street was run." She likened the experience to "belonging to a cult."

In the months that followed, the lawsuit just refused to go away, stalking Dr. Braun like some anti-abortion extremist. For hours, he would sit in depositions as discussions about paganistic rituals and drug use shocked his conscience. Even if the charges were groundless, what would a Dallas jury do with those facts? One of his attorneys told him that in his 17 years of practice, he had never heard such claims made in a lawsuit. The litigation had already cost $60,000.

How much longer could he bankroll Charlotte's feminist dreams? How much longer could he wait to implement the management study? Things had gotten out of control.

Something had to be done.
Because Lea Braun was such a private person, he had always let Charlotte do his talking for him. But this would no longer continue.

On June 28, 1993, Charlotte publicly aired her evolving views about abortion. "We have learned a great deal from the movement that calls itself pro-life," Charlotte told the Dallas Morning News. "We (the pro-choice movement) were hiding from women some of the pieces of the truth about abortion that were threatening...It is a kind of killing, and most women seeking abortion know that."

Charlotte didn't speak precipitously or out of anger. Her words were calculated to reach out to both sides of the abortion debate. Both the pro-choice and pro-life movements appeared more entrenched than ever before, more vitriolic in their rhetoric. Charlotte hoped to bridge this ever widening chasm and work toward a healing.

But the reaction to Charlotte's public pronouncement was swift--and the response certain. Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, was quoted as saying she "would never tell someone they are killing through abortion"; instead, she would say "they were terminating a stage of fetal development and potential life." In a pernicious war of words, how could Charlotte Taft adopt the language of the enemy?

Planned Parenthood of Dallas and Northeast Texas immediately yanked its referrals to Routh Street-- nearly 15 percent of the clinic's patient load. "We strenuously disagree that the pro-choice movement has been dishonest with women," says Jim Roderick, the group's president. "The article was a final awareness point for us in how they were serving the patients we were referring to them."

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