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

"She committed heresy," claims Bill Price, now the head of Texans United For Life. "She had a more enlightened vision for the abortion movement, and she ran headlong into the old-style operators. I knew they would squeeze her financially."

Undaunted, Charlotte appealed to Planned Parenthood to re-evaluate its decision. In September 1993, Roderick agreed to send an on-site team to observe the clinic's counseling techniques. "I thought, this is wonderful," recalls Charlotte. "Not only will they continue the referrals, but they are going to ask us to teach them." Routh Street had already become something of a prototype for a group of 20 or so like-minded clinics around the country called the November Gang. Here was yet another opportunity to further its evangelical mission.

But Planned Parenthood didn't see it that way. "Our major bone of contention was that the counseling was too directive," says Roderick. "We had a problem with the clinic raising issues for patients who would not normally raise them for themselves." The referrals would not resume.

Charlotte dismissed the action. "Planned Parenthood did all this without one patient complaint," she comments now. "We had been on their referral list for 14 years." More than 15,000 abortions had been performed at Routh Street since its inception. And not one malpractice case had ever been filed against the clinic.

But Charlotte felt the Morning News article gave Roderick the excuse to do what he had wanted to do for years: Planned Parenthood began offering its own abortion services in Dallas in September 1994.

Lea Braun was angry over the loss of business. And he blamed Charlotte. "We lost 15 to 20 patients a week because of her political stance. I felt like she shouldn't have made those statements to the press." No longer did Charlotte speak for Dr. Braun--as a matter of fact, he barely spoke to her at all.

But something critical had changed. No longer did Dr. Braun have to worry that if he moved against Charlotte, he would incur the wrath of the pro-choice community. She was no longer its spokesperson. Charlotte had undercut her own base of support.

Michael J. Collins is an all-American-looking, sandy-haired lawyer in his early 40s, dedicated to his kids, his country, his clients. A saber encased in a shadow box on his office wall symbolizes his heritage as a Texas A&M cadet. But to a New Age feminist, it's a vestige of the dead white male patriarchy.

Mike Collins was Dr. Braun's new voice. Scott Hudson describes him as something else entirely: "an axeman hired to do for Lea Braun what he couldn't do for himself." If Dr. Braun decided he wanted to fire Charlotte, implement the management study, sell her the clinic, Mike Collins would be the vehicle to fulfill his will.

For years, Dr. Braun had told Charlotte the clinic would be hers one day. As early as January 1992, Charlotte pressed him for a price. He seemed ambivalent. He did eventually tell her, however, that there was a problem with the corporate stock, and he would have to resolve it before he could sell the clinic to anyone.

In April 1994, Scott Hudson was removed as chairman of the Routh Street board. Dr. Braun asked Collins, who was handling the stock problem, to oversee the Lindsay Thorpe lawsuit. "There were a number of accusations being made that were beyond the norm of a wrongful-termination case," says Collins. "By reviewing the invasion-of-privacy issues, I noticed that a management team had come in several years before and its suggestions had only been partially implemented." The major issue still outstanding, and the one which seemed to be driving the lawsuit, was the possible exposure created by "personal discussions in the business place."

"It was more than just an opportunity to share your feelings," says Collins. "It was a requirement to share that gave me certain concerns."

As Dr. Braun's designated surrogate, Collins viewed the clinic as awash in a sea of medical-legal liability. The management study was a means of reducing that exposure, a way to make the clinic run more like a corporate enterprise. Consistent with that report, he viewed the clinic as "a service business," the counseling as a limited resource, and Charlotte's political activities as fiscally irresponsible. He felt Charlotte was getting paid far too much ($47,000 a year) and Dr. Braun far too little. Routh Street had a finite mission to be performed with finite resources. It was a medical clinic intended to address women's needs, not a woman's center trying to transform their lives.

On December 15, 1994, Charlotte met with Mike Collins at his office. Dr. Braun was there, but said little.

Collins insisted that she now implement the management study in total. Charlotte refused, saying it compromised her authority to manage the clinic. "I told them I could not work in a hierarchical place where no one could express their feelings. It was the opposite of everything I had ever done."

She told them they either needed to agree on terms for her to purchase the clinic or she would be forced to resign. They agreed to a timetable: in the next 30 days, she would search for a new medical director and they would decide on the conditions of sale. Collins did, however, extract one concession: there would be no more staff meetings--business or personal--during this time period. Charlotte figured she had no choice if she wanted to keep them at the bargaining table.

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