Anti-Choice Activist Casts a Wider Net
Chris Danze ramps up his campaign against Planned Parenthood
Anti-abortion activist Chris Danze has broadened his e-mail recipient list to include members of the major local contractors group, most of whom aren't even involved in the construction of the new Planned Parenthood clinic in South Austin that Danze temporarily succeeded in halting last year.
Philip Thoden, president and CEO of the Austin chapter of the Associated General Contractors, says he's not happy about Danze using the AGC membership list to wage his battle against Planned Parenthood. Thoden says two members recently lodged complaints with him about the e-mails and that if the problem persists he'll consider removing the list from the AGC Web site. He said Danze, the president of a concrete company, Maldonado & Danze Inc., is not an AGC member. "The list is posted on our Web site for business development purposes, not for non-AGC purposes," he said.
Thoden added that his group has not taken a position on the Planned Parenthood construction controversy, but, he said, "My feeling is that if our members are doing something that is sanctioned by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court, then it's OK with the Austin chapter of the AGC."
One AGC member registering complaints last week was Terry Nixon, who with his wife Jessica owns Texas Media Systems, an audiovisual company whose client base includes firms in the construction industry. Nixon says he made several requests to Danze to remove him from his recipient list, but the e-mails kept on coming. (Danze said early this week that he's since removed Nixon from his list.)
Nixon says he was particularly offended by the e-mails that contained graphic photos of fetuses. "My son wasn't much bigger than some of those fetuses when he was born," Nixon said. The couple's twins, a boy and a girl, were born more than two months premature; their son survived he's now 18 months old but their infant daughter died nine days after birth. "So no, I really don't want to see these pictures," Nixon said. "It gives me the creeps." After what he and his wife experienced, Nixon said, he probably would not want to be involved with the Planned Parenthood project. "I don't think I could deal with that right now," he said, "but at the same time, I don't like what people like Danze are doing."
The e-mails, said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Danielle Tierney, "are designed to send a message that says, 'Even if you are thinking about working with Planned Parenthood, I will come after you.' It seems Danze's efforts have become a bit unfocused, since he is now targeting unrelated businesses."
Danze claimed temporary victory last fall after pressuring a number of subcontractors to boycott the project, which ultimately forced the general contractor, Browning Construction, to cancel its contract with Planned Parenthood. But the pro-choice organization, with the backing of hundreds of Austin supporters and elected officials, lined up another construction team and resumed construction in January.
On that point, Danze alleges that one concrete company, Rainbow Materials, had initially opted out of participating in the project, but later provided the concrete for the clinic's foundation under pressure from unnamed, high-ranking officials. According to Danze, the company was told that its legal and financial woes stemming from a 2001 illegal dumping case would be resolved if they would pour the concrete. Neither Rainbow owner Ramon Carrasquillo nor general manager Curtis Bruner returned calls seeking comment.
But a former vice-president of sales at Rainbow, Mark Hamilton, agreed with Danze's version of what transpired. Hamilton said the company poured the concrete "in the dead of night" the last week of January. Hamilton said Carrasquillo and Bruner had informed him two weeks earlier that overtures were being made to the company to provide the concrete in exchange for leniency in the matter of the company's criminal and civil environmental violations.
"Ramon told me he did not want to do it, but the pressure was too great for him to overcome," Hamilton said, adding that he resigned from the company in protest after the clinic's foundation was laid. He is now a sales representative with another concrete firm, Capital Aggregates. The account of both Danze and Hamilton has appeared in several nonsecular online publications.
Rainbow's legal problems began three years ago after the discovery that the company had been dumping used concrete on the banks of the Colorado River in Del Valle. The Travis County Attorney's Office brought charges against the company but settled in March 2003 on the condition that Rainbow withdraw its highly controversial permit application for a new facility in Spicewood. The settlement was the first order of business that David Escamilla handled in his new role as county attorney. "We did a plea agreement," Escamilla said last week. "I can absolutely tell you that Planned Parenthood had no bearing or any relationship at all with that plea agreement." Similarly, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality settled the criminal side of the case with Rainbow on April 11, 2003. According to a TCEQ spokeswoman, the company pled guilty to one count of unauthorized discharge under the Texas Water Code and paid a $25,000 fine. She said that Rainbow and TCEQ are currently negotiating an enforcement order on the administrative end of the case.
Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, is not releasing the names of its contractors or suppliers in an attempt to shield them from Danze's boycott efforts so will neither confirm nor deny that Rainbow provided the foundation for the new clinic. "Anti-choice extremists will say just about anything to advance their political agenda," said Tierney. "I have no information about these allegations. Our concrete was purchased and paid for."