Skip to comments.Physician blasts club, claims family blackballed over abortion
Posted on 11/17/2001 4:37:24 AM PST by LarryLied
Pablo Rodriguez, a noted doctor, tells members of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union that the Warwick Country Club has refused him membership because he performs abortions.
Pablo Rodriguez, a prominent Rhode Island doctor and one of the most influential Latinos in the state, has twice been denied admission to the Warwick Country Club. He and several club members say the rejection centers on one point: his visible role as one of the few doctors in Rhode Island who perform abortions.
Rodriguez, who has become an outspoken symbol for abortion rights in Rhode Island, criticized the Warwick Country Club last night during his speech at the annual dinner of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. Rodriguez had long planned to speak to the organization on the role of a physician as an advocate for civil liberties. He tweaked his speech last week, when the Warwick Country Club again refused his family's admission to the club. The club is a five-minute walk from his house; his two boys wanted to use the pool.
Speaking to several hundred people at the Providence Biltmore Hotel, Rodriguez brought up the country club toward the end of his speech on the danger of religious zealotry -- such as the Taliban or Jerry Falwell -- which does not allow for dissenting views. He said some in the audience might have heard "of the situation my family endured" when they tried to join the Warwick Country Club.
"I don't play golf or particularly have a lot of time to drink martinis by the bar, but my children are growing up 500 yards from the club, and all their friends are members," he said. "My wife, Diane, and I wanted for them to just be able to follow their friends into the pool on a hot summer day, but twice we have been denied admission by a vocal minority in control of the board of directors. For some of these people to have an unapologetic abortion provider, who is also respected in the community, was just way too much too bear."
Pablo and Diane Rodriguez have lived down the street from the club for 16 years. Diane is a nurse-turned landscape designer who is a member of the Warwick Neck Garden Club. Rodriguez, 46, is president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee, an assistant professor at Brown University's medical school, and both associate chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Woman & Infants Hospital and the medical director of Rhode Island's Planned Parenthood chapter. They have two sons, 10 and 12.
The couple first tried to join the club three years ago, but the country club's board of directors rejected the family, after some club members presented a petition against them, said Bill Nixon, a retired builder, who was on the board of directors when Rodriguez first applied.
The petition, passed around the club, had copied onto it -- an article that had appeared in the Providence Visitor, the official newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Rhode Island. The article quoted Rodriguez testifying at the State House about abortion rights.
In Rodriguez's recent, second try, to get in the club, the family's application was brought forth by two club members, including Joseph Walsh, the former mayor of Warwick, and included the names of references, such as Atty. Gen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Supporters of the family wrote 60 letters to the board. But more than 30 members wrote in opposition.
"It was the same thing," said Nixon, the former board member. "A number of members -- some of the staunch Catholics in the club -- didn't want to see him as a member because of what he does as an occupation."
The waterfront club, locally renowned for its Donald Ross golf course, has more than 300 members, some whose parents and grandparents joined when the club opened in 1925. Former governor Phil Noel is probably its most well-known member.
Prospective members must secure sponsors and be able to pay the fees -- it is $20,000 initiation for the full, golf membership -- but after that, they are usually admitted.
Nixon said that during his 20 years at the club, he has only seen two or three applicants get rejected. "It would have to be a pretty important reason . . . someone who is, for instance, a felon, or Mafia person, or drug peddler."
Eric Ahlborg, the executive vice president of Ahlborg Construction, has been a member of the club for 30 years -- since he was 12 years old. He was president of the country club and until two weeks ago a member of the board of directors -- his term had ended -- that voted on Rodriguez's application.
Ahlborg said that he was "very surprised" when a secret ballot of the 10-member board showed that the Rodriguez family had been rejected. (If two members reject an applicant, the person is not admitted. No reason is required for the rejection.)
"This is a club that I care about very much, and I think it consists of wonderful people," Ahlborg said. "Why this happened, I can't really explain. I think it's unfortunate, but it did, and I followed the process I was bound to follow by the bylaws."
Ahlborg can recall the club only turning down two or three people -- out of about 60 applicants -- during his six years on the board: "I will say that this is going to be kind of difficult to explain to my children."
The Warwick Country Club is purely a social club, and prospective members are not asked about their religious or political views, said Thomas N. Forsythe, an accountant, and a past president of the country club.
When an application is presented to the board, he said, "Generally, there's very little discussion among members."
But he said, "The abortion issue is not a hot issue with me. I don't have a problem with that issue. But I know that it's an extremely volatile issue at the club and in general . . . Was I surprised he was turned down? No."
William F. Paquin, an attorney, and a former club president who has been a member since 1972, said the Rodriguez family application "has become the cause celebre" at the club over the last month or so.
But the country club's board of directors was right to turn Rodriguez away, he said, if there were a significant number of people at the club who were opposed to him for whatever reason.
Last week, Herbert Sawyer, a club member, and Rodriguez's primary sponsor for membership, tried unsuccessfully to rouse support among members to overturn the club bylaws -- and allow members to vote on the Rodriguez application.
But Paquin, Forsythe, and several other past presidents sent a letter to members on Oct. 18, saying that allowing members to vote to accept or reject decisions made by the board would "set a dangerous precedent and bring irreparable harm to our club."
"The club would degenerate into a mass of petty politics, with everyone pursuing his or her own agenda," the letter stated.
Paquin said he has never met Rodriguez, and never questioned why the club twice rejected him.
"I don't know the man. All I knowis that a lot of people supported his application and others opposed it," he said. "If I were on the board, I would have opposed it too. It's freedom of association. It's a private club and people have a right not to associate with people that they don't want to associate with."
Added Paquin: "I don't know why someone would want to be a member of a club that doesn't want him."
Among the board members who voted on the Rodriguez application are Frances Flaherty, a former Warwick mayor who, in the early 1990s, twice sought the Democratic nomination for governor. Among Flaherty's issue, was his own opposition to abortion.
Reached last night, Flaherty, a Warwick attorney, acknowleged that the board had received nearly twice as many letters of support for Rodriguez than it had letters opposing his membership. But, he said, the application "isn't an election."
"It's a private club and people who belong to it, own it, so you listen to what the members have to say," he said. "The board was split on the vote . . . there was some support on the board . . . that's as much as I want to say on it."
Private country clubs are not allowed to discriminate based on gender, race, or religion -- but Rhode Island's anti-discrimination laws say nothing about political or religious views, Steven Brown, executive director of Rhode Island's ACLU, said last night.
The president of the board of directors is Charles Nathanson, a longtime member. He said: "I'm not going to speak on the issue; I have to respect the privacy of both the members, and the doctor. But I will say this -- I supported the doctor."
But other board members were reluctant to say anything. Asked if Rodriguez's work as an outspoken doctor who performs abortions caused the board to reject his application, Louis A. Geremia, a Providence attorney, said: "It's a private board, and I have no comment."
Said board member William McGillivray: "I really don't want to comment about it."
Board member Peter Pemberton said: "It's not that I don't have opinions, I could talk for hours on this -- but I'm better off not commenting."
Rodriguez has faced fame and notoriety over his work as an abortion provider before. Many groups have honored him for his work, which includes training Peruvian midwives to safely abort pregnancies and handle complicated births. Last year, he received the John Hope Settlement House's highest award -- for "leadership, dedication, and generosity to the community."
But when Citizens Bank appointed him to its board in 1994, some abortion foes boycotted the bank. Over the years, he has found nails in his driveway and glue in the locks of the Planned Parenthood clinic. He once received a bill for an insurance policy on his wife's life -- he had never purchased the policy.
Herbert Sawyer, Rodriguez's main sponsor, said he got to know Rodriguez two years ago, when he and Judy moved next door to them in Warwick Neck. Sawyer knew that Rodriguez had been turned down for membership once before. Sawyer thought that with a new board in place, perhaps the family could try again.
"We thought and still think, that they're terrific folks -- we wanted to see what we could do." said Herbert Sawyer, a retired marketing executive, who now spends much of his time playing golf, or volunteering at a hospice.
"I've had a love affair with the club for a long time. I served on the board twice. I was golf chairman, greens chairman. Judy has been active in ladies' golf. This has sort of changed my love affair, if you will," he said. "I feel hurt, and I'm certainly disappointed. My relationship with the club will never be the same. I wish it could, but it can't. What was done was wrong, and no one will ever change my mind on that."
Herbert said he "heard no evidence whatsoever" that the rejection had anything to do with Rodriguez being a minority, although the club and the neighborhood in which it sits are mostly white, and heavily Irish Catholic. Rodriguez is a native of Puerto Rico.
"We have Jewish members, Italians, a few WASPS . . . and one black member, that I know about," he said.
But at the ACLU dinner last night, Rodriguez said: "I was their worst nightmare -- a Hispanic doctor who performs abortions" and is not ashamed of it.
Phil Noel, a club member for 30 years, and who served as governor of Rhode Island in the 1970s, said one problem with Rodriguez's application might have been that, he's lived in the Warwick Neck neighborhood for many years, "but few of us have ever met him."
Of the board's decision, he said: "I do not believe it was a religious issue or an abortion issue, but I'm not sure."
"I know I'm a Catholic, and it wouldn't have bothered me to vote for him if I was on the board, and I thought he was otherwise a good citizen," said Noel, in an interview from his home in Florida. "The Supreme Court has said that abortion is legal, and we should all follow the Supreme Court and not our partucualr religious convictions."
Last night's audience gave Rodriguez a standing ovation for his speech; afterward, several people came up to him to express their disapproval over the Warwick Country Club. One woman offered to sponsor him to her club.
Asked if the family would ever join Warwick Country Club -- should the club leadership change its mind about the Rodriguez family, Diane Rodriguez said she would still like to join.
She said at first: "I wanted to leave the community." But recently, so many club members have called her, to tell her they support the family.
Plus, she said, "It's a pool, just a block away. They have little parties and tennis and golf for the kids."
Pablo, however, would probably not be swayed.
"I would go through the whole rigmarole," he said, "then quit."
In God We Trust.....Semper Fi
Now if we could just get our own Catholic Church to act as uprightly as this Country Club, wouldn't that be great, she said wistfully...
"We want what the Joneses have..." or, "We're doing it for the children..."
""I would go through the whole rigmarole," he said, "then quit."
Then why bother joining???? This guy needs to get over it already...
I'd want him nowhere near my kids.
BTW, watch your Ps and Qs while in country and only save lives.
Where do we begin?
No, you're a Catholic-in-name-only.
Other than tearing unborn children limb-from-limb, he's not a bad guy.
We should follow the Supreme Court, and not our religious convictions. Obviously this guy's Catholicism is skin deep! Sheesh.
Why is this? If its a private club, shouldn't it be up to the club members as to what criteria they use for membership? Is this federal law, or RI state law?
What is it about FREEDOM that people just can't deal with?? This guy makes his living from ENDING LIFE in a FREE SOCIETY, and yet he doesn't have the personal responsibility to recognize that people are REPULSED by his own choices??
Hey dude... buy a vowel, get a clue, or just...
GO AWAY - we accept VISA and Mastercard, NOT vermin!!
Norb in Jacksonville
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