A Survivor’s Story: Bombing Victim Emily Lyons Battles Back


To see the impact of antiabortion violence, one need look no further than Emily Lyons’s legs. Emily, 42, was on her way to work as a nurse at New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, on January 29, 1998, when a bomb exploded a few yards in front of the entrance. The blast killed the clinic’s security guard, Robert Sanderson (who was opposed to abortion), and severely injured Emily.

Today, Emily is nearly blind. The blast ripped the skin off both her shins. Pink scars zigzag all over her body. Shrapnel and bits of nails are permanently embedded inside her. So far, Emily has endured 11 operations and expects to have two more this month. Medical bills have climbed close to $750,000. In a recent interview conducted in the living room of their house outside Birmingham, Emily and her husband, Jeff, talked about the blast, the alleged bomber, and the long path to recovery.

What did Emily look like after the bombing?

Jeff Lyons: If I hadn’t known it was Emily, I would have walked past her bed. She was burned from her right hand all the way up to her right shoulder. Her left leg was shattered. There was blood oozing out of her pores. And there was a piece of metal through her right eye. She had a hole in her lower abdomen and they had to take some nails out of her abdominal cavity.

Emily Lyons: My eyelids were ripped off. I had sutures all over my face— hundreds of them. And the explosion ruptured my eardrum. Now I’ve got a roar in my ear, but at least I can hear the phone. My left eye is gone. And my right eye has been repaired as much as it can. I’m supposed to get a contact lens, and I’m hoping that will put me back in the reading world again.

Emily, how did you wind up working at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic?

Emily: I was unemployed and so I was going through the newspaper and found an advertisement for a part-time nurse. Abortion is something I’m totally in agreement with. I’ve always considered myself prochoice.

What kind of response have you received since the bombing?

Jeff: I did a Web page for Emily. I think she’s the first victim of domestic terrorism to have her own Web page. Thousands of notes came through the Internet and we still get them every day. We got e-mails from New Zealand, London, Germany, Holland, Japan.

Emily: Being so recognized has been a 360-degree turn from the way I used to be. Everyone’s been commending me.

Jeff: People call and they want to know if I’m her husband. It’s Emily’s house and I just live in it. I used to be Jeff and now I’m just the husband of Emily.

Emily: I think it’s a wonderful title.

How have your children coped with this crisis?

Emily: I have two daughters. One is 14 and the other will be 18 in December. They were here during the summer . . . [and] they had to take care of mom— cook, clean the house, take mom to the doctor. They had to grow up a lot this year.

How has Emily’s life changed since the bombing?

Jeff: She goes to the doctor now instead of going to work. She has multiple doctors’ appointments every week.

Emily: I don’t cook anymore. I don’t clean house anymore. I don’t drive anymore. I don’t go out much anymore because I can’t see well. And I’m afraid of falling. It’s not as enjoyable to go out.

How do you feel when you hear that some people are cheering on alleged bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, who is reportedly hiding out in the woods of western North Carolina?

Emily: Every time I hear some of those responses, the word “moron” just jumps right out there. Just ’cause he’s one of the good ol’ boys from around there— can’t they see what kind of person he is? This man is accused of murder. They could be next. If they think just ’cause they’re from the same neighborhood that they’re protected, they’re sadly mistaken.

Do you hold antiabortion extremists who advocate violence responsible for what happened to you?

Emily: I think they’re part of it. There’s the prolife protesters, then you’ve got your radicals.
I don’t think the prolifers would have that much effect on someone if [Reverend David] Trosch or [Michael] Bray weren’t pounding it into them in the name of God.

Jeff: When Rudolph was spotted [in July], the FBI said they thought he was acting alone. But he’s not completely alone, because someone encouraged him. Someone taught him how to build a bomb. So even if Rudolph took it upon himself to drive to Alabama that day, who created Rudolph? Those people have to be held responsible as well.

How has the bombing changed Emily?

Jeff: Her hair was perfectly straight and now it’s curly.

Emily: It’s Perma-Blast.

Jeff: Emily was raised in a religious family . . . and the emphasis was to be seen but not heard. Emily never grew out of it until she was blasted out of it. Now she’ll stare down 50 [television] cameras.

Emily: Once you’ve been blown up, there’s not much to intimidate you. I don’t put up with crap from anyone anymore. Some of our hate mail tells me I’m going to burn in a lake of fire. I just laugh it off. I’ve been to war, gone to hell, and come back.

Research assistance: Robert Frederick

One of four articles in our The Terrorist Campaign Against Abortion feature.