Watch on the right: no place to hide.
For more than 20 years, the anti-abortion movement has waged a relent, less rhetorical campaign depicting abortion as a Holocaust in progress. Several months after Dr. Gunn's death, it has been sobering--though not surprising--to witness the unwillingness of Christian right leaders to assume any responsibility for the inevitable consequences of their tactics. Since Clinton's election, incidents of clinic vandalism have increased. More ominously, individual local doctors and clinic operators increasingly find themselves and their families threatened with late-night phone calls, defamed on posters carrying their photos and home addresses, and stalked as they travel from one part of town to another. The anti-abortion movement calls this "No Place to Hide"
Days after the fatal shooting of Dr. Gunn, Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed tried his hand at damage control in a guest editorial for the Wall Street Journal. Reed described Gunn's confessed killer Michael Griffin "ticking time bomb waiting to expode" but then shifted the blame for Griffin's deed onto secular society and its alleged lack of respect for church-going Americans.
As I write, Operation Rescue has pledged to lay siege this summer to clinics and doctors' homes in seven cities. If future Michael Griffins outside the gates explode like "ticking time bombs," then the Ralph Reeds, Pat Robertsons, and Randall Terrys will bear part of the responsibility. The anti-abortionists have lost the initiative at the federal level, yet the movement's leaders continue to court violence by inciting their most militant foot soldiers.
This year, cities and counties throughout the nation have passed ordinances to restrict aggressive picketing outside clinics and doctors' homes. Attorney General Janet Reno backs a proposed Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act that would make it a federal crime to block access to abortion clinics. Such a law would complement the Freedom of Choice Act, currently making its way through Congress, which would effectively codify Roe v. Wade by precluding states from passing excessive legal restrictions. Together, the two pieces of federal legislation would go a long way toward protecting abortion rights, both in theory and in practice.
Before concluding that legal measures will stop anti-abortion harassment, however, we might consider the Christian right's strengths and weaknesses on this front. How has the anti-abortion movement arrived at its current emphasis on targeting doctors? Through what avenues--legal and otherwise--does the movement plan to continue its "No Place to Hide" strategy?
For two decades, the general public has remained predominantly pro-choice while the anti-abortionists have steadily upped the ante. Ronald Reagan campaigned on the idea that he would promote anti-abortion legislation in Congress and stack the Supreme Court for the eventual overturn of Roe v. Wade. In Congress, the Human Life Amendment went nowhere, and the judicial-appointment process proved too slow for Christian right zealots. As early as 1982, a rash of clinic bombings began. Then Reagan was reelected with large backing from the Christian right, while (according to statistics compiled by the National Abortion Federation) the number of bombings, arsons, death threats, and incidents of vandalism rose sharply between 1984 and 1986. Still, the Reagan administration remained unwilling, or unable, to outlaw abortion.
But neither was the government committed to any serious effort to stop clinic
violence. In one well-publicized case, two young couples from Pensacola, Florida, were prosecuted for bombing three clinics on Christmas eve, 1984. Their story is told in a highly recommended new book, Religious Violence and Abortion: The Gideon Project, by Dallas A. Blanchard and Terry J. Prewitt (University Press of Florida). Their case, however, was exceptional; countless clinic bombers got away, and the obvious message was that women's clinics were fair game for terrorists.
By contrast, during the mid-1980s, the FBI devoted sizeable resources to busting up an Aryan Nations subgroup known as "the Order." Granted, this small band of violent neo-Nazis assassinated a radio talk-show host and killed several federal marshals in the line of duty. Aggressive anti-abortionists were potentially no less of a terrorist threat, yet the Reagan-Bush administrations turned a blind eye to the movement's escalation.
In 1988, Crossway Books, a major evangelical publisher, released A Pro-Life Manifesto. The book expounded on the possibilities of waging "armed aggression" against abortion. Here's a sample of the book's tenor:
If armed aggression were the answer,
it would have to be aggression
that did not hesitate. It
would have to be done on a large
scale, and more than a few abortion
clinics would have to be destroyed.
To succeed, it would require
the destruction of all hospitals
or clinics that performed abortions.
Heroes who would lay
down their life for the cause
would have to come forth. Armies
would need to be organized. Companies
would have to be bombed and
their employees terrorized. In
short, we would have to be willing
to plunge ourselves into civil war.
While at times it seems that we are headed for just such a scenario, the conditions are not right for that to happen. The pro-life forces don't have the aggressive, radical leadership necessary to accomplish that goal. There is not enough cohesion in the pro-life camp. We don't have the masses of people who are so enraged that they would sacrifice all to further this cause. No, the pro-life leadership is bound to work within the system. It will not take up this cause, even though it is much more urgent than the cause that started the Civil War, because the zeal is not there that was present then.
Short of outright civil war, however, aggressive anti-abortionists were prepared to escalate their tactics in other ways. Their handbook was Joseph Scheidler's Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion (also published by Crossway Books), which instructed activists in the means to harass clinic providers, pro-choice groups, and women seeking abortions.
Scheidler was an inspiration to Randall Terry, who launched Operation Rescue in May 1988 with a week of clinic blockades in New York City. Operation Rescue won the endorsement of respected Christian right figures, including Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Beverly LaHaye, and Cardinal John J. O'Connor. In turn, Operation Rescue leaders were careful not to claim tactical supremacy over fellow anti-abortionists using more moderate, legal tactics. Operation Rescue stayed both militant and well-integrated into the multifaceted Christian right, and that helped OR grow as a grass-roots phenomenon. In 1990, when a US. attorney seized OR's financial assets, and Randall Terry was forced to close his Binghamton, New York, office rather than pay a $50,000 settlement in a suit brought by the National Organization for Women, the "rescue movement" decentralized and went on its merry way. OR headquarters relocated to South Carolina and stopped soliciting funds that could wind up in the hands of suing plaintiffs; instead, about 100 small, autonomous "rescue" organizations remained loosely connected. Terry and others also formed the Christian Defense Coalition to recruit anti-abortion attorneys who would defend clinic blockaders in the courts.
Meanwhile, pro-choice people also got smarter. After anti-abortion demonstrators shut down clinics in Wichita, Kansas, in the summer of 1991, Operation Rescue met its match in the streets of Buffalo, New York. There, a valiant pro-choice coalition defeated OR's "Spring of Life" campaign and kept the clinics open. (See the cover story in the July/August 1992 Humanist.) Since 1988, here in northern California, the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights has sent teams of clinic defenders to meet Operation Rescue blockaders every step of the way. No laws or public-opinion polls will stop Operation Rescue. Only through corrective determination--and careful analysis of the anti-abortionists' latest plans--does BACORR get its activists out of bed hours before sunrise and in front of the targeted clinics before OR arrives.
Only after BACORR and its counterparts elsewhere demonstrated their resolve to keep the clinics open have various city councils enacted "bubble laws" to restrict residential picketing and to keep anti-abortion protesters at least eight feet away from clinic entrances. But civil libertarians worry about the bubble laws' First Amendment implications; like it or not, anti-abortionists have free speech rights, too.
With each new phase of the abortion struggle, the anti-choicers have accommodated. It's not hard to imagine how OR's far-flung affiliates--stuck for long hours outside clinics and in jails--came up with the idea of escalating their attacks on doctors in the latest "No Place to Hide" campaign. Repeatedly, Randall Terry has proclaimed that "the doctor is the weak link" in abortion accessibility. Large clinic blockades carry obvious disadvantages--namely, successful counter-protests, jail time, and fines. Direct attacks on clinics and doctors are legally more risky for the perpetrators but, likewise, more threatening to pro-choicers.
Though anti-abortionists might not like to admit it, their evident shift away from massive blockades and toward guerrilla attacks on doctors reflects a recognition that the battle for public opinion is at a stalemate. Polls show majority public sentiment to be generally pro-choice. But on either side of the issue, only tiny minorities feel strong enough to take to the streets. From a pro-choice perspective, then, there's a down side to the anti-choicers' likely retreat from large demonstrations. Should Operation Rescue's "Cities of Refuge" siege fizzle this summer, the mainstream media will pronounce the anti-abortion movement dead in the water--and plenty of pro-choicers will agree.
That kind of dangerous illusion will do nothing to stop the anti-abortionists' sub rosa escalation. They are honing their skills as spies and saboteurs for guerrilla warfare against doctors and pro-choice advocates. The most militant "rescuers" may actually prefer not to demonstrate in front of clinics and TV news cameras. Drawing from the theory of "armed aggression" and from Joseph Scheidler's handy harassment tips, the "pro-lifers" are now circulating primers on covert operations, such as the California branch of Operation Rescue's Abortion Buster's Manual. First self-published by a Kevin Sherlock of southern California in 1985, the manual now has a readership ready to apply its lessons. The booklet teaches anti-abortion investigators the basics of private sleuthing:
Why should pro-lifers get involved
in this kind of work? Because it
will damage the abortionists! For
the last dozen years since Roe vs.
Wade, pro-lifers have been able to
show without question that abortion
on demand kills innocent unborn
human beings. However, this
has not restored the protection of
the law to the unborn. Instead,
most people could care less, and
the people in the pro-abortion
camp have proven their minds and
hearts are resistant to logic and
fairness. So we have to add new
tactics to our fight. We can use the
huge amount of negative info that
exists on abortionists as a weapon
to run a few of them, then some
more of them, then a whole lot of
them out of the abortion business.
If it becomes too much of a hassle
to run an abortion mill, then fewer
people will do it, and the number
of abortions will drop. We might
not be able to cut off the enemy's
head yet, but we can certainly
start making him bleed from a
number of wounds.
From there, the Abortion Buster's Manual instructs anti-abortionists to pose as neutral or pro-choice while gathering documentary evidence about abortion providers from clinics and public-records offices. The techniques described are exhaustive: call a clinic to get the name of its private insurance company, and theft call the insurer and tell them you're a policyholder looking for the name of a local abortion doctor. Check the OB/GYN offices of private and county hospitals to find out where else a given doctor may work during the week. Pretend to be a salesperson peddling magazines or medical supplies and ask the clinic receptionist for each doctor's name so you can send "sample products." Use friends in local police departments or vehicle-registration agencies to run license-plate checks for home addresses.
Most of the techniques described in the Abortion Buster's Manual are technically legal, though obviously of questionable "morality." Nor is Operation Rescue alone in its current emphasis on investigating doctors. Focus on the Family projects itself as the most moderate and reasonable part of the Christian right apparatus. The June 1993 issue of Citizen, Focus on the Family's monthly magazine, includes "Pro-Life Strategies in Hard Times," which provides tactics for scaring doctors away from performing abortions. The article urges anti-abortion advocates to "turn up the heat" by proposing state regulatory legislation that, for starters, would require abortion doctors to carry expensive malpractice and liability insurance policies and that would require clinics to maintain on-site emergency medical equipment with staff certified to use it. On the lawsuit front, Focus recommends that anti-abortionists hook up with a Pensacola-based outfit, Legal Action for Women. This network of anti-abortion lawyers recruits women who regret their abortions and want to sue doctors for big bucks. Along the same lines, Focus recommends the American Rights Coalition, a clearing-house for anti-abortionists working to get local abortion doctors' licenses revoked. Finally, Focus on the Family suggests that anti-abortionists pool their money to buy up the buildings where abortion doctors practice and then, of course, evict them.
These and other nasty tricks can be used against anyone who speaks out on behalf of women's rights. In anticipation of Operation Rescue's summer "Cities of Refuge" blitzkrieg, a friend of mine who hosts a radio talk show invited a couple of pro-choice activists onto the airwaves. For her trouble, she found herself stalked by a thug from Operation Rescue. He trailed her into a public building and held her against her will while he babbled Bible verses at her and demanded to know whether she was a lesbian.
What ought to concern pro-choicers is the anti-abortion movement's transformation into an extra-legal intelligence-gathering unit with the propensity to act on the information it compiles. What are the limits if anti-abortionists make their crusade increasingly clandestine and violent?
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|Title Annotation:||pro-life movement violence|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1993|
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