By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It‘s part of the legacy of the anti-abortion movement that security is taken so seriously even here, in the middle of an affluent Westside commercial strip. Because it’s not just clinics that have been targeted: In 1984, the National Abortion Federation‘s Washington offices were firebombed. Katherine Spillar, the Feminist Majority’s executive vice president, says there has never been an incident of violence here, though there have been threats. Between 1989 and ‘91, this office was the center of resistance against Operation Rescue’s ”Holy Week“ assaults on Los Angeles clinics. ”We mobilized over 10,000 people in Los Angeles and trained them how to literally put their bodies between the extremists and the clinics to make sure that patients and doctors and health-care staff could get in,“ Spillar says. As a result, she says, Operation Rescue‘s attempts ”to position themselves as the new civil rights movement of the ’90s“ failed. ”Instead, what became clear so quickly, especially when we would be out there, arms linked, protecting the clinics, is that they were the bullies.“
Bullies, in some cases, is putting it mildly. Abortion opponents have been destroying clinics since a few years after Roe v. Wade: There have been 41 bombings at clinics that provide abortions since 1977 and 167 acts of arson. In the early 1990s, as the ”rescue“ movement ground to a halt, the violence began to escalate. Since 1991, there have been 17 attempted murders of doctors and clinic employees. And since the 1993 shooting of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida, seven people have been murdered by abortion opponents, including three doctors. Bulletproof glass is now the norm at clinics that offer abortions, and high-profile physicians wear bulletproof vests on their way to and from work. Despite it all, White claims emphatically that ”There is no organized movement of violence within the pro-life movement. It doesn‘t exist. It’s totally a fabrication for fund-raising for the other side.“
Organized or not -- and Spillar insists it is -- the violence has forced pro-choice activists like Spillar into law-and-order stances rarely encountered among liberal feminists. Spillar at times takes up an almost Giulianiesque ”broken-windows“ theory of anti-abortion crime, praising police for understanding that if they ”allow“ picketing ”then the next thing is the blockades, and then it escalates to following people to their homes.“ The ”worst of the violence,“ she says, has occurred in jurisdictions where police tolerated picket lines ”and looked the other way, thinking it‘s their right to be out there protesting.“
Since the 1990s, the Feminist Majority, NARAL and the National Abortion Federation have been lobbying for tougher laws and stricter enforcement to fight the anti-abortion movement. In 1994, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, known as the FACE Act, which made crimes against abortion providers felonies and gave the federal government clear jurisdiction over anti-abortion activists who jump from state to state. Throughout the ’90s, several states and cities (including Los Angeles) passed ”buffer zone“ laws, forbidding protesters from coming within a certain distance of a clinic. In 1998, after the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, pro-choice groups convinced then--Attorney General Janet Reno to establish a federal task force devoted solely to investigating crimes against abortion providers.
Over the last few months, Spillar and other pro-choice leaders have been cheering Attorney General John Ashcroft‘s promises to crack down on domestic terrorism. Substitute ”the Army of God“ (an organization -- for which journalists usually reserve the term ”shadowy“ -- which has taken credit for numerous acts of violence against abortion clinics and employees) for ”al Qaeda,“ and their rhetoric at times mirrors that of Bush-administration hawks. ”Unless you close down the network that is funding and aiding and abetting and orchestrating,“ Spillar says, ”you’re never going to really get rid of this violence.“ A quite justified fear of violence has pushed the inheritors of ‘60s radicalism into an equivocal and ironic stance, as they mime the conservatives of that era who pilloried the SLA and the Weather Underground to justify crackdowns on student radicals. While Ashcroft mounts the most frightening assault on civil liberties since Joseph McCarthy, the pro-choice leadership take their opportunities where they can. The Feminist Majority has even prepared a document titled ”Similarities Between Domestic and Global Terrorists,“ which draws some obvious parallels among fundamentalists the world over, but goes on to compare clinic-bomber Eric Robert Rudolph’s alleged smalltime marijuana dealing to the Taliban‘s involvement in opium production.
Those parallels, the real ones anyway, are worth mentioning. Because for most anti-abortion extremists, it’s not just about abortion. What‘s actually at stake is often obscured when the abortion debate is reduced to biology -- to the intractable and ultimately academic question of when life begins. The real fight is whether biology is relevant at all, and whether secular, humanistic values have any place in American civil life. ”This is a spiritual battle,“ says Flip Benham, the Dallas-based preacher who currently holds the reins of Operation Save America. ”It’s not about reproductive rights, it‘s not about homosexuality, it’s not about condom pass-outs -- it‘s about who is Lord and whose laws reign.“ Troy Newman agrees: ”We’re about societal reformation,“ he says, ”returning to the values that made this country what she is.“ Newman and Benham have their own take on just what those values are. ”What makes us great is not that we‘re diverse,“ Benham says of America. ”What makes us great is that we have a rock-solid foundation in Jesus Christ.“