Two Murdered in Anti-Abortion Violence

by Diane Minor
More than 4,000 Massachusetts NOW activists and their supporters protest the murders of clinic workers Shannon Lowney, 25, and Leann Nichols, 38.  Photo By Marilyn Humphries

Boston area NOW activists gave new meaning to the word courage Jan. 30. That's the day an anti-abortion extremist gunned down two people and injured five others at two Brookline, Mass. women's health clinics.

 With the killer still on the loose, in a matter of hours NOW organized 1,000 people to turn out for a vigil at one of the clinics, followed by a march to a synagogue for a service.

 "It was the only time in my life that I've been afraid to do something," said longtime NOW activist and NOW National Board member Ellen Zucker, a 33-year-old Boston attorney. "It's the first time that people I love have said to me, 'Do you have to do this?' "

 The next day, with the accused-killer apprehended, 4,000 people turned out at 4 p.m. on New Year's Eve for a second NOW-organized protest at the Statehouse in downtown Boston.

 "We all have to turn our shock and anger and mourning and fear into bold action," says NOW President Patricia Ireland. "Our Boston activists did that instinctively in a crisis situation. Now the rest of us need to do it deliberately, by organizing huge crowds of people for the April 9 Rally for Women's Lives."

 Although Boston's Catholic cardinal called on anti-abortion activists to cease their protests, at least temporarily, other anti-abortion leaders broke ranks and escalated their rhetoric.

 Father David Trosch of Mobile, Ala., who in the past has called the murder of abortion providers "justifiable homicide," expanded his hit list in a Jan. 17 appearance on the Geraldo show. Trosch is calling for the murders of not only abortion rights supporters but anyone who delivers supplies to clinics and all women who use intrauterine devices or take birth control pills.

 Efforts to bring people on either side of the abortion issue together for discussions in the wake of the shootings drew harsh criticism from Massachusetts NOW President Ellen Convisser.

 "It's time to stop treating us as two equal sides in a reasonable debate. Let's get it clear -- they are the perpetrators and we are the victims. Any discussion of how to de-escalate the situation should take place within the anti- abortion community.

 "We do not have anything to bring to the table," said Convisser. "We are not willing to say it's O.K. to shoot every sixth doctor or woman."

 Although the gunman was not known to NOW activists, videotapes show he had been a frequent protester at the clinic, and had attended meetings of both mainstream anti-abortion groups and Operation Rescue, according to Zucker.

Ireland encouraged Boston NOW activists who have out-maneuvered O.R. blockades since 1988 to stand firm now.

"We used to do actions knowing that we might get jostled and bruised," she said. "Now we have to do the same things knowing that our lives are on the line. This is not the time to back down."

 Ireland's comments came at a Jan. 22 rally in Boston marking the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. At least 15 other chapters went forward with similar annual rallies that day and in the weeks following the latest murders.

 The chapter actions were part of NOW's 100 Days of Action, designed to counter the Republican's plans for the first 100 days of Congress and to build support for the April 9 rally.

 "I think a lot of people had a 'click' experience with these latest killings," says Ireland. "Now they 'get it' that this was clearly the result of years of tolerance -- bordering on indifference -- toward anti-abortion extremism, violence against women and gun violence generally.

 "Although we had legislative victories on all three of those issues in the 103rd Congress, it was too little too late. Our message to the new Newt Congress at the April 9 rally is that we want more in '94. We absolutely will not sit back and let them roll back our rights."

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