Abortion Rights Supporters Challenge Opponents' Dangerous, Deadly Tactics

by Roxanne Guillory, Publications Intern

Capital City NOW activistsCapital City NOW activists organized a reproductive rights rally in front of the Supreme Court on Jan 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.  Photo by Lisa Bennett-Haigney.

The shooting death of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian last fall increased awareness nationwide about the often deadly tactics of radical anti-abortionists. A bombing at a North Carolina women's clinic just days before the National NOW Times went to press further underscored the danger and disruption that menace health care workers and their patients every day.

Bombings Continue

On March 13 a bomb exploded at the Femcare Clinic in Asheville, N.C. The device partially detonated before the clinic opened, causing no damage or injuries; however, police evacuated the area and the clinic closed down temporarily.

Just 75 miles from Asheville lies the area in the North Carolina mountains where the FBI believes Eric Rudolph is hiding. Rudolph is wanted for the January 1998 bombing of an abortion provider in Birmingham, Ala., where an explosion killed an off-duty police officer and maimed a nurse. Rudolph is also wanted for the bombings at the 1996 Olympics, a women's clinic and a lesbian bar in Atlanta. Authorities have not named Rudolph as a suspect in the Femcare bombing, nor have they ruled him out.

James Charles Kopp also remains at large. He is wanted as a material witness in the October 1998 murder of Dr. Slepian, but he has eluded police for months. Preliminary DNA tests link Kopp to a strand of hair found near where Slepian was gunned down, but authorities say that Kopp must be located before testing can conclusively place him at the scene.

Threatening Hit Lists Not Free Speech

Several abortion providers took legal action against anti-abortion bullies earlier this year and won a $107 million lawsuit against members of the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA).

NOW President Patricia Ireland said, "The jury's multi-million dollar verdict in the Planned Parenthood case sent a strong message to those who threaten and incite anti-abortion violence.  Women rights advocates and health care providers must continue to bring suits against anti-abortion thugs who seek to do with force and threats what they have been unable to do under the law."

The lawsuit was filed under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by Planned Parenthood and several doctors who provide abortion services. They maintained that the ACLA's Website, The Nuremberg Files, encourages and celebrates violent actions against pro-choice workers and abortion providers. The web site lists the names of doctors, clinic workers and reproductive rights advocates, including Ireland. The plaintiffs described this site as a "hit list," and the jury obviously agreed. When a person on the list has been injured, his or her name appears in faded type; and when a person has been murdered, his or her name appears with a slash through it. The site also seeks to gain personal information about those on the list, even details about their children.

The defendants in the case denied that they advocate violence and tried to hide behind the guarantee of free speech, but principal defendant Charles Wysong admitted in testimony that he considered the murders to be "justifiable."

Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood said, "These defendants care nothing about our democratic freedoms. They respect neither the rights of women nor the lives of the doctors who care for women.  Their threats of violence and their public 'justification' of murder are meant to terrorize and intimidate, so that others cannot exercise their own rights."

Wysong maintained that the anti-abortion literature on the web site and on the"Dirty Dozen" wanted posters, which list the names of twelve abortion providers and offer $5,000 awards for information about them, are not intended as death threats.

However, another defendant, Andrew Burnett, publisher of Life Advocate Magazine, testified that abortion providers may have reason to fear the violence the web site encourages. "If I was an abortionist," he said, "I would be afraid."

Plaintiffs' attorney Maria Vullo put it this way: "The message is 'Stop performing abortion or wear a bulletproof vest.'"

Since the victory, Internet provider MindSpring has shut down the Nuremberg Files site, and U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones subsequently issued an injunction ordering anti-abortion activists to stop the "blatant and illegal communication of true threats to kill."

Jones goes on to say, "I totally reject the defendant's attempts to justify their actions as an expression of opinion or as a legitimate and lawful exercise of free speech." Anyone who contributes to the Nuremberg Files or the wanted posters may face criminal prosecution and fines of up to $1,000 a day.

NOW-New Jersey vigil for Dr. Barnett SlepianAt NOW-New Jersey vigil for Dr. Barnett Slepian, activists tied white ribbons to a wreath in support of the local abortion providers whom they help defend.  photo courtesy of Elizabeth Volz.

NOW Appeals to "Pro-Life" Leaders

On Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, Ireland issued an open letter to pro-life leaders, including Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee; William Cardinal Keeler, chair of the Pro-Life Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops; Rep. Henry Hyde, chair of the House Judiciary Committee; and Trent Lott, Senate Majority Leader.

"I appeal to you to take immediate action to end the campaign of anti-abortion terrorism that is ripping through the nation. As people who call yourselves 'pro-life,' you have a moral obligation to call upon your members and supporters to turn-in those among you who have committed or are planning violence," Ireland wrote.

"I also call on you to show real leadership by putting an end to the Nuremberg Files Web site and other hate-language and hit lists that litter the Internet, radio and TV airwaves and anti-abortion literature."

Since 1993, three doctors, two clinic employees, a security guard and a clinic escort have been murdered in anti-abortion attacks; and 14 attempted murders also occurred during the same time.

The National Abortion Federation identifies more than 9,000 reported acts of terrorism-including assaults, bombings, arsons, death threats, bomb threats, harassing calls and hate mail-against reproductive rights supporters since 1977.  In 1998 alone, anti-abortion violence claimed two lives, and the number of butyric acid attacks at clinics rose to 19 incidents.

At least two dozen clinics have faced anthrax threats in 1999, according to the National Abortion Federation. NOW New York City also received a letter in February falsely claiming to contain the anthrax bacteria. While all of these threats have thus far been hoaxes, they have caused great disruption to businesses and people's lives.

Violence and Legislation Contribute to Decreased Access

Currently, 84 percent of counties in the U.S. have no abortion provider, and a meager number of obstetrics and gynecology programs offer training in abortion procedures. With the increased pressure from Congress and state legislatures, the accessibility of abortion is constantly at risk.

According to a recent report on abortion by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the worldwide trend in abortion legislation is toward relaxation of abortion laws, but in the U.S. states are now restricting abortion more than at any other time since the Roe v. Wade decision.

The 105th Congresspassed 39 measures restricting access to reproductive services, and in the last decade the Supreme Court has given states increased power to limit abortion rights.

At the state level, reproductive rights opponents introduced 335 restrictive bills during the 1998 legislative sessions. In all, 27 states enacted 62 anti-choice measures. Twenty-eight states have passed abortion procedures bans; none are currently being enforced pending court action to determine their constitutionality. Currently, 12 states require waiting periods, and 31 states enforce parental consent and notification laws.

The fight for reproductive rights continues, and NOW is firmly committed to the cause, according to Ireland. "We will not bow to bullies," she said. "We will continue to stand up for women's rights in Congress and state legislatures, in the courts and in the streets."

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