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Violence Against Abortion Clinics Uncivil

Column by Matt Neimark
Staff Reporter

In the past, the public viewed protesters of abortion clinics, aside from the occasional bombings and arson attacks, as emphatic believers who defended their convictions in bold, yet justifiable manners. The fact that they would block the entrances to the clinics was purely symbolic and never really kept women seeking abortions from entering anyway since everyone knew that the protesters could be arrested quickly. Thus, it was easy to disagree with their beliefs, but it was extremely difficult to deny their right to protest because people on the other side were rarely hurt.

Lately, however, there has been a much talked-about trend of violent protests by the pro-life movement. Attention focused on the violence with the March murder of David Gunn, a Florida abortion doctor. Probably more shocking than the murder is the defense by leaders of the pro-life movement of this and other acts of violence. They rationalize their struggles as a war to save the fetuses from abortion clinics, doctors, and women seeking fetuses. They view injuries and even fatalities that may occur in the struggle as unfortunate, but necessary to bring about their goals.

A publisher of a pro-life newsletter, Andrew Burnett says, "The death of an abortionist [Gunn] has caused me to re-examine my own convictions. Was his life really more valuable than the lives of his victims? When you examine your own convictions, I pray that God will encourage you to take an even stronger stand and be willing to do even more to protect the lives of those we say are precious in God's sight."

The nature of abortion clinic protest must also be re-examined. Not all protests involve peaceful blockades accompanied by immediate arrest of demonstrators. According to Gina Shaw of the National Abortion Federation, there have been 36 bombings, 83 arsons, and 494 incidents of extreme vandalism. One type of attack involves the use of butyric acid, a foul-smelling and toxic chemical. Patricia Baird-Windle, an owner of three abortion clinics in Florida has been targeted by militant protesters in the Operation Rescue movement who moved their national headquarters to Melbourne, Fla. last January, home to one of Baird-Windle's clinics. The protesters have stalked patients, tried to run physicians off the road, and on numerous occasions, have verbally abused Windle and her family, her doctors and their families, and patients of the clinics. After Gunn was shot, some protesters went to Windle's house and yelled, "One down . . . How many more to go?" Some of her employees have been given death threats. One of the clinic's doctors was even barricaded in his own house.

The militancy began when Operation Goliath, a wing of Operation Rescue, set up in Melbourne in April 1989. For the first year, protesters barricaded Windle's local clinics, physically harassing some of the workers in the process. For the next two years after, Windle and her husband were awakened every weekday morning at 7 a.m. by protesters praying for her death. Windle says, "These aren't the spontaneous acts of a handful of psychos, but a meticulous campaign of coordinated terrorism whose only purpose is to send us screaming into an other line of work."

There is a problem with this type of protest. Instead of peacefully attempting to persuade the other side, scare tactics and brute force are used to bully the other side into cowering away from their true beliefs. Other than being an illegal form of protest, it is also immoral and unacceptable by society's standards: Laws against such behavior should be enforced to the fullest extent possible. There are some who might defend the protesters actions as being on one side of a war. There is no war here. The violence is directed towards ordinary citizens who make their own actions terroristic. Because the Supreme Court has made it clear that abortion is a constitutionally protected right, perhaps the pro-life "war" should really be directed towards the Court, not the clinics who are rightfully operating. More of the pro-life resources should be used at the lobbying level, attempting to convince lawmakers and the public to agree with them. If they continue to fail at this level, they will have to accept the fact that the majority of Americans do not agree with them.