|The War on Abortion|
On a winter's night
less than a month ago, a coalition of activists gathered in a Washington D.C. suburb. More than a hundred people attended this two-day meeting, some from distant places; fully half of the states were represented. The conference's purpose: to organize a nationwide "plan to end abortion."
But the sold-out "White Rose Banquet" that capped their conference had another theme -- to honor "prisoners of Christ" imprisoned for arson, assult, and murder. One of the speakers, Michael Bray, was the author of "A Time to Kill," a book defending the assassination of doctors who perform abortions. The banquet's program echoed that theme, stating "the just sanction for the capital crime of abortion, as with any other murder, is death."
In another Beltway suburb just a few miles away, members of a federal grand jury prepared to disband. For more than a year, they had probed for evidence of a nationwide conspiracy of anti-abortion violence without success -- there was no hard evidence that right-to-life groups financed or ordered clinic attacks.
Planned Parenthood issued a response: "Here is what we know: For more than a dozen years, anti-choice zealots have waged a campaign of violence against abortion providers that has encompassed threats, stalkings of physicians, arson and vandalism, and murder. Our reproductive health centers across the country see the same faces -- itinerant terrorists who have logged mile-long arrest records harassing our clients and staff in dozens of states. 'How-to' manuals on clinic violence exist and are circulated throughout the country. To date, five people have been murdered. The individuals responsible ... all have documented, traceable ties to myriad extremist groups and activists..."
If the irony of the White Rose banquet and the grand jury being just miles apart isn't enough, consider this: in the same Virginia town as the grand jury is a women's clinic. The name and address of that clinic were on a map found in John Salvi's truck after his arrest for allegedly murdering two clinic workers in Massachusetts.
Justice Department seems satisfied with the grand jury's lack of findings. Only days after the White Rose banquet, the Washington Post quoted a Department official saying, "The national conspiracy only exists in the minds of people who have a political interest in keeping this thing going."
So what's going on? If there's no conspiracy, why have there been more than 3,000 violent or threatening incidents against women's clinics or employees in the last twenty years -- an average rate of about three per day?
By the time of the December, 1994 Brookline murders, few who followed these events were surprised that bullets were again flying. The rhetoric had been heating up for years, goading the faithful into violence. One commonly-heard slogan was, "If you really think abortion is murder, then act like it." Michael Bray, the activist behind the Virginia conference, called for abortion providers to be stoned to death. Another leader in the movement called for "massive killings of abortionists and their staffs."
But although few took up arms, a greater number pursued "direct rescue" -- such as firebombing clinics or contaminating them with butyric acid, a vile-smelling compound that cannot be removed.
But were these actions part of an organized conspiracy? The veil of secrecy surrounding the movement lifted slightly when a manual and other writings were found at the home of Shelley Shannon, an Oregon woman convicted in the 1993 attempt to assassinate Kansas Dr. George Tiller.
Since the mid-80's, little had been heard from a shadowy fraternity that called itself the "Army of God," previously connected to the 1983 kidnapping of an Illinois doctor and his wife, the 1984 death threats to Supreme Court Justice Blackmun, and a 1985 attempt on his life. The discovery of the manual -- buried on the property -- along with other materials removed from her home and letters she wrote while in prison, resulted in ten counts of arson and butyric acid bombings in 1992. She pled guilty to all counts last summer, and is now serving a 30-year sentence.
In an open letter to fellow activists that appeared in Prayer & Action Weekly News, Shannon hinted that the government investigation might be getting close to uncovering their secretive group:
The Feds are working on a lot of different puzzles -- if they put together enough pieces, they will be able to see a picture...I hope the soldiers still out there leave other people out of their activities. Don't tell anyone anything or you may put them in the position of someday having to choose between their freedom and yours...
From reports of the White Rose banquet, Shannon was not mentioned among those saluted as "prisoners of Christ." Perhaps this was because she confessed that she had squealed on some of her comrades; by contrast, they did honor a man whose former fiancee is serving a sentence for contempt for refusing to testify to the federal grand jury.
remarks about puzzle pieces aside, it is quite possible that the grand jury findings are accurate. It's highly doubtful that there is an organized, Oliver Stone-type conspiracy -- that certain groups or individuals have plotted an arching scheme to eliminate abortion in this country. No mastermind puppet master pulls these violent marionette's strings.
And care should be taken to not give the Virginia conference and White Rose banquet too much weight. Many of the recognized leaders of the movement, such as Randall Terry and Rev. Flip Benham, national director of Operation Rescue did not attend, for example.
There is, of course, a common vocabulary shared by all the various groups. "Abortion is Murder" remains the central theme, and fetuses -- or fertilized ovum, if life begins at conception -- are the "unborn," the "preborn," or simply, "babies." But with increasing frequency in recent years, new words have crept into extremist's language. Pro-choice opponents are damned as "Satanists," or perhaps followers of the New World Order.
This is the result of a cross-pollination between anti-abortion activists and others on the right, such as the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, the patriot and militia movements, organizations with racist or anti-semitic goals, and radical theologians who preach that Armageddon is at hand. John Salvi was not just concerned about abortion; he also made statements about the "Freemason conspiracy," a hoary old favorite of the far right that dates back more than 200 years.
A meeting just a month before the shootings illustrates the fluid interchange between these different factions. Leaders from the Birch Society, Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and a New Hampshire militia shared the podium. Literature available described how to make bombs and operate firearms (including the exact same rifle used by Salvi). Also available was the anti-semetic book Hunter, describing how parasitic Jews are destroying America and the need for armed civilians to carry out political assassinations to preserve the white race.
There's no evidence that Salvi attended this meeting, but he didn't need to; as Chip Berlet writes, "The whole spectrum of conspiracist allegations can be found on computer networks including the Internet, on radio and TV talk shows, on short-wave radio, through fax networks, and in hundreds of small books, pamphlets, and flyers available through the mail."
More on Salvi's beliefs are expected to emerge at his trial, where his lawyers are using an insanity plea. WGBH, Boston's public broadcasting station, has followed up its Frontline documentary with a special web page, "Murder on 'Abortion Row,'" with the full psychiatric interview of Salvi and his four-day competence hearing. Latest events can be found at the Boston Globe, which provides ongoing coverage of the trial.
taking place at women's clinics is just part of the crusade against abortion. Other attacks are underway in the marbled halls of Congress, on the floors of state legislatures, in back-room policy meetings.
And always, new troops are added to the field. Last fall, the Christian Coalition formed the "Catholic Alliance" as an outreach to unite Catholics and evangelicals around common interests, most prominently abortion. "We will move swiftly to advance the cause of defending innocent human life and restoring common-sense values in America," Ralph Reed announced. With a budget of $1.3 million, the group hopes to double Catholic membership in the Christian Coalition, currently about 16 percent.
Abortion isn't the only issue in the list of Christian Coalition demands, but it is by far the most important. An early January "Action Alert" also included abstinence education funding, education vouchers, a prohibition on unmarried couples adopting children, and, of course, no funding of any kind for abortion.
This notice from the Christian Coalition also emphasized that these social issues were paramont in the great December and January budget confrontation between the House and the President. Although Newt's infamous pout over treatment on Air Force One may have played some small role in the government shutdown, it was pressure from the hard right that likely kept a compromise at bay.
The shutdown was predicted early last fall in a confidential memo from the Council for National Policy. If there is one group in the United States that serves as an umbrella for the hard right it is this organization, whose 500+ members represent top religious, political, and business leaders.
"We'll let the government shut down," Congressman Mark Souder (R-Indiana) said in the memo. "This is not a game over whether the government is going to shut down. This is our maximum point of leverage to insist that parts of the revolution are executed. Because if they are not attached to money bills, they will never get through."
And that's exactly what came to pass a few months later; members of the House, particularly freshmen who joined in 1994, refused to remove riders on appropriation bills that restricted abortion in a variety of ways.
During the budget debate in the House on January third, pro-rights Representative Nita Lowey (D - New York) voiced her frustrations: "There are other extreme provisions that have been tacked on, and I know many of us feel, although I am an abortion advocate, I do not want to have to debate this on the floor anymore. Abortion provisions are being tacked on to appropriations bills. So if you are saying that the President has to be held hostage and agree to some of those extreme provisions or we cannot open the Government, I would just say to my good friend, that is wrong."
signed the Continuing Resolution on January 26, federal employees went back to work -- and abortion foes celebrated victory. For the first time, federally-funded embryo studies are banned, putting at risk any fertility and in vitro fertilization research. The House objected to the creation of human embryos in a laboratory.
Also gone from the budget was full funding for international family planning programs. No funds will be spent at all until July, and then only at about half of last year's level.
The Clinton administration did manage to remove some of the harshest restrictions. Prohibitions on funding of the United Nations Population Fund unless it gets out of China were dropped, as were prohibiting grants to nongovernmental organizations that provide abortions or advocate for changes in abortion laws. These battles will resume during the authorization process.
The anti-abortion fever has especially become popular in state legislatures. When Iowa failed to pass a law mandating parental consent before a minor can have an abortion, the city of Davenport decided to pass its own. Not that it mattered: there are no clinics in Davenport that perform abortions.
"In 1995, there was the most aggressive and long-reaching attempt to roll back abortion rights since Roe vs. Wade," says Estelle Rogers, policy director for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project.
"The so-called 'partial' ban [see "Theatre of Battle, 1995"] was groundbreaking. It tried to undo medical progress by removing abortion training for OB/GYNs." And that's just the beginning, Rogers says: There are currently 96 bills pending in different states that restrict abortion funding, some removing the exception of saving the mother's life. "There's a real punitive aura out there; these laws are unconstitutional, but that doesn't seem to deter these guys.
"These are all direct challeges to Roe vs. Wade," says Rogers. "Put it all together and it's a startling picture, very much a continuation of the theme to strip abortion rights bit by bit for the poor, federal employees, and the young."
The most surprising
place where anti-abortion provisions have appeared, however, was in the mammoth Telecommunications Deregulation Bill. Late in the day of January 30th, Colorado Representative Pat Schroeder made an unpleasant discovery: a last-minute addition appeared to make it a crime to discuss abortion on the Internet.
The Telcom Bill already had the controversial "Communications Decency Act" that made it a felony to mention the seven dirty words forbidden on radio or TV; that was well known, and much discussed in both the House and the Senate. But this abortion clause was new, and would make "abortion" the eighth word banned from cyberspace.
The ACLU and 19 other organizations filed for a temporary restraining order on the same day that Clinton signed the bill. But while the federal judge ruled, the vague "indecency" provisions were probably unconstitutional and should be heard by a special 3-judge panel, the restraining order on the abortion section was denied.
Schroeder and others are trying to repeal the ancient law behind these restrictions, but passage in the rightward-tilted House is far from certain.
Almost all of
the events in this article -- from the White Rose banquet to the apparent (lack of) grand jury conspiracy findings to the restrictive budget resolution to the surprising addition to the Telecom Bill -- happened in just the final days of January. What other surprises are in store for the remainder of the year?
This much is clear: those that want to stop abortion will give no quarter, and will certainly not ease their attack. Just after Christmas, Operation Rescue National issued a statement that renewed its call to arms:
Operation Rescue unashamedly takes up the cause of preborn children...In our nation this battle was most vividly manifested in the mid-nineteenth century over the issue of slavery...We believe that Jesus Christ is the only answer to the abortion holocaust....
The crusade has only begun.
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