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On March 10, 1993, in Pensacola, Florida, Michael Griffin, a "deeply religious" man, shot physician David Gunn three times in the back. Gunn was on his way into a health care facility where he offered reproductive services, including abortion. The response of the anti-choice (they ironically call themselves "pro-life") community? Operation Rescue's Randall Terry called the killing of Dr. Gunn "an inappropriate, repulsive act." The U.S. Catholic Conference said the "violence of the killing makes a mockery of the pro-life cause.
In the same city, on July 29, 1994, Rev. Paul Hill shot and killed Dr. John Britton and his 74-year-old escort, James Barrett, as their car approached the Ladies' Clinic where Britton was a women's health care provider. The reaction from the anti-choicers? The American Life League denounced the murder as "a horrible, tragic, heinous, serious crime." Operation Rescue's Patrick Mahoney declared that "Paul Hill represents a minority, fringe element of the pro-life movement."
On December 30, 1994, in Brook-line, John C. Salvi III, a "Scripture-quoting believer," entered the Planned Parenthood health care clinic and shot and killed Shannon Lowney, a 25-year-old clinic receptionist, and seriously injured three others. Fifteen minutes later, Salvi entered the Preterm Health Services Clinic down the street, where he shot and killed receptionist Leanne Nichols and wounded two others. The reaction? Massachusetts Citizens for Life said: "We are absolutely heartsick at the news of the shootings. We are praying for those persons who have fallen prey to the action of an obviously deranged individual. Such acts of violence are completely opposed to everything the pro-life movement believes in and works for." Women Affirming Life proclaimed, simply. "There are radicals in every movement."
The pattern is the same. Doctors and staffers at women's health clinics are ruthlessly killed while anti-choice leaders condemn the violence, attempting to distance themselves from the killers. They could no longer call themselves "pro-life" if any of this violence could be linked to them. So they try to paint Griffin, Hill and Salvi as extremists, radicals, and deranged lunatics, acting in isolation.
The time has come to hold the anti-choice movement's feet to the fire. Violence has become part of their nationwide strategy. They are frustrated that Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land after 22 years. The anti-choice movements has shifted gears; instead of trying to make abortion legal, they now are trying to make it inaccessible. As Operation Rescue's Randall Terry himself admits, "We've found the weak link is the doctor. We're going to expose them. We're going to humiliate them." Terry is the one who distributed old-style "Wanted" posters with Gunn's picture, home phone number and address. The posters read, "We need your help to stop Dr. David Gunn. "They got it.
With attacks on clinics and doctors, the anti-choice movement is trying to scare medical students from a career in women's health. A 14-page "Joke Book" was recently distributed to 33,000 medical students. The jokes recommended that physicians who perform abortions should be shot, attacked by dogs and buried in concrete. Some joke.
Unfortunately, the strategy is working. In 83 percent of the counties in the United States, not a single doctor is willing to provide abortion services, out of fear for his or her safety. While this country supposedly allows women the right to a safe, legal abortion, the anti-choice movement is denying them access to that right.
Anti-choice leaders vehemently deny any involvement in this brand of domestic terrorism. The state and national anti-choice organizations claim they have never heard of Salvi. They say meekly, "We didn't tell him to do it." Don't believe it. The anti-choice movement, at every level from Sunday morning pulpit preachings urging "protection of the unborn" to sidewalk counselors who harass doctors and women with screams of "baby-killer," "murder," and "assassin," is sending out a call to arms.
Joe Reilly, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, says that "Some people are so unbalanced that they are just waiting for something to become angry enough to kill somebody." That "something" is the harsh rhetoric of the anti-choice movement. It is the movement that put the bullets in John Salvi's gun. All that was left for him to do was to pull the trigger.
In the aftermath of the violence, we are left with the question, "What should be done about it?" If all factions of the anti-choice movement continue their "baby-killer" rhetoric, we will have more John Salvis, and tragically, more Shannon Lowneys and Leanne Nichols. Obviously, something must be done. But what? DO we cut off the anti-choicers' First Amendment rights to free speech? Or do we allow the freedom to incite violence as we mourn the deaths of more doctors and health care workers?
Neither is a particularly attractive solution, though I think we should err on the side of another right guaranteed by the Constitution: the freedom of choice.
Limiting speech is a touchy subject indeed. Freedom of speech is something we, as Americans, cherish and should fight to preserve. When the line is crossed, however, between exercising a right to speak and directly inciting violence, peace trumps speech. The harsh rhetoric of the anti-choice movement should be censored, but not by the government. From within the ranks of the anti-choicers, the crisp, clear voice of calm-headed good sense must rise above the angry, rash jeers of hatred.
It seems like the Catholic Church may have gotten the message. Cardinal Bernard Law recently called for a moratorium on clinic protests "to avoid on the side of the pro-life movement anything which might engender anger or some other form of violence." This courageous move should be applauded by pro-choice and anti-choice activists alike. It is a step in the right direction, but only a step.
Let us pray that this so-called "deeply religious" movement follows Cardinal Law's advice. The dangers that ignoring it will bring are real. Just ask the families of Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols.
David Yarkin '95 is a pro-choice activist living in Eliot House.
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