In 1998, Eric Rudolph bombed an Alabama women’s health clinic, killing one man and almost killing a nurse. This month, a “pro-life” organization will celebrate the anniversary of Rudolph’s sentencing by assaulting the same clinic that he bombed fewer than 10 years ago. Andrea at RH Reality Check has a must-read post on the clinic siege, where she points out:
But if you call volunteers to the very same clinic where one person was murdered and another was seriously injured by an anti-abortion extremist less than 10 years ago, and ask them to join you as you “storm the gates of Hell” and “push what is left of the abortion industry into a deep grave” on the front page of your website, can you really said to be distancing yourself from the culture of anti-abortion violence, hatred, and terrorism? Who exactly are you hoping to recruit? And furthermore, can you seriously go on to compare yourself to Martin Luther King on your own website?
Yes, they do compare themselves to Dr. King. Which has me too livid for words. Of course, Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue) is no stranger to racism and bigotry, considering that they’ve burned the Qur’an in order to make their point. It’s also kind of funny that “pro-lifers” claim the spirit of great civil rights leaders, when as far as I can tell, modern KKK organizations tend to be pretty “pro-life.” John Burt, the violent anti-choice leader of Rescue America, is a former Klan member. The aggregator of “pro-life” blogs points to a post which aptly points out that “having opinions about race is not the same as racism.” To wit:
The article below is a typical rant about racism from a Left-leaning Australian newspaper. Typically, it makes no distinction between opinions about race and racism. To do so would deprive the author of much of the warm inner glow of righteousness she got from writing it. But, as any psychologist can tell you, attitudes are not the same as behaviour and it has been known since the 1930s that, in this field particularly, attitudes and behaviour are often very different. My favourite example of the disjunction is a neo-Nazi I once knew who was great friends with a very dark-skinned Bengali. I also once knew a very kind man who spoke very ill of Asians but who was in fact happily married to one.
We all have opinions about groups of people. What do most men think about busty women, for instance? And what do women think about tall men? There is rarely indifference in either case. So there is nothing wrong about opinions of racial or ethnic groups either. It is only when people are ill-treated solely because of their race that there is cause for concern and the label “racism” is justified.
Got that? Thinking that people of color are sub-human, or less intelligent, or dirty isn’t racism! It’s only racist if you lynch them.
The group staging this siege claims to be non-violent, but that’s a straight-up lie. First, their brochure pleads, “Lord, make us dangerous.” Second, they’re relying on tactics that inspire individual lunatics to act out violent acts themselves — encouraging followers to “bring glory and honor to God by finishing the work that was begun in Birmingham thirteen years ago” and ” bring the Gospel of Christ to the gates of hell in Birmingham, Alabama” and “push what is left of the abortion industry into a deep grave.” But they’re just protesting. Kind of how this leader of Operation Rescue West was just talking to clinic workers:
The letter arrived on a Tuesday in march. “Dear Sara,” it read. “It is our information that you are currently an employee of Women’s Health Care Services, a facility that provides abortions.” It went on to suggest that Sara Phares, an administrative assistant at the clinic in Wichita, Kansas, quit her job and repent her sins. “Please know that we are praying for you,” the letter concluded. It was signed “Troy Newman, President, Operation Rescue West.” A week later, hundreds of Phares’ neighbors received an anonymous postcard of a mangled fetus. This is abortion! read the big block letters. “Your neighbor Sara Phares participates in killing babies like these.” The postcard implored them to call Phares, whose phone number and address were provided, and voice their opposition to her work at the clinic. Another card soon followed. It referred to Phares as “Miss I Help to Kill Little Babies” and suggested, in an erratic typeface that recalled a kidnapper’s ransom note, that neighbors “beg her to quit, pretty please.” The third postcard dispensed entirely with pleasantries: “Sara Phares is not to be trusted! Tell her to get a life!”
One Wichita resident, apparently inspired by the postcards, sent Phares letters beseeching her to quit her job at the clinic. Another neighbor, a federal agent, called her at work to express his concern. “Just be careful, ma’am,” he said. “You never know what kind of nuts these things will draw.”
Before long, protesters from Operation Rescue showed up at her house. They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with twenty-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their back yards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares’ front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property. Phares, a small-boned woman with an irreverent sense of humor, joked about the exorcism. “Wish he’d held off on that holy water till after we’d put the fertilizer down,” she said. But her husband wasn’t amused. Since 1994, there have been five assassination attempts on abortion providers at their homes. A few days after the protest, Phares’ husband got out his revolver, loaded it and taught Sara how to use it.
That’s the new tactic — harass clinic workers until they quit out of fear. And it works:
When I arrive, Newman and his small staff of zealous pro-lifers are buzzing with the news that the clinic’s office manager has quit — a result, they believe, of their name-and-shame campaign. The manager had been accosted by a neighbor in a grocery store who recognized her from an Operation Rescue flier that featured her photo. “You’re that baby killer!” the neighbor screamed at her. Then Newman, through investigative methods he’d rather not reveal, discovered where the woman’s husband works. “We think that’s what clinched it,” he says. “He probably realized we were going to picket his workplace. I imagine he’s the major breadwinner in the family, and he didn’t want to risk his job.”
Newman and his staff have spent months compiling a list of more than 200 “abortion collaborators” — companies that do business with Women’s Health Care Services and its employees. They plan to approach every firm on the list — from the guy who mows the clinic’s lawn to the cafe that sells Tiller his morning latte — and lobby them to stop doing business with the facility. At the top of the collaborator list is Wesley Medical Center. Wesley is vital to Tiller’s clinic: It’s where his patients are taken if there is a medical emergency. Newman has written to Wesley’s board of physicians to request that they retract hospital privileges for Tiller’s patients. If they refuse, Newman plans to expose them as Tiller’s accomplices: “We’re thinking of taking out an ad in the local newspaper, naming Wesley’s physicians and accusing them of supporting a baby killer.”
The collaborator list is constantly growing. Just a few days earlier, Newman added a place called Elite Cleaners after his aide-de-camp, Cheryl Sullenger — who spent two and a half years in federal prison for conspiracy to firebomb a clinic — spotted Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, turning into a strip mall near her house. Sullenger drove in behind her. As Jeanne got out of her SUV in front of Elite, Sullenger snapped a couple of photographs of her.
I join Newman and Sullenger on a trip to the cleaners one afternoon. They’re hoping to persuade the owner to refuse to do business with the Tillers. Behind the counter, a redheaded woman in a rhinestone-studded T-shirt is folding clothes. Newman introduces himself and explains who Tiller is. Then he extracts a photo of Jeanne Tiller from a manila folder and lays it on the counter. “We happen to know that Tiller’s wife does business with Elite,” he says, “and we’re here to ask you to stop.”
The girl furrows her brow. “We just clean the guy’s clothes.”
“Babies have to die when you accept his money,” Sullenger says.
They also regularly break the law by harassing, stalking and violating private property rights. And they’ll do anything to intimidate pro-choicers:
One evening, just after sunset, Newman cruises by the stately brick colonial home of Joan, another clinic employee. She’s the next person on the docket for a name-and-shame campaign. He slows down to examine her license plate, to make sure it matches the number he’s copied from her car in the clinic parking lot. It does. He glances at the curb in front of her house, to see if she’s put out her garbage yet, but there’s nothing there.
Dumpster diving, Newman tells me, is a great way to gather intelligence. Once he determines a neighborhood’s trash night, he drives by in a pickup truck designated specifically for this task, grabs a couple of trash bags and brings them to a garage in “an undisclosed location.” Among the eggshells and pizza boxes, he often finds useful information: cell-phone bills, the name of a clinic employee’s husband and his workplace or, if he’s really lucky, records from the clinic. “I look for incriminating info — maybe the abortionist isn’t reporting all the abortions he performs, maybe he’s keeping the cash and dumping the receipts. Then I report him to the Board of Medical Quality and I get him in a bunch of hot water.” Recently, someone gave him $500 in liquor receipts that they found in Tiller’s trash. “I can’t prove that he drank it all himself, though,” Newman says.
Clinic workers have responded by putting their trash out at the last possible minute. Sara Phares destroys all her paperwork — business letters, church mailings, debit-card receipts, the works. “I shred everything, because you never know what they’ll use,” she says. “I even shred the menus from the pizza place I order from.”
When the smear campaign against her first started, Phares refused to succumb to fear. Lately, though, it’s begun to unsettle her. One day, as she pulled out of the clinic parking lot, she saw Newman smiling at her from his Jeep. He followed her for a few blocks — reminding Phares, once again, that Operation Rescue is watching her.
But brave women like Sara continue on with their work:
Phares says such tactics only strengthen her commitment. “I see up close what would happen to my patients if they didn’t have the option of abortion,” she says. “I’ve talked to women who were on the verge of taking out a coat hanger or killing themselves. I’m touching people’s lives with my work. If that puts me in a vulnerable position, OK — make me a martyr. It’s not my goal. I’d rather be a grandma. But I won’t be emotionally blackmailed into quitting my job.”
Good for her — because emotional blackmail is the bread-and-butter of the “pro-life” movement:
Standing beside the demonstrators, clutching a dirt bike, a black boy about ten watches them intently. “Hi there, honey,” Michelle Herzog says. “How are you?
The boy toes the dirt. “Can I get by?”
“You sure can,” she says. She’s speaking in that honeyed voice that adults use with toddlers. “Do you know why we’re here?”
The boy shakes his head.
“We’re here because there’s a woman in your neighborhood who’s killing babies. And we’re fighting so those babies can live. You know, there was a time that people of your color didn’t have the right to be born, either. And lots of good people fought hard to help them gain rights. Isn’t that a good thing?”
The boy nods, his eyes downcast.
“If you know this lady, you can help us by telling her that we want to help her find a new job. Can you tell her that for me?”
The boy nods again, then slinks past and takes off on his bike.
But it’s just sidewalk ministry! It’s a peaceful protest! They’re just talking!
The siege on the Birmingham clinic is headed by Operation Save America leader Flip Benham, who has some friends in very high places — and some friends who are very dangerous. Benham and other “pro-life” activists will insist that their movement isn’t violent, and that it’s only a handful of extremists who are taking these kinds of actions. That would be believable if not for statistics — like the fact that in 1996, almost a third of abortion clinics reported violent attacks. And the fact that there have been 24 murders or attempted murders. 41 bombings. 173 arsons. 93 attempted bombings and arsons. 378 invasions. 1292 acts of vandalism. 1702 tresspassings. 100 butyric acid attacks. 655 anthrax threats. 162 assault & batteries. 385 death threats. 4 kidnappings. 126 burglaries. 487 stalkings. 11725 incidents of hate mail/harassing calls. 101 hoax packages and devices. 620 bomb threats. 751 clinic blockades.
Peaceful and non-violent my ass.
You can help by pledging a picket — promising to donate some amount per picketer per day in order to raise money for Planned Parenthood. NOW is also accepting donations for clinic defense in Birmingham.
Thanks to Amie, Angie, and all the other awesome readers who sent links and information about this anti-choice assault.
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- Anti-Choice Terrorists Claim First Amendment Rights by Jill February 3, 2008
- Dr. Carhart targeted by anti-choice activists by Jill December 4, 2009
- With Dr. Tiller’s clinic closed, anti-choicers lack a target by Jill June 8, 2009