The Toll of Violent Anti-Abortion Speech
December 02, 2015, 1:12pm


HERE are some things abortion opponents have said about Robert L. Dear Jr., the shooter accused of killing three and wounding nine at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last Friday. He was just a lunatic. He wasn’t attacking Planned Parenthood, he ran in there after trying to rob a bank. My personal favorite, from the Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz: He is reported to be a “transgendered leftist activist.”

Given that Mr. Dear is said to have told the police “no more baby parts,” could the attack be related to the deceptively edited incendiary videos from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress, which purport to show that Planned Parenthood sells fetal tissue for profit? Another Republican presidential contender, Carly Fiorina, called it “typical left-wing tactics” to connect them.

Who is she kidding? Since the videos appeared over the summer, there have been four arsons at or near Planned Parenthood clinics. Abortion providers say threats and harassment have increased as well. But then, disclaiming any connection with violence has a long history in the anti-abortion movement. Black Lives Matter activists are accused by some of promoting the murder of police officers, and every Muslim on earth is seemingly expected to condemn jihadi terrorism on practically a daily basis. Meanwhile, I’m not aware of any prominent abortion opponents who have publicly accepted responsibility for fomenting violence by using language that equates abortion with the Holocaust or murder on an industrial scale — atrocities that would seem to call for resistance by any means necessary.

In fact, even when deploring violence, opponents equate it with the practice of abortion. As Mike Huckabee, who is also seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said in the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting, “There’s no excuse for killing other people, whether it’s happening inside the Planned Parenthood headquarters, inside their clinics where many millions of babies die, or whether it’s people attacking Planned Parenthood.” Millions of dead babies versus “people attacking” a clinic? Which sounds like the greater evil to you?

Violence against abortion clinics and providers has been part of the so-called pro-life movement virtually since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion is a constitutionally protected right. The National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers, has recorded a staggering 6,948 acts of violence against clinics and providers between 1977 and 2014, including eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 182 arsons.

Anti-abortion leaders portray violence as the doings of madmen, and probably some of the perpetrators are indeed unstable. But when prominent voices in the anti-abortion movement compare clinics to Auschwitz, when they equate embryos with slaves, when Bill O’Reilly says that people feel fetal tissue donation is “Nazi stuff” and Rush Limbaugh suggests the way to stop abortion is to “require that each one occur with a gun,” it is not surprising that susceptible people will act on what they hear as a call for violence.

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Indeed, sometimes the call is explicit. The president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, Troy Newman, who serves on the board of the Center for Medical Progress, views abortion as a capital crime and has called for the execution of abortion providers. His second in command, Cheryl Sullenger, was convicted of attempting to bomb a clinic. Has Mr. Newman been ostracized by mainstream abortion opponents? Not really. Mr. Cruz, on his website, declares himself “grateful” for Mr. Newman’s endorsement.

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“The Toll of Violent Anti-Abortion Speech”Speech itself is not violent. How about “Hands up don’t shoot” the basis of which has been…

Martin Ryle
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Anti-abortion activists who use violent language and behavior to attack Planned Parenthood and legal abortion providers are not “Pro-Life.” …

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A nation of distracted children is coming to the realization that hate speech really fosters hate and far too often hate crimes. In…

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Law enforcement and the news media have been reluctant to call this continuing violence by its rightful name: terrorism. Is it because the perpetrators are generally white and Christian? Unless there’s a death, each incident gets little attention. It’s as if we take abusive anti-abortion tactics for granted. Most Americans probably have no idea how hostile anti-abortion “sidewalk counseling” outside clinics can be. There’s a reason pro-choicers volunteer to escort patients as they make their way past angry crowds to the clinic door.

Here is the dirty little secret about anti-abortion violence: It works. After Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in 2009, his clinic, in Wichita, Kan., closed. (A new clinic opened in the same location in 2013, though it offers a narrower range of services.) In Kalispell, Mont., the son of a prominent local abortion opponent destroyed All Families Healthcare, the only abortion provider in the area. It’s gone, too.

Most targeted clinics stay open, but there’s a toll. When I asked abortion providers how the threat of violence had affected the way they provided care, people listed everything from armed security guards and metal detectors to safe rooms and regular emergency drills. Technicians have to decide whether a patient’s elevated blood pressure is caused by a medical condition or from the anxiety of wading through a crowd of protesters shouting, “The doctors aren’t licensed!” and “You’ll die in there!” It can be hard to hire and keep staff when the job description includes feeling threatened every day. As one provider summed it up, “10 to 15 percent of our resources of time, talent and treasure are devoted to compensating for harassment and threats.”

To abortion opponents that’s all good news. But what about the rest of us? A majority of Americans, according to recent Pew data, believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Do we want to live in a country where extremists use violence to deny women legal health care, and people whose words may well spur them to action insist they have nothing to do with it?