Colorado Personhood Law Backer Linked to Militant Anti-Abortion Groups

Wendy Norris

A strange netherworld of extremes exists in today's anti-abortion movement. Nowhere is that more evident than in Colorado's proposed Amendment 48, a controversial mandate that seeks to confer constitutional rights to fertilized human eggs.

A strange netherworld of extremes exists in today’s anti-abortion
movement. Nowhere is that more evident than its latest political salvo
coming to a voting booth near you in November — Colorado’s proposed
Amendment 48, the so-called Human Life Amendment, a controversial
mandate that seeks to confer constitutional rights to fertilized human eggs.

In the universe of anti-abortion activism, a complex and sometimes
toxic stew of passive pray-ins and endless letter-writing campaigns
uneasily coexists with much more aggressive and violent means of ending
abortion through patient stalking, clinic bombings and murder.

One man stands in the nexus between the mainstream factions that
espouse the politically correct "love the sinner/hate the sin" mantra
and the more virulent behavior inspired by strained Biblical
justifications for killing said sinner.

James Patrick Johnston, D.O., is, by all appearances,
a polite country doctor in south-central Ohio, husband and father of
six children under the age of 10 with a new baby on the way. A
self-avowed "life, liberty, and jobs" guy, he lost his 2007 bid for a
seat in the Ohio General Assembly, where he ran on a plank of cutting
taxes, expanding homeschooling and "making Ohio the first state in the
Union to defy Roe v. Wade with a statewide abortion ban."

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Less obvious
are his links to some of the most radical elements of the anti-abortion
movement — the paramilitary groups Army of God, Christian Gallery and
Minutemen United that have been at the forefront of advocating for and
celebrating violent clashes between anti-abortion forces and clinics.

The path leading from Johnston’s activism in poor Appalachian Ohio to
the hotbed of wealthy religious conservatism in Colorado exemplifies
the fluid interchange between the more radical anti-abortion movement
and those seeking to shield their past associations in order to appear
more mainstream.

Kristi Burton, founder of Colorado for Equal Rights, the official sponsor of proposed Amendment 48, confirmed that Johnston, working from Ohio 1,300 miles away, is leading the group’s national outreach effort to doctors, pharmacists and others who share their philosophy.

Johnston, who founded the 30-member Association of Pro-Life Physicians (APLP) largely made up of doctors in central Ohio, is gathering endorsements from medical professionals from across the nation for the Colorado measure, which were announced on the campaign’s Web site recently.

He launched APLP in 2004 to "re-stigmatize abortionists in our society"
based on his interpretation of pre-Hippocratic physicians in ancient
Greece whom he claims euthanized and sexually assaulted their patients.

Thus far, Johnston has managed to convince 70 medical professionals
and organizations — all with their own deep ties to anti-abortion,
anti-assisted suicide and oral contraception denial groups — to lend
their names to the cause. However, only one Colorado physician is on
the endorsement list: Edwin Anselmi, M.D., of Our Lady of Hope Medical
Clinic in Centennial. Dr. Anselmi did not return calls seeking comment
on this story.

For his part, in a recent interview,
Johnston openly acknowledged what the campaign committee will not —
that the goal of the proposed Colorado law is ultimately to ban
abortion.

As a scientist I’m convinced that life begins at
fertilization, or what is traditionally known as conception. I think
it’s a travesty what’s taken place with the exploitation of unborn
human beings through abortion. I wanted to see them protected in law. I
think states need to take the initiative to pass laws to protect the
unborn in their jurisdictions. This personhood amendment has the
potential to be the first crack in the ban of the abortion holocaust.
The first opportunity to protect the unborn in the United States. I’m
excited about it.

Despite his earnest assurances that "personhood" at conception is
widely accepted as scientific fact, the subject remains at the core of intense debate among embryology experts. The
Colorado Medical Society, Colorado Gynecological-Obstetrical Society
and the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians representing 7,000
Colorado physicians aren’t so convinced. The three groups oppose the
proposed law and have joined with the Protect Families Protect Choices – No on 48 campaign to block the effort.

Crystal Clinkenbeard, spokeswoman for the No on 48 group, wrote in a statement:

Doctors must have the freedom to use their
professional judgment to provide the best possible treatment for their
patients. ‘The moment of fertilization’ is not a medical definition of
pregnancy, and there is not a readily available test to determine when
fertilization has occurred within a woman’s body. Defining the term
‘person’ in the state constitution using non-medical language is a
dangerous government intrusion into the sanctity of the doctor-patient
relationship.

 

Doing battle with the Army of God
Johnston denies that he belongs to the Army of God, a notorious group established in the 1980s whose members have been involved in inciting
and perpetrating clinic bombings, arson, Anthrax scares and kidnapping.
The group circulates a how-to "manual that supplies detailed
instructions for attacking abortion clinics, manufacturing bombs and
cutting off the hands of abortion doctors," according to Source Watch.com.

In 2004, however, Johnston was featured in the Army of God’s "Heroes of the Faith"
page, a rogues’ gallery celebrating the actions of Paul Hill (who was
executed by the state of Florida in 2003 for killing Dr. John Britton
and his clinic escort and wounding the escort’s wife); James Kopp (who
is in prison for the sniper-style shooting and killing of Dr. Bernard
Slepian); Dennis Salvi (who killed two Boston-area clinic
receptionists); and those who advocate "defensive force" — a form of
Biblical law justifying the murder of clinic staff in order to prevent
them from performing abortions.

Johnston claims that he asked that his commentaries be removed from the Army of God Web site. Two of his tracts, a response to "Justifiable Homicide — A Covenantal View of Justice"
and "What the Bible Says Should Be Done to Abortionists: How America
Pollutes God" are still accessible in cached versions of the site.

Immediately following an interview with Colorado Independent, Johnston followed up in an email:

I only ask that you not mention the so-called
“Army of God” in your article because it would be harmful to the
Personhood cause and those felons get way too much attention from
journalists who only mention them to discredit authentic pro-lifers who
disagree with them on the issue of force.

Johnston also claimed that the Army of God has "since written
articles condemning me in the most vehement of terms, particularly
because of my condemnation of Paul Hill and my reluctance to condemn
all hormonal contraceptives as abortifacient." Johnston, however, did
not provide proof of any split save for a 2004 commentary written by Jonathan O’Toole at Christian Gallery.com,
a site that formerly hosted the Nuremberg Files — a notorious "hit
list" detailing clinic physicians and their addresses that was shut
down by court order.

To be sure, the relationships in the radical antiabortion movement are
convoluted and memberships appear to be quite fluid. Army of God,
Christian Gallery and Minutemen co-mingle at the same anti-abortion
protests, as Johnston confirmed as the circumstances for getting to
know various members of these groups.

He argues that his medical degree and ministries make him a target for
others who espouse violence in the movement seeking validation for
their own beliefs. Yet, none of his writings on his own site or others
expressly disavow or criticize attacking clinic staff or fomenting
criminal behavior.

One tract that directly contradicts Johnston stands out.

Shortly after Paul Hill’s Sept. 3, 2003, execution by lethal injection
at the Florida State Prison, fellow anti-abortion crusader, Ron McRae
of the conservative Street Preachers’ Fellowship,
wrote a meandering 34-page Bible verse-infused refutation of Hill and
his supporters’ religious justifications for killing the doctor and
clinic escort and wounding the escort’s wife.

The Army of God posted a point-by-point counter-argument by Johnston refuting McRae’s positions, which remains on the current Web site:

McRae: Paul Hill did God no service when he
murdered Dr. Britton and his 74 year friend. The life of Christ is
never manifest to the world by a Christian killing a lost sinner,
regardless of how depraved.

Johnston: YOU WOULD NEVER SAY THIS TO CONDEMN ONE WHO USED LETHAL
DEFENSIVE FORCE TO STOP AN ASSAILLANT [sic] FROM KILLING ALREADY-BORN
PEOPLE. WHY THIS DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE PREBORN?

 The undated Johnston reaction does not appear on any other
anti-abortion movement Web site — only at the Army of God, which hints
that it was likely written specifically for the site.

The Paul Hill commentary also does not appear in active or archived
versions of Johnston’s own Web sites for APLP, Right Remedy.org or this
site’s precursor, The Ministry of the Johnston Family,
Ohio Abortion Ban.org and Stop Columbus Killing.net — which posts
photographs of central Ohio clinic patients, staff and security escorts
and their license plates much like the court-shuttered Nuremberg Files
site.

Johnston’s views on meting out justice to those who are involved in
abortion get a little stickier when he tries to toe the line of polite
company. Again, he claims that he doesn’t support violence but his
political views as a high-ranking member of the ultraconservative Ohio
Constitution Party draw from a crazy-quilt ideology of vehemently
opposing taxes while vociferously supporting a Biblical worldview.

But the Bible is also clear that until society
does justice for those being exploited, discriminated against and
slaughtered then God will not extend mercy to our country. So I’m not
only a strong advocate of protecting the unborn, I’m also a strong
advocate of the government treating the unborn justily [sic] through
the administration of justice.

That "justice" means the death penalty, as Johnston has also
advocated for in other writings promoting the view that gays and
lesbians should be put on trial for capital crimes. 

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