For those who would like to think today’s murder in church of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, is an isolated incident: here’s the horrifying news: You are wrong. The pattern is clear and frightening.
In March 1993, three months into the administration of our first pro-choice president, Bill Clinton, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was murdered in Pensacola, Florida. That was the beginning of what would become a five-fold increase in violence against abortion providers throughout the Clinton years.
Today’s assassination of Dr. George Tiller comes five months into the term of our second pro-choice president. For anyone who would like to believe that this is a statistical anomaly, a coincidence that doesn’t portend anything, again, you are wrong.
During the entire Bush administration, from 2000-2008 there were no murders.
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During the Clinton era, between 1994-2000 there were six abortion providers and clinic staff murdered, and 17 attempted murders of abortion providers (one of these attempts was on Dr. Tiller who was shot in both arms.) There were 12 bombings or arsons during the Clinton years.
During the Bush administration, not only were there no murders, there were no attempted murders. There was one clinic bombing during the Bush years.
One can only conclude that like terrorist sleeper cells, these extremists have now been set in motion. Indeed the evidence is already there. The chatter, the threats, the hate-filled rhetoric are abundant.
In the last year of the Bush administration there were 396 harassing calls to abortion clinics. In just the first four months of the Obama administration that number has jumped to 1401.
And so the execution of Tiller, 67, is not only tragic but ominous. He was born into an era when being an abortion provider meant saving women’s lives. And the cold-blooded murder in church and in front of his wife of this stalwart defender of women rights and beloved physician, comes as a message for others, as well as tragic deja vu.
Battered women are at greatest danger of being killed by their abusers when they are most strong–that is, when they muster the courage to leave. The same phenomenon may be true in the abusive political abortion debate. The pro-choice movement, specifically our abortion providers, are in the greatest danger of violence when we take power. When the anti-abortion movement loses power, their most extreme elements appear to move to the fore and take control. The murder of Dr. Tiller suggests that violence against abortion providers may be far more linked to the power, or lack thereof, anti-abortion groups have politically than to laws designed to increase penalties against such acts.
History has another disturbing lesson for us. The escalation of anti-abortion rhetoric plays a direct role in instigating violence. When anti-abortion groups ratchet up the rhetoric, they know exactly what they’re doing and the results it will have. Even if they maintain deniability, as Operation Rescue recently did saying, in effect, we wanted Tiller gone, but didn’t want him murdered, they have inflamed the rhetoric. And suddenly people Like Dr. Tiller’s murderer become inspired. On this issue, history is instructive.
Eleanor Bader, author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism, in an article in March for Rewire about clinics bracing for an uptick in violence after the election of Obama wrote, "immediately after Obama’s election, Douglas Johnson, Legislative Director of the National Right to Life Committee, called him a "hardcore pro-abortion president." The American Life League dubbed him "one of the most radical pro-abortion politicians ever," and Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life warned that Obama will "force Americans to pay for the killing of innocents." Americans United for Life, the Family Research Council and Operation Save America quickly joined the chorus."
Bader interviewed clinic staff — many seeing a direct relationship between the pro-choice victory in November and increased aggression against them and their patients. Claire Keyes, of Allegheny Reproductive Health in Pittsburgh, explained,
"Right after the election we saw a small upsurge in anti-abortion activity. But since the inauguration, things have gotten measurably worse. There’s been an increase in picketing by students from Franciscan University in Ohio. On Saturdays there are 60-plus protesters and there’s been an increase in screaming and aggression. We don’t have a parking lot so people park on the street. The antis have surrounded cars, trapping the women inside, and in several cases the antis jumped into vehicles and touched or grabbed at them. The police were called but so far they don’t seem to be responding appropriately." Bader also quotes Elizabeth Barnes, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Women’s Center, who explained, "When the pendulum swung in the direction of protecting women’s rights, we expected something. The way the antis are reacting has changed, they’re taking more liberties, pressing the boundaries of legal, civil protest."
Many in the pro-choice movement believed that the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) law, passed in 1994 in response to Gunn’s murder, was responsible for reigning in violence against abortion providers. Clearly that is not the case. Based on statistics on violence against abortion providers compiled by the National Abortion Federation, even after the passage of FACE in 1994, there was still considerable violence and threats against clinic personnel, including six murders. As appears clear, the pro-choice movement has looked through rose-colored glasses, assuming or hoping that legalities can restrain terrorists.
In fact, it didn’t abate after FACE, as we’ve seen. It was not until a comforting anti-abortion president did they calm down and stop the murder, bombing and harassment spree.
As a result of Bush’s policies, recent reportings from clinics suggest that we may be seeing a surge in abortions. That has failed to inspire introspection from anti-abortion groups. That Clinton presided over the most dramatic decline in abortion rates in the recorded history of our country left them unmoved. That Obama has assigned his senior most staff to the task of finding ways to reduce the need for abortion has not protected clinics nor providers nor Obama. Holder and his Justice Department should take note of the chatter and move aggressively against this form of domestic terrorism. The hate-filled rhetoric against Obama from the anti-abortion movement is at unprecedented levels, even for this reflexively inflammatory group. They refer to him as the "Most Pro-Abortion President Ever" ignoring the fact that he is the first to extend an olive branch in hopes that together we can make abortion more rare.
Anti-abortion groups will put out carefully worded press statements condemning the murder of Dr. Tiller, as became routine for them during the Clinton years. But unless the rhetoric they choose from now on becomes careful too–they may be the enablers of murder and terror.