One of the most troubling aspects of the events that led to Scott Roeder’s assassination of Dr. George Tiller at Dr. Tiller’s Lutheran church was the possibility that the federal government could have stopped Roeder, but failed to do so. In the years leading up to the murder, Roeder repeatedly violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which forbids various kinds of violence and property damage enacted by anti-choice extremists in an attempt to physically force women not to have abortions. Unfortunately, the Bush administration didn’t bother to enforce the law much, allowing terrorists like Roeder to gradually escalate the harassment until it spilled over into the act of violence that took Dr. Tiller’s life. Since then, the Obama administration has stepped up enforcement of FACE, and now the supposedly “pro-life” anti-choice movement is crying foul and demanding the right to physically abuse women seeking abortion in addition to the verbal harassment they currently subject them to.
Various right-wing publications have whined about the Department of Justice defending clinic workers and patients against threats of violence and physical abuse at the hands of anti-choice extremists. The two arguments for why anti-choicers should be allowed to abuse women in an attempt to stop them from exercising a constitutionally protected right to abortion boil down to “because we said so” and “wah,” though there is a side dose of pretending like threatening someone’s life is freedom of speech (a right that you only apparently get if you shore up your misogynist bona fides). For instance, Jack Minor at the Greeley Gazette whines that pro-choicers held anti-choice extremists responsible for aiding and inspiring Scott Roeder:
Immediately following Tiller’s death, Operation Rescue and other pro-life groups came out in public condemnation of Roeder’s actions. Many abortion rights groups rejected the apology insisting that anyone who believed in the sanctity of life and opposed abortion was responsible for Tiller’s murder.
In truth, there never was an “apology.” Minor believes we should let them off the hook because they call themselves “pro-life”, which is akin to someone shoving a steak in her mouth and demanding you take her for her word that she’s a vegetarian. If you step back and look at the facts at hand, there’s nothing “pro-life” about Minor or various other anti-choice publications. Even these publications admit that the people prosecuted were using their bodies to try to force women not to enter their doctor’s offices. While Lifesite News is presenting only the defense’s arguments in their coverage of the prosecution of a Kentucky man, you still walk away with a sense that perhaps the tussle between him, a patient, and an escort may not have been a matter of him standing peacefully while the women assaulted him, as he would have you believe.
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The “wah” defense is also in evidence. Nearly every publication I’ve linked here referenced either the illegal abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell (who is being prosecuted and was rejected by the National Abortion Federation) or the case of an anti-choice protester who was shot for reasons that had nothing to do with abortion politics. The argument seems to be:
“These horrible things have happened, we’re going to pretend they happened to us, and so we should be able to threaten doctors and physically abuse patients to our heart’s content.”
Unfortunately for the anti-choice movement, it doesn’t work that way. Stomping your feet and playing the victim doesn’t mean that you get special dispensation to break the law.
The FACE Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton in response to the rising tide of right wing terrorism during his administration, especially since so much of it was aimed at abortion clinic employees and patients. Despite anti-choicers pretending that there’s no relationship between rising levels of harassment and overt terrorist acts, the ugly fact of the matter is that clinics that are targeted for harassment campaigns are far more likely to be targeted for terrorism. In fact, some of the assassinations and assassination attempts were the direct result of clinic harassment, as the shooters were part of the ugly mobs that gather around abortion clinics to abuse women seeking abortion care. Dr. David Gunn was shot by a so-called protester in 1993, and in the same year, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms by a woman who jumped out of the mob with the intent to murder him. Since then, anti-choicers who escalate from harassment to terrorism have grown savvier, putting a little more physical distance between themselves and the anti-choicers who haven’t escalated past harassment, but the connections between harassment campaigns and violence aren’t some fantasy dreamed up by pro-choicers.
It’s more than a little alarming to see the anti-choice movement mindlessly defend minor violations of the FACT Act, even though by their own reporting, the accusations are pretty cut-and-dry in terms of anti-choicers veering towards violence against patients and clinic workers: threatening to murder, blocking doors, and getting into altercations with women entering clinics who don’t want to listen to your misogynist, Bible-thumping blather. Defending minor acts of abuse and violence sends a signal, especially to the unhinged (who are well-represented in the ranks of people whose obsession with controlling women rules their lives), that they are supported and encouraged in their desires to be violent. People who escalate to shooting doctors and bombing clinics often spend months and even years testing the waters—vandalizing clinics, making death threats, flinging themselves at patients and employees, stalking clinic workers and threatening them at home—and if they’re nabbed early in their evolution, perhaps acts of violence can be stopped. If anti-choicers cared one whit about “life”, they would support the DOJ’s attempts to stop murders before they happen.
Instead, you get the strong impression from many anti-choice publications that they believe that the government should only get involved after it’s too late.
The good news is there’s not much they can do at this point to stop the DOJ from doing their job and enforcing the FACE Act. You can write a million articles where you refuse to offer a single detail of the DOJ’s case but you quote the defense extensively, but that doesn’t mean the DOJ won’t present the evidence when it actually comes up in court.