News Violence

Vigil for Life’s “ABP Alert:” What Happens if You Forget to Tell Your Harassers You Don’t Want to be Harassed?

Andy Kopsa

The Madison police chief weighs in on whether the “ABP” issued by radical Wisconsin anti-choice group Vigil for Life, constitutes harassment.

A couple of weeks ago, I shared an email “ABP” issued by the radical Wisconsin anti-choice group Vigil for Life (VFL). To quickly recap, VFL “sidewalk counseled” a woman seeking services at a Madison Planned Parenthood. However, when the woman left, the VFL volunteers (or as they say “prayer warriors”) neglected to get her name.

So, Laura and Steve Karlen who run VFL, issued the following description of the young woman with direction to call if she were spotted:

Have you seen the pregnant mom? The young pregnant woman, probably in her 20s, had a darker complexion with dyed red hair and tattoos on her neck and right shoulder. She also had some facial piercings. The woman looked obviously pregnant. We pray that she will never decide to come back to Planned Parenthood. Please let us know immediately if you have seen a woman with this description.

Lisa Subek of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin had the opportunity to share this email with Madison Police Chief, Nobel Wray. Subek said in an email, “According to [Wray], it is legal to send such an email but could be considered harassment if the individual who is the subject of the email told the so-called “sidewalk counselors” she didn’t want further contact from them. She could have filed a complaint regarding the email.”

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

So, does this mean one must opt out of harassment by radical anti-choice zealots? That we must be clear with those “sidewalk” counselors who scream at us as we enter a woman’s health clinic that we don’t want them to stalk us later?

Subek said Wray did understand concerns about emails like these, but continued: “I’m not surprised by this answer, but it certainly makes me think about our legal definition of harassment and how we do not do enough to prevent it or to protect victims.”

Wisconsin code defines harassment in the following way:

Striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact; engaging in an act that would constitute abuse under s.48.02 (1), sexual assault under s.940.225, or stalking under s.940.32; or attempting or threatening to do the same. (b) Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which harass or intimidate another person and which serve no legitimate purpose.

Vigil for Life certainly has the ‘no legitimate purpose’ part nailed.

VFL’s website explains that, the Karlens’ began “coordinating” Vigil for Life after the 2009 40 Days for Life campaign. According to Wisconsin state filings, VFL was incorporated in 2009. It is currently delinquent in filing a state required annual report. Emails to Vigil for Life and a call to Mrs. Karlen were not returned.

We do know that Vigil for Life protests in front of Madison clinics Monday through Friday. It boast such followers as Ralph Lang, the man who was planning an attack on Planned Parenthood to: “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies.” Lang attended several of VFL’s “vigils.”

VFL is also affiliated with Pro Life Wisconsin is currently pushing a personhood amendment in the state. Green Bay State Representative, Andre Jacque introduced Joint Resolution 77 on November 16. This is among scores of new personhood legislation being introduced throughout the country on the heels of Mississippi’s failed personhood amendment. In order for any amendment to be added to the ballot, it must pass two consecutive sessions of congress. So, even if the personhood amendment passes the legislature in 2012, it must then pass in 2013 to make the ballot for the statewide Wisconsin election in 2014.

Analysis Violence

Wisconsin: Perfect Setting for National Discussion About Anti-Choice Terrorism

Andy Kopsa

Wisconsin. Perfect setting for the national conversation to finally address the domestic terrorism of anti-choice zealots.

Wisconsin. Perfect setting for the national conversation to finally address the domestic terrorism of anti-choice zealots. A perfect time to tell the story of Wisconsin as battleground not only for the 2012 elections (GOP primary today and the Walker recall election in June) but also for the war on women both legislatively and ideologically.  

Palm Sunday brought a close to Pro-Life Wisconsin’s “40 Days For Life” protests at women’s health clinics throughout the state.  And it culminated with the bombing of an Appleton Wisconsin Planned Parenthood. 40 Days For Life staged a “Stations of the Cross” rally in Appleton that day at a Planned Parenthood clinic, just not the one that was bombed.  

It happened Sunday night. No one was at the clinic when a homemade explosive device was detonated at the facility. Local authorities responded to the call and have brought in the FBI. This move says the FACE Act (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) may come into play once the bomber is found.

Wisconsin has been in the forefront of our national conversation about politics, showing us all first hand what Small Government means to the GOP right wingery.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Whether it’s Wisconsin’s powerful Fitzgerald brothers or Rep. Robin Vos gathering marching orders from ALEC conferences, Scott Walker’s recall election – and pending John Doe case – the deep ties between Wisconsin Right To Life and the Koch Brother’s Club for Growth or the zealot(s) that bomb clinics in Appleton all support the theory that at least for now, in this moment, all politics are Wisconsin.   

This is what we need to continue to focus on as the Walker recall approaches.  Wisconsin is going to get a ton of national attention in the coming months so why not use it to lay a little truth on the country?  

So let’s start with the most recent case of anti-choice violence in Wisconsin.  The responses to the bombing thus far have been predictable.  But, Rick Santorum has taken the cake yet again.  His non-denouncement denouncement cuts to the core of what is wrong with the incendiary rhetoric from the religious anti-choice right:

 “While we can and should work to defund Planned Parenthood and push back against government mandates that force Americans and religious institutions to violate their faith, violence against our fellow citizens has no place in a freedom-loving America.”

Really?

How about just this part, “Violence against our fellow citizens has no place in a freedom-loving America.”  That would have been fine right?  An act of violence seems like the wrong time to remind the crazy base how anti-choice and anti-Planned Parenthood you are.

This is what Santorum and every other anti-choice crusader really means—if you squint you can see it there between the lines—”Planned Parenthood must be destroyed because my religion informs my policymaking and therefore your rights.  We are right to picket, harass and shame women as they enter and exit clinics where they kill our babies.  We are right to present mangled fetus photos on box trucks out front of Planned Parenthoods around the country.  We are right to try and save these innocent babies from their mother’s murdering them. Um, and we don’t want you bombing anything.  Amen!”

The Chicago Tribune reported the news of the Appleton bombing as, “A small device detonated outside a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinic.”  Small.  Would they have been less disappointed if it had been a gigantic bomb, one detonated while the clinic was full of people? It isn’t about the size of the bomb it is the message it sends: terror. 

The clinic hit Sunday is in Representative Michelle Litjens district.  Litjens sponsored some of the worst anti-choice legislation this session.  Legislation that is sitting on Governor Scott Walker’s desk now and will be passed into law—with or without his formal signing—around Wednesday.  Bills like those introduced by Litjens (and plenty others) are train wrecks and indicative of the anti-science, anti-choice, anti-women bills being introduced almost daily around the country.

(I contacted Litjens office for a comment.  Although Litjens will not be running again this fall – she has too much laundry to do – her staff is still in Madison and she is still in and out of the capital for meetings.  No one from her office returned my call.)

I would like to bring your attention to Litjens’ so-called anti-coercion bill, a shining example of the ridiculous nature of these anti-choice bills and the nonsensical evidence on which they are predicated. 

The bill requires a woman seeking an abortion undergo not one but two counseling sessions since one is already required under current law.  The session in this bill is done without her partner, friend or family member present—but—with a third party of the doctor’s choosing presumably sitting in to ensure the woman wasn’t coerced into an abortion.

Now, you can read the legislation here, which I encourage you to do because I am paraphrasing the language above and there have been numerous iterations of the bill.  It is just another roadblock thrown in the face of a woman seeking a legal abortion. 

The non-evidence “evidence” Litjens and others provide claims Wisconsin women are being dragged to Planned Parenthood abortion mills across the state by coercive partners (I picture a caveman dragging his lady back to a cave by her hair). 

A centerpiece of which was a 911 call made by an anti-choice “sidewalk counselor” in Milwaukee claiming a young girl was being forced into a clinic to get an abortion. 

As you can tell the 911operator deserves a medal.  She deftly handled the ludicrous claim the caller was making and wrapped it up with a bow: near the end of the clip she tells the caller (Dan Miller of Pro-Life Wisconsin no less) point blank, “You don’t know what’s going on, sir.”

And this is Litjens’ proof for her bill, that and a parade of apparently middle-aged women testifying before the Wisconsin legislative committee that they regretted their abortions. To be clear, regret is not coercion—this is a very dangerous connection.

Naturally this non-compelling non-evidence led to the passage of the anti-coercion bill in the crazy Wisconsin political climate.  (This bill also bans telemed abortion, which isn’t even available in Wisconsin.  It is a shot across the bow by anti-choicers, perhaps to nearby Iowa which does allow telemed access and adjacent Minnesota which provides the service at one clinic).

You should watch the testimony on Wisconsin Eye, which live streams and archives legislative operations.  The glazed look of pro-choice, pro-women State Representatives Chris Taylor and Sandy Pasch—the incredulity with which Litjens legion of quacks are greeted—would be delightful if the outcome was not so dire. 

Amidst a recall election, and the clinic bombing, it is likely Walker will pocket the bills; not signing them is as good as singing them because they become law (by law) so many days after passage with or without signature.  Walker has a woman problem and with a contentious recall election in a couple months he might ratchet down the anti-lady crusade in hopes of snagging some Independents. 

These bills that will become law are especially nuanced, crafted to remove all power from women and their doctors in making health care decisions, kicking qualified sexual education providers out of schools (Senator Mary Lazich, sponsor of the bill repealing the Healthy Youth Act, specifically wrote in an email to supporters it was aimed at removing Planned Parenthood from schools) and denying abortion care coverage from private insurance.  And of course, Michelle Litjens bill.  There may be no state-mandated shoving of vaginal probes into women’s vaginas here, but the bills to become law in Wisconsin are no less disgusting or damaging to women’s rights.  

Walker and radically-right legislators in Wisconsin are in bed with the anti-choicers or are conceivably one in the same.  It is simply a matter of degree and political opportunity.  Although Walker has been careful to not let his radical anti-choicy-ness hang out, as an Evangelical Christian, Walker is still a true believer. 

The Koch Brothers Club for Growth and Wisconsin Right to Life sued to be able to fund political candidates endlessly via the Wisconsin Right to Life vs. FEC case which led to the successful Citizen’s United ruling that changed everything.  

The Citizens United ruling has its roots in Wisconsin. What eventually became the case brought before SCOTUS grew, at least in part, out of FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL).

The case was argued and an opinion—favoring WRTL—was issued in 2007, which said that spending on political ads within a 60-day window prior to an election did not violate any existing campaign finance rules. That opened the floodgates to political spending by Wisconsin Right to Life and set a favorable precedent that eventually led to the CU ruling.

If we peel the onion a bit more in these cases, we unearth The Club for Growth. Yes, that Club for Growth—The Koch brothers’ political vehicle. 

In 2003, the National Right to Life Committee, and the Club for Growth argued a campaign finance case before the Supreme Court, pre-dating the Wisconsin Right to Life and CU cases.

Lisa Subek, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Wisconsin told me WRTL spends an unbelievable amount of money to influence Wisconsin politicos and push its anti-choice agenda including the three anti-choice bills now primed to be law.  

Whether or not the Koch Brothers were in it for the moral high ground of it all is, of course, unknowable.  But, this result was a consolidation of power and money. 

The John Doe case filed against former Walker staffers while he was County Executive in Milwaukee may prove enlightening about these connections as well.  A bunch of emails are being released piecemeal between staffers, specifically Kelly Rindfleisch and political donors.  This is a legal no-no if you are keeping score.  I am going to be on the look out for emails between Walker staff and Pro-Life Wisconsin and/or Wisconsin Right to Life securing financial kindnesses. 

So what does all of this have to do with the Palm Sunday Planned Parenthood bombing? It may turn out that the dangerous kook who planted the device is not part of any official pro-life group.  But what about the role anti-choice organizations play in sustaining a violent atmosphere against women’s clinics and specifically Planned Parenthood?

Vigil for Life of Madison is listed on the Pro-Choice Wisconsin’s website as a state affiliate.  Pro-Life Wisconsin is considered the more radical anti-choice organization in Wisconsin.  For example, PLW was all about introducing a personhood bill.  WRL, like other Right to Life organizations around the country did not get behind it.  I guess that qualifies as less radical.

Vigil for Life has done some pretty nasty stuff.  They set up a crisis pregnancy center right across from a Madison Planned Parenthood so they can “sidewalk counsel” women seeking services at Planned Parenthood out of “killing their babies,” even if the lady is just there for a pap-smear. I wrote about a disturbing email circulated by the group:

Last year VFL founders, Laura and Steve Karlen, issued an APB via email blast to locate the pregnant woman they had “counseled” outside a Madison Planned Parenthood.

Excerpted from Karlen email:

“Have you seen the pregnant mom? The young pregnant woman, probably in her 20s, had a darker complexion with dyed red hair and tattoos on her neck and right shoulder. She also had some facial piercings. The woman looked obviously pregnant. We pray that she will never decide to come back to Planned Parenthood. Please let us know immediately if you have seen a woman with this description.”

Lisa Subek of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin shared VFL’s email with Madison Police Chief, Nobel Wray.  Subek told me via email, “According to [Wray], it is legal to send such an email but could be considered harassment if the individual who is the subject of the email told the so-called “sidewalk counselors” she didn’t want further contact from them. She could have filed a complaint regarding the email.”

That’s right, a pregnant lady APB—all perfectly legal.  I have reached out to Vigil for Life on two separate occasions but haven’t gotten a return call or email.  Vigil for Life also gave us Ralph Lang, would be abortion provider killer:

It is at one of these vigils coordinated by VFL where Ralph Lang was arrested in 2007. He frequented Vigil for Life protests and was familiar to Planned Parenthood employees.  Upon his arrest he told officers of a God-given mandate to execute abortion providers. Just a few years later in 2011 Lang gained national attention having shot a hole through his hotel room door in Madison Wisconsin.  This was a lucky break for workers at the Planned Parenthood as Lang hoped to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies” at the clinic the following day. 

In 2008 Ralph Lang gave testimony at a Wisconsin Senate committee hearing on overturning an archaic Wisconsin abortion law.  Lang appeared disheveled with his grey hair sticking up in tufts about his head.  He sat in front of a panel of Wisconsin lawmakers and spoke with the certainty of a religious zealot that the Bible calls for the murder of abortion providers, judges and the imprisonment of nurses who aid in providing abortion services.  (In a stroke of gender neutrality, Lang also calls for the killing of the men who get women in trouble.) 

Can we place blame on Rick Santorum through the lens of his wink-nod clinic bombing denunciation and others for anti-choice violence?  No.  Can we blame Vigil for Life, Pro-Life Wisconsin, 40 Days For Life or Wisconsin Right to Life for the Appleton bombing?  Again, no.  But they and others in the anti-choice movement must take responsibility for cultivating the rich soil of fear around abortion.

They have to take responsibility for demonizing Planned Parenthood with their vitriolic language:  killing babies!  Murderers!  Save the babies!  Sex worker trafficking!  Taxpayers funded abortions!  Abortion mills! Unborn children’s lives are at stake in the recall election! (Insert fear-mongering lie here). 

What they say matters.  It is easy to slide away from responsibility when a clinic is bombed or a doctor is shot in cold blood in his church.  Denouncing the act of violence without changing the environment that allowed the violence to occur is unacceptable.

This year has presented women (and the fellas who love them) with the opportunity to make some real change.  To quash the disgusting narrative the anti-choicers have been free to set up.  Abortion is not murder. Abortion is the legal right a woman has to terminate a pregnancy and already limited and regulated by many laws.

Contraception isn’t the work of the devil.  Contraception is women’s health care and family healthcare and none of your business.  Forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds meet the standard of sexual abuse and/or rape in many state statutes.  Legislators are not doctors. 

The GOP has made a wonderful, lethal error with their mass movement against women in statehouses around the country and Wisconsin is a prime example.  They have awoken and re-invigorated a magnificent, beautiful beast – women voters.  And for that, we should thank them.

News Abortion

Why Do Violent Extremists Like Ralph Lang Get More Protection Than Women Trying to Access Abortion Care?

Andy Kopsa

In an update to a post from Februaury, Ralph Lang has finally been charged in federal court for plotting to kill Wisconsin abortion care providers.  This is good news. 

How many updates can one post have?  I just posted this last week when would be repro health doctor murderer Ralph Lang was finally charged in Wisconsin. Then this?  

WTAQ in Wisconsin reports:

Grand Chute police are investigating an explosive device that blew up at Planned Parenthood. It happened about 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Planned Parenthood office at 3800 North Gillett Street.  The explosion started a  fire that quickly burned itself out. The fire and explosion caused a small amount of damage to the building.

Feministing got it right: 

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Let’s call this what it is: domestic terrorism. Let’s call it what it is: part of a years-long, co-ordinated, national effort to make a legal procedure inaccessible by ensuring that all those who seek and provide it must risk their lives to do so. Let’s call this what it is: totally fucking horrifying and totally fucking unacceptable.

Update from the Wisconsin State Journal, March 29, 2012:

Federal charges were filed Wednesday against a Marshfield man who allegedly plotted to kill a Madison Planned Parenthood doctor.

Ralph Lang, 63, was arrested May 25 after accidentally firing a gun in his motel room, then explaining his plans to Madison police.

Lang already had been charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in Dane County Circuit Court.

He now also faces federal charges of attempting to injure, to intimidate and to interfere with persons participating in a program and activity receiving federal financial assistance. An indictment alleges that his acts included the attempted use of a dangerous weapon, specifically a firearm, and an attempt to kill.

A second count of the indictment charges Lang with using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence.

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in May alleges that Lang told police he traveled from Marshfield to Madison to kill individuals performing abortions. While practicing with his handgun, he fired a bullet through the door of his hotel room into the room across the hall.

Lang has been in custody since his arrest pending a competency evaluation and hearing in federal court.

If convicted, Lang faces a maximum penalty of life in prison on the first count in the indictment and a mandatory 10 years in prison on the second count.

Not enough is done to practically ensure the safety of and clinic accessibility for women seeking an abortion. Women and their doctors remain under siege, whether its the seemingly unmitigated access afforded anti-choice activists that enables them to accost women as they enter a clinic, the refusal of law enforcement to take radical protesters seriously, to say nothing of the bomb threats, clinic shootings and murders.

We have the FACE act, which is being applied by the Obama administration at over triple the rate of the Bush administration, but it has limitations and can only be filed after an illegal act has taken place.  In Colorado a judge ruled a man blocking the driveway of a clinic was okay, apparently not seeing that it made it “unreasonably difficult” for patients and employees to get to the clinic. In Florida, it was determined that the behavior of a woman engaged in strenuous “sidewalk counseling” of other women entering a reproductive health care center was “not intimidating.”  Also in Florida, a man burned down the American Family Planning clinic in Pensacola.

And those are just a few examples of what patients and clinicians can face on a daily basis at reproductive health clinics around the country.  So why is it when Scott Roeder brutally murdered Dr. George Tiller in his church the public was left scratching its collective head as to how such a thing could happen?

Although Operation Rescue immediately distanced itself from Roeder, the trail he left repeatedly connected Roeder to the radical anti-abortion group.  Another organization similar in mission to Operation Rescue is Vigil for Life (VFL).  VFL is a religious organization based in Wisconsin that sets up daily “vigils” in front of Planned Parenthood to harass and “sidewalk counsel” women who enter.   VFL is also an affiliate of Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the group behind “personhood” efforts in the state and participant in the annual “40 Days for Life” campaign set to begin next week.

It is at one of these vigils coordinated by VFL where Ralph Lang was arrested in 2007. He frequented Vigil for Life protests and was familiar to Planned Parenthood employees.  Upon his arrest he told officers of a God-given mandate to execute abortion providers. Just a few years later in 2011 Lang gained national attention having shot a hole through his hotel room door in Madison Wisconsin.  This was a lucky break for workers at the Planned Parenthood as Lang hoped to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies” at the clinic the following day. 

In 2008 Ralph Lang gave testimony at a Wisconsin Senate committee hearing on overturning an archaic Wisconsin abortion law.  Lang appeared disheveled with his grey hair sticking up in tufts about his head.  He sat in front of a panel of Wisconsin lawmakers and spoke with the certainty of a religious zealot that the Bible calls for the murder of abortion providers, judges and the imprisonment of nurses who aid in providing abortion services.  (In a stroke of gender neutrality, Lang also calls for the killing of the men who get women in trouble.)

This is a clip from the very end of his testimony.  You will hear Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach off camera requesting that Lang wrap it up.  Here is Lang’s summation:

[Full hearing video available here at bottom of the page, Lang is the very last speaker.]

In Lang’s motel room, Madison police officers found a U.S. map with dots in each state.  Lang had hand-written atop the map “some abortion centers,” according to the official complaint, possibly telegraphing his next targets.  Also written on the map were the words “Blessed Virgin Mary says Hell awaits any woman having an abortion. Nurse or doctor who helps will one (sic).” (Reuters)  This religious refrain is heard over and over during his public testimony. 

I couldn’t find a public statement from Vigil for Life on their relationship with Lang, nor did they return my request for comment.

Last year VFL founders, Laura and Steve Karlen, issued an APB via email blast to locate the pregnant woman they had “counseled” outside a Madison Planned Parenthood.

Excerpted from Karlen email:

“Have you seen the pregnant mom? The young pregnant woman, probably in her 20s, had a darker complexion with dyed red hair and tattoos on her neck and right shoulder. She also had some facial piercings. The woman looked obviously pregnant. We pray that she will never decide to come back to Planned Parenthood. Please let us know immediately if you have seen a woman with this description.”

Lisa Subek of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin shared VFL’s email with Madison Police Chief, Nobel Wray.  Subek told me via email, “According to [Wray], it is legal to send such an email but could be considered harassment if the individual who is the subject of the email told the so-called “sidewalk counselors” she didn’t want further contact from them. She could have filed a complaint regarding the email.”

Subek said Wray did understand concerns about emails like these, but continued:

“I’m not surprised by this answer, but it certainly makes me think about our legal definition of harassment and how we do not do enough to prevent it or to protect victims.”

VFL is building out a storefront CPC right across the street from Planned Parenthood.  It is reasonable to believe we will see more of these APBs as Vigil for Life expresses its “First Amendment rights” all over an unsuspecting woman.

Why don’t we look at ‘pro-life’ groups with the same wrenching disgust as we do with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church?  Why do we allow groups like Operation Rescue and Vigil for Life to have dangerously unfettered access to women seeking reproductive health care?  But the more important question, one that must be answered with a sense of urgency, is why don’t we do more to pass pro-active legislation seeking to protect women and doctors both locally and nationally before an actual crime is committed.

Next week, another “40 Days for Life” kicks off in over 200 locations around the US and we can bet there will be extremists akin to Roeder and Lang among them.