Analysis Politics

Alabama Attorney General Hopeful Wants to Make ‘Hell on Earth’ for Abortion Providers

Ally Boguhn

Samuel McLure argued that should anti-choice activists control the state government, they could effectively end legal abortion in the state no matter what courts decided on the issue. He added that a state militia could be used to defend the policy.

An adoption lawyer running for the Republican nomination for attorney general in Alabama is targeting abortion providers on social media and has staked out a platform around prosecuting them for murder.

Since announcing his run for office in July, Samuel McLure has centered his desire to “prosecute abortionists” as a key tenet of his campaign, even listing it as the top issue on his campaign’s website. Founder of the Adoption Law Firm, McLure first became an activist in the anti-choice movement “when a friend introduced him to sidewalk counseling” outside of an abortion clinic in Montgomery. He has since founded and participated in several anti-choice initiatives, according to a press release from his campaign.

At the start of September, McLure conducted a Facebook Live video outside of what is presumably that same clinic. In the video, McLure claims that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark abortion decision in Roe v. Wade has ensured that “you can’t protect children from murder,” repeating oft-quoted rhetoric from the anti-choice movement.

McLure is seen in the video pointing to abortion clinic escorts, who help ensure patients are able to access care at clinics amid interference from anti-choice protesters, and he suggests that “somebody is profiting” from the services being provided there. “We need an attorney general that will prosecute places like this to the fullest extent of the law,” he adds. “I want to eradicate places like this.”

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Though McLure appears to be positioning himself as someone who has long pushed his views outside of abortion clinics, pro-choice advocates who work with the Montgomery clinic he targets say he only recently appeared before their building. People Organizing for Women’s Empowerment & Rights, also known as the POWER House, a “multi use building that houses the offices of Montgomery Area Reproductive Justice Coalition and serves the patients of Reproductive Health Services, Montgomery’s only abortion clinic,” wrote in a July blog post that those who work at the organization had not “ever seen him on the sidewalk” before June.

Mia Raven, the POWER House’s founder and director, told Rewire in an interview that McLure was “brand-new” to protesting outside of Reproductive Health Services. “The only thing I’ve seen him doing is espousing violent rhetoric,” Raven said when asked about what McLure does outside of the clinic. “In my opinion, it is strictly to get his name out there because nobody knows who he is,” she said.

Though there are some people who regularly protest outside the clinic, especially on days when it is providing abortions, “McLure is no way, shape, form, or fashion a regular at the clinic, nor has he been” in the years she has been there, Raven said.

Speaking with Rewire by phone on Monday, McLure said that he began doing the “sidewalk counseling” referenced in his campaign’s aforementioned press release in 2012 and countered that while he doesn’t “know off the top of [his] head” how often he visits, he had been going there for some time.

Still, the videos outside of the Montgomery clinic are hardly the only time McLure has posted videos of himself outside clinics.

In a series of social media posts earlier this month, he targeted one doctor in particular, providing links to an anti-choice website with the doctor’s personal information—including an address to her other practice and photos presumably of the doctor’s vehicle and license plate—and asking if anyone could “publicly defend why she should not be prosecuted for murder.”

According to Raven, that doctor works with Reproductive Health Services. “This is something new. We’ve not really had our doctors doxxed here in a very long time,” she said, later adding it was a “scare tactic.”

“Not only do they want to scare the doctors, they want to scare the patients, they want to scare the staff,” she said. “But we can’t let it scare us.”

In his September 8 Facebook video, McLure defended linking to the personal information of the doctor, claiming that it was “all public information” and that the linked website contained a disclaimer denouncing violence against abortion providers. He dismissed those who criticized him for doxxing the doctor and said that he had not been “advocat[ing] for vigilante justice” against her.

“Why do we call out abortion doctors by name?” McLure asked in the video. “It’s not nice …. But you know what, it’s not nice to kill babies.”

Answering a question about the role of an attorney general during a late August interview on “The Big D Radio Show,” McLure again said that if he won he would have the power to prosecute abortion providers and specifically mentioned Gloria Gray, the director and owner of a clinic in Tuscaloosa.

“The myth of the day is that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. Is anybody still buying that?” he said in the interview.

McLure continued, “Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution did the states delegate the authority to the federal government to tie the state’s hands and say what children that need to be protected can’t. So we think that the attorney general’s office can eradicate legal abortion.”

In the September 8 video, McLure explained exactly how he would use the attorney general’s office to prosecute abortion providers if elected. He claimed that the attorney general could end legal abortion by enforcing current laws and regulations, suggesting that the office should create a task force to investigate whether providers in the state are complying.

McLure went on to say that the second way an attorney general could end legal abortion would be to “work with the legislature of Alabama to remove the abortion exception from the homicide statute.” The state’s fetal homicide law currently defines a person as “an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability” except when it comes to abortion. 

In another video posted to his Facebook page on July 25, McLure says that it is the state’s attorney general job “to make it hell on earth” for abortion providers.

McLure has brought up Gray of the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa on multiple occasions, even bringing a picture of her to a public event. Her clinic has been subject to a series of violent incidents over the years according to a recent report from HuffPost, including arson, bomb threats, and an occasion where the windows of the doctor’s office were shot out.

During an address to the Alabama Constitution Party’s summer meeting, McLure argued that should anti-choice activists control the state government, they could effectively end legal abortion in the state no matter what courts decided on the issue. He added that a state militia could be used to defend the policy.

“Alabama needs to take the second amendment seriously …. A well-regulated militia is necessary for the protection of a free state,” said McLure at the event. “Where is Alabama’s militia? If the governor or attorney general of our state defied the federal government and said ‘We’re going to protect babies from murder,’ and some federal law enforcement officer tried to drag our governor into a federal jail, who will protect our governor?”

“A true Alabamian gives up his freedom only at the cost of his life,” he later added, adapting an inscription on a Scottish monument.

When asked to clarify his comments on the militia, McLure told Rewire that he is “a proponent of the idea that the states need to exert their sovereignty [and] ignore Roe v. Wade.” He explained that if a governor for the state was held “in contempt” over anti-choice laws and placed in jail, “I think it would be in keeping with the intent of the founders of the Second Amendment that a well-regulated militia would be necessary for the protection of the free state of Alabama.”

He did not directly answer a follow-up question about what this could look like in practice.

Though he has not held political office, McLure has dabbled in politics in order to push for so-called personhood legislation in the state. He claims credit for spearheading the anti-choice “Proposition 16” efforts, which asserts the federal government doesn’t have legal authority to legalize abortion and urges Republican Gov. Kay Ivey to issue an executive order to redefine a person as “a human being, including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability.” By legally defining life as beginning at the moment of conception, such an effort would effectively ban abortion and several forms of birth control.

Proposition 16 has been endorsed by radical anti-choice group Operation Save America’s (OSA) director, Rusty Thomas, according to the effort’s Facebook page. The group spent a week in 2015 protesting outside of clinics in Alabama and made headlines in August for protesting outside of Kentucky’s last abortion clinic in hopes of shutting it down.

McLure is also listed as the counsel of record for a 2012 petition for writ of certiorari filed with now-U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore in support of “personhood” efforts in Oklahoma. A 2013 press release from anti-choice group Personhood USA identified McLure as the president of Alabama’s chapter of the organization. In the release, McLure noted that “one of [the] first objectives” of the then-newly launched affiliate would be pushing a “personhood” amendment in the state.

Abortion access is already limited in Alabama, where as of 2014 just nine facilities and five clinics serve those in need of care. About 93 percent of counties in the state have no abortion services, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and the state has several restrictions, including mandatory state-directed counseling, a 48-hour waiting period, forced ultrasounds, and a 20-week ban.

Though much of McLure’s rhetoric may seem extreme, in truth, the prosecution of abortion providers should the procedure become illegal is a topic often referenced by anti-choice advocates. When Donald Trump notoriously suggested on the campaign trail that women should be punished if abortion become illegal, many abortion opponents claimed that they would like to see doctors, not women, punished (though women in the country are already being punished for having abortions).

And in Alabama, efforts are already under way to add a “personhood” amendment to the state’s constitution. Its Republican-controlled legislature passed a measure in March of this year to amend the Alabama Constitution to “recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, most importantly the right to life.”

Voters will take to the polls to decide whether the state will officially adopt the amendment in November 2018 through a ballot measure. Should it pass, Alabama would become one of four states in the United States with a so-called trigger law that would automatically criminalize abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned by the Supreme Court.

The new ballot measures follows efforts by what Rewire senior legal analyst Imani Gandy called the state’s “activist judiciary” to expand fetal rights.

McLure will face incumbent Attorney General Steve Marshall, former U.S. Attorney Alice Martin, and Chess Bedsole in the 2018 Republican primary. His campaign had just under $1,600 on hand as of September 1.

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