Freedom Writer - March 1996
Clinic violence:the python of choice
By Anne Bower
Like a python surrounding its prey, violence at the
nation's reproductive health clinics is choking the
life out of legal abortion. It's been that way for
years, and it will continue into the twenty-first century.
Since 1993, when Dr. Gunn was shot in the back outside
a clinic in Pensacola, Florida, there have been five
murders (assassinations, really) and twelve attempted
murders at clinics which provide reproductive health
care ranging from abortions to pap smears.
While murder is a new tactic of the religious extremists
attempting to impose their religious principles on
the public, their mayhem goes way back.
The National Abortion Federation (NAF), an organization
of doctors committed to education and improving abortion
health care, has been keeping statistics on clinic
violence for the past two decades. As early as 1977,
just four years after the Roe v. Wade decision legalized
abortion in all 50 states, there were signs of trouble.
From 1977 to 1983 NAF recorded 149 incidents including
bombing, arson, invasions, vandalism, and death threats.
There was even a kidnapping. Dr. Zevalos and his wife
were taken prisoner by a group calling itself the Army
of God. After holding the couple for a week, they were
released after the doctor agreed to cease providing
abortion services. Don Benny Anderson, a soldier in
that "army", was convicted and sentenced to 30 years
A few months after this trial, Justice Harry Blackmun,
author of the Roe v. Wade decision, was sent a threatening
letter, supposedly from the Army of God. In March 1985,
a shot went through the Justice's window while he and
his wife were watching television. No one was ever
When people think of clinic violence, they often remember
Operation Rescue (OR) and its blockades which swam
into public consciousness during the 1988 Democratic
convention in Atlanta. Lead by Randall Terry, founder
of Operation Rescue, fanatics laid siege to clinics
across the city and the nation. NAF statistics report
182 blockades in that year with 11,732 arrests, including
Terry who spent time in a Georgia work camp for his
The height of OR's power came in the summer of 1991
with the siege of Wichita, which lasted six weeks
and resulted in almost 3,000 arrests. Dr. George Tiller,
who operates one of the few late-term abortion facilities
in the country, was the prime target of its attacks.
(This distinction almost cost Tiller his life in 1993.)
However, by 1991, Randall Terry had relinquished control
of OR to the Rev. Keith Tucci and over the next few
years, the number of blockades and arrests diminished.
Perhaps passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic
Entrances Act (FACE), a law making it a federal crime
to block clinics and threaten staff had some impact
on OR's activities. With penalties of up to a year
in jail and $10,000 fines, the era of blockades has
subsided, but the violence is far from over.
When Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE)
was passed in 1994, the anti-choice community engaged
in much wailing and gnashing of teeth claiming now
that "peaceful" protests (i.e., preventing women from
accessing health care) were outlawed, all that was
left was fanaticism. National Abortion Federation statistics
show that there never was a diminution of violence
during the blockades, just an increase in harassment
and disruption of service.
Of course, 1994 did have one outstanding characteristic
— four murders. In July, the Rev. Paul Hill, a former
Presbyterian minister and supporter of convicted murderer
Michael Griffin, walked up to a car carrying Dr. Britton
and his escorts, Col. Barrett and his wife June, and
pumped fourteen shots into their vehicle, blowing the
two men apart and wounding Mrs. Barrett. Rev. Hill
was immediately apprehended, eventually tried, and
sentenced to death in Florida's electric chair.
This minister of death was the author of a petition
claiming that the murder of Dr. Gunn was "justifiable"
because the Bible teaches that it is permissible to
take the life of one who threatens that of another,
i.e., a doctor about to perform an abortion. Six months
before these murders, Rev. Hill lovingly wrote of Phineas,
who speared two fornicators in a tent. One can imagine
the righteous images going through his twisted mind
as he pumped shell after shell into the bodies of the
two unarmed men.
Then, at year's end, John Salvi III went on a killing
spree in Massachusetts, which resulted in the death
of clinic workers Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols,
plus the wounding of five others.
Were these murders the result of FACE being signed
into law? Of course not! In 1993, five months after
David Gunn was murdered, Shelley Shannon, a Grants
Pass, Oregon housewife, decided that bombing and burning
clinics was just not enough "good works" for her. Shannon,
a great admirer of Michael Griffin, decided to take
her training from the Army of God (AOG) manual (copies
of which the police dug up in her backyard), to the
final test and engage in what the AOG calls "u.d.r.,"
— ultimate direct rescue. She would kill a doctor.
Her target was George Tiller.
Her attempted murder of Dr. Tiller was enough to end
her career as a terrorist, and she was sent away for
eleven years. Since then, Shannon has had 20 years
added to her sentence for all the arson and bombings
she engaged in during peaceful 1992 — before FACE.
To the steady drumbeat of the old Operation Rescue
motto, "if abortion is murder, then act like it's murder,"
anti-abortion fanatics have marched across the land
for years. The most extreme have signed up for a hitch
in the Army of God, proving their worth by attacking
clinics and murdering providers, assured of their place
in heaven as martyrs for the faith.
There will be no end to this madness in the foreseeable
future. These fanatics have painted themselves into
a corner from which there is no escape. In the name
of God and their cause, they have justified everything
— including homicide. Only vigilance by clinics, doctors,
escorts, and law enforcement will prevent further mayhem.
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