Killings Spur Move to Stem Abortion Clinic Violence
THE attack on two abortion clinics in this Boston suburb has heightened the urgency of stemming violence at facilities where such procedures are performed.
Coming after previous shootings in Florida and Kansas, the incident here has shifted the debate - at least temporarily - from the moral and legal correctness of abortion to how protests are carried out.
Even some abortion foes are now talking of the need to calm the rhetoric and use less inflammatory protest tactics.
Whether such changes will come about is problematic. The abortion fight has never been one between two monolithic groups. Each side encompasses a multitude of beliefs, and some extremists still tout violence as a legitimate way to make their point.
Thus, even as the national introspection over how to stem such violence goes on, security is being increased at clinics here and across the country. One other likely outcome of the incident: Federal laws aimed at offering some protection for women seeking abortions - which some Republicans had hoped to roll back - may now remain in place.
For the most part, the man arrested in the killing of two clinic receptionists and wounding of five other employees on Friday - John Salvi - has received no hero's welcome from the anti-abortion movement.
``We are as saddened by these deaths as those of babies within the clinics,'' says Michele Arocha Allen of the Washington-based National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group. ``Unfortunately, a few deranged individuals have ruined the name of those organized to fight to protect human life.''
But for mourners at the Planned Parenthood clinic and Pre-term Health Services, who left carnations and candles at the clinics, the attacks came as no surprise. ``The violent rhetoric of the radical religious right inevitably leads to this kind of violence,'' said the Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, head of the Washington-based Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, on a visit to the Planned Parenthood clinic.
No anti-abortion group has claimed Mr. Salvi as a member, and most disavow his actions. But outside the Norfolk, Va., jail where the Hampton, N.H., hairdresser is being held for allegedly shooting up the windows in a Norfolk clinic on Saturday, protestors shouted their support.
``Thank you for what you did,'' one protestor shouted into a megaphone at a Sunday vigil. ``Why is the life of a receptionist worth more than the lives of 50 innocent human babies?''
Police and federal law-enforcement agents linked Salvi to the Brookline murders when they found handgun and rifle receipts in a duffle bag dropped by the gunman at the scene of the second Brookline attack. He is expected to be returned to Massachusetts later this week.
The question now is how to protect clinics against lone-gunman attacks. US Attorney General Janet Reno told reporters on Friday that federal marshals would be made available when needed, but she voiced doubt that she had the manpower to protect all abortion clinics in the US.
Security at Planned Parenthood, Pre-term, and three other clinics in the Boston area is tight, with state police now augmenting private security guards. Gov. William Weld (R) has pledged that women seeking abortions will be free from harassment, as provided by the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act enacted earlier this year.
With Republicans taking charge of the 104th Congress, anti-abortion activists had hoped to roll back FACE, allowing them to picket, blockade, and offer counseling to women entering abortion clinics. But the Brookline attacks may have put such plans on hold.
Rolling back FACE will be tough, says Rep. Robert Dornan (R) of California, ``thanks to zealots on the edge of the pro-life movement who murder in the name of life. We are supposed to convert people to a respect for life and you don't convert people by murdering them.''
And one of Boston's most ardent opponents of abortion, Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law, said the time had come for the anti-abortion movement to halt clinic protests.
``To those in the pro-life movement who express their commitment through prayerful presence at abortion clinics,'' he said, ``I would ask that you refrain from such manifestations.'' Canceling a New Year's Eve anti-abortion vigil, he said: ``I don't think any of us should do anything that would inflame passions.''
While Cardinal Law's call was met with derision by some activists, Philip Lawler, a state spokesman for Operation Rescue conceded to reporters that ``controversial approaches have very likely reached the point where they're not effective.'' He said that while some activists will continue to demonstrate, such protests would be eventually be scaled back.