News & Politics

The Terrorist Campaign Against Abortion

by

The Stinky Weapon

Over the years, antiabortion extremists have demonstrated again and again that you do not have to resort to murder in order to terrorize clinic workers. Rosael Albaladejo learned this firsthand. As soon as she unlocked the door of the Advanced Women’s Center one morning in May, the stench of stale vomit almost overpowered her. Albaladejo, who works as a secretary at this Miami clinic, noticed a yellowish-green liquid on the floor. She assumed the spill had come from the air conditioner. So she grabbed a mop and cleaned it up.

A few hours later, Albaladejo was lying atop a stretcher en route to the emergency room. Her chest hurt and she could barely breathe. Medical workers stuffed her uniform into a sealed plastic bag. Albaladejo, who suffered no long-lasting health problems, says, “I felt like a skunk.”

The chemical on the floor of Albaladejo’s clinic was butyric acid, an ingredient in perfume and disinfectant. Butyric acid is also a favorite antiabortion weapon, and the Army of God manual describes how to use it. In mid May, 10 Florida abortion clinics were assaulted with butyric acid. Vandals squirted the acid into the facilities through holes drilled in the walls or by injecting it into the crack between the front doors. The clinics were forced to close for a day or two.

“It’s definitely intimidating,” says Alissa Porter, the administrator for A Choice for Women, one of the clinics that got hit. Five months later, Porter’s employees are still bringing in bath sprays, aromatherapy oils, and anything else they can think of to battle the rotten-eggs odor. “The smell is continuously there,” says Porter. “You’re reminded every second that there’s someone out there who can not only do this, but can do a lot more to you.”

Less than two months after the Florida attacks, five women’s health clinics in Louisiana were hit by butyric acid on the same day. Two days later, there were acid attacks at four more clinics in Houston. At one of them, the America’s Women Clinic, eight staff members and a security guard wound up at the hospital. Roneal Martin, the clinic’s president, says, “I didn’t lose any employees over it, but they weren’t thrilled.”

So far, there have been no arrests in these 19 incidents. Estimated damages range from a few hundred dollars to nearly $15,000 per clinic. “It’s a smart strategic move for people who want to keep clinics on edge and make providing abortions more costly and difficult,” says Fred Clarkson, who has investigated far-right activists for 15 years and is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. “We have the ATF and the FBI running through the woods— hundreds of them with helicopters and dogs after Eric Rudolph— and while this is going on, there are butyric acid attacks in the South. If there had been bombings and assassinations, there would’ve been a tremendous mobilization of federal resources, which would’ve put tremendous pressure on the [antiabortion] movement. A few butyric acid attacks are a news blip.”

Several weeks before this string of acid attacks started, Leach of Prayer & Action News published a story titled “AOG Rescue Platoon” on the Web. This four-part series describes the adventures of Army of God members who launch a nationwide attack on abortion providers. These fictitious terrorists begin their campaign of violence by blowing up all of the abortion clinics in Florida.

Leach denies there is a connection between “AOG Rescue Platoon” and the Florida butyric acid attacks. “There are many features in that story that are quite different from what happened,” he says.

But Skipp Porteous, national director of the Institute for First Amendment Studies, worries that stories like “AOG Rescue Platoon” trigger violence. Porteous points to The Turner Diaries, a novel popular in far-right circles that is widely considered a blueprint for antigovernment assaults. About the acid attacks and the Army of God tale, Porteous says, “The timing was right for a connection between the two. If nothing else, [Leach] and others like him are inciting unstable people to violence.”

Shoot And Run

Garson Romalis dropped a slice of bread in the toaster at 7:10 a.m. on November 8, 1994. Then the 57-year-old gynecologist settled into a chair in the kitchen of his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, and waited for his toast to pop. But he never ate it.

A bullet smashed through Romalis’s patio window and ripped a grapefruit-size hole in his left thigh. He crawled away from the window, slithering through his own blood. Then he pulled the belt out of his bathrobe and tied it around his leg, creating a tourniquet.

Romalis managed to save his own life, though he spent eight hours in surgery that day and was out of work for two years. Police believe his assailant used an AK-47 or similar high-powered rifle, firing it from the alley behind the doctor’s house. “He was definitely trying to kill me,” says Romalis. “Fortunately, he wasn’t a very good shot.”

The shooting of Romalis was the first of five sniper attacks against Canadian and American abortion doctors. These shootings have occurred over four years and all took place around early November. Only the most recent attack, of New York’s Barnett Slepian, resulted in death. Law enforcement officials announced last week that they believe all the attacks were committed by the same person or people. No one has been arrested in connection with these shootings.

Many doctors on both sides of the border are reorganizing their daily lives in an attempt to prevent their own killings. Henry Morgentaler, Canada’s best-known prochoice crusader, who operates eight abortion clinics, says, “They take vacations or arrange their homes so they aren’t sitting close to the windows where someone could shoot through.”

Over the last few years, the debate within the extreme wing of the antiabortion movement has grown explicitly terrorist. No longer are militants arguing whether it is ethical to murder doctors. Instead, the question has become: What is the best way to assassinate clinic workers?

After Paul Hill shot doctor John Bayard Britton and two clinic escorts face-to-face outside a Pensacola, Florida, clinic in 1994, he began running away. Then he slowed down to a walk. Cops quickly arrested him. Today, Hill is one of the most celebrated martyrs within radical antiabortion circles. But since he landed on death row— and murderers Michael Griffin and John Salvi were imprisoned— antiabortion extremists have begun to question the merits of getting caught.

Several weeks before the first sniper attack in Canada, C. Roy McMillan, a Mississippi-based antiabortion activist, publicly endorsed snipers in The New York Times. Speaking about Hill, McMillan said: “What I don’t understand is why he did it publicly. I think if I were to do something like that, I would do it clandestinely. Why go to jail for the rest of your life for doing something that you could do and not go to jail for?”

Romalis’s shooting added new momentum to this debate over how best to kill. Just a few days after the attack— while Romalis was fighting for his life in a Vancouver hospital— an American extremist broadcast his support for the shooting on Canadian radio. Donald Treshman, who is based in Maryland, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “That [sniper shooting] was certainly the superb tactic. It was certainly far better than anything that we’ve seen in the States because the shooting was done in such a way that the perpetrator got away.”

News of the Canadian sniper attack traveled quickly. Only four days after the Romalis attack, Shelley Shannon sat down in her prison cell and wrote a letter to Paul Hill, who earlier that year had used a shotgun for his attack on clinic workers. According to court documents, in her letter Shannon “happily told Hill about the shooting of a doctor in Canada and alluded to an earlier discussion of rifles she and Hill apparently had engaged in: ‘Now, see, rifles aren’t so bad.’ ”

One year later, Bray published an essay urging activists to brush up on their sniper skills. “I am short on shelf space,” Bray wrote in Life Advocate, an antiabortion magazine based in Oregon, “so I traded my copy of The Army of God Manual for the Army’s Sniper Training and Employment.” Encouraging readers to get a copy of this military manual, Bray insists that “the very presence of sniper-minded people serves to instill fear in those who take it upon themselves to slaughter babies.”

In a Voice interview conducted just one day before the recent Slepian shooting, Bray discussed assassination strategies. He weighed the benefits of sniper attacks versus close-range shootings, which he refers to as “public deeds.” “I suppose the sniper is able to go out and snipe again,” Bray said with a chuckle. “From the standpoint of economics, I suppose he has the potential to save more children.” Bray insists that Paul Hill’s earlier willingness to be arrested “answers those who want to charge the sniper as being a coward.” By shooting three clinic workers and not running away, Bray says, Hill “demonstrated that there’s no shame in such an act.”

Surfing For Targets?

In the wake of Slepian’s slaying, national attention focused on a 54-year-old computer programmer from Georgia named Neal Horsley. Horsley had crossed out Slepian’s name on his Web site shortly after the doctor’s death. Known as the Nuremberg Files, this section of Horsley’s site tracks close to 300 people who are considered enemies of the antiabortion movement.

This site targets doctors, clinic workers, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and even Whoopi Goldberg, who has spoken publicly about her prochoice views. The Nuremberg Files urges readers to collect photos, home addresses, lists of family members, and license plate numbers for these individuals. Then the site posts this personal data. According to Horsley, more than 100 allies have passed along information since the project began three years ago.

The Nuremberg Files’s ostensible purpose is to create dossiers on the antiabortion movement’s enemies in order to prepare for the day when, extremists believe, abortion will be declared illegal. “One of the great tragedies of the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after WW II was that complete information and documented evidence had not been collected, so many war criminals went free,” explains the site’s text. “We do not want the same thing to happen when the day comes to charge abortionists with crimes.”

Horsley’s site isn’t the only place on the Web where extremists can find abortion doctors’ home addresses. Another is Jay’s Killer Web Site, which publishes personal information about doctors at a clinic in Melbourne, Florida. Critics insist that the true intention of such sites is to create a hit list. Blanchard, who chairs the department of sociology and anthropology at the University of West Florida, says, “It’s targeting people for assassination.”

Horsley disagrees. In a Voice interview conducted several days before Slepian’s slaying, Horsley was asked how he would feel if he learned a murderer had used his site to pick a victim. “I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “The situation we’re looking at inevitably incites certain people to take the lives of those who are killing children. . . . It’s a tragedy that they’re going to be killed, but the information as to where they’re located is available in the Yellow Pages.”

Fighting Back

Now, the Nuremberg Files is part of a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. The prochoice organization is targeting Bray as well as leaders of American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), the Oregon-based extremist group that is believed to have originally created the Nuremberg Files. With its suit, Planned Parenthood is attempting to link violent antiabortion rhetoric to actual acts of violence— and to win millions of dollars in damages.

The suit focuses on threats of force allegedly made by the defendants. These include a 1995 campaign conducted by ACLA, which targeted a group of abortion doctors it dubbed “The Deadly Dozen.” This campaign featured fliers designed like the FBI’s “Most Wanted” posters. Two of the doctors whose faces appeared on the posters had already been shot.

In this lawsuit, Planned Parenthood is relying primarily on the 1994 Federal Access to Clinic Entrance Act, which Congress passed after the second murder of an abortion doctor. To prevail, Planned Parenthood’s attorneys must prove that the defendants’ activities amount to a threat of force against abortion providers. The case is expected to start trial in December.

Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit has enraged some antiabortion extremists, including Bray. “They could not find us plotting to kill anyone so they’re saying, ‘Your opinion makes people nervous. You are not allowed to write these books,’ ” Bray says. “When free speech and abortion rights conflict, they opt for abortion rights.”

To counter such a charge, Planned Parenthood’s attorneys are emphasizing the current context in which extremists are promoting their pro-murder views. They hold that it’s not free speech that has priority when seven people have already died. (The American Civil Liberties Union, in a legal brief filed on behalf of Planned Parenthood in this case, agrees.)

In its complaint, Planned Parenthood states: “The intended message of the defendants’ posters is unmistakable: If you do not stop providing access to reproductive health care, you will be injured or murdered like Dr. David Gunn, Dr. George Tiller, Dr. John B. Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols.”

Lawsuits are not the only way prochoice leaders are fighting back. They have also resorted to detective work and the lobbying of law enforcement. Now, some prochoice groups conduct their own opposition research, compile inch-thick briefing books, and zoom around the country teaching local law enforcement officials about their opponents’ strategies. The National Abortion Federation has even hired a “security director,” who advises clinics on matters like buying bullet-resistant glass.

Several hours before Slepian was shot, NAF sent a fax warning its 350 members to take precautions against possible sniper attacks. NAF has made such activities part of its mission, but resents having to devote so much energy and so many resources to keeping its doctors alive.

“Why did that [fax] have to come from NAF instead of law enforcement?” asks Dudley of the NAF. “That is emblematic of what our frustration is. If we were doing some other kind of work that did not have this political stigma around it, then we wouldn’t even have to be doing the work of law enforcement.”

Picking Up The Pieces

The hardest part of Michelle Farley’s day is the 10-step walk she takes from the street to the two-story building where she works. To the untrained eye, there seems nothing scary about this stretch of sidewalk. The sun shines brightly on a recent morning as a blue jay hops along a grassy patch near the front door.

But whenever Farley, 36, gets near the entrance to the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic, she holds her breath. She tries not to think about the gnawing feeling inside her stomach. She tries to stop the flashbacks. But she can’t. Next to this sidewalk is the spot where a bomb disguised as a potted plant exploded on January 29, 1998, at 7:30 a.m.

Farley, the clinic administrator, arrived one minute later. The bomb had ripped apart the body of the clinic’s security guard, Robert Sanderson. It had shattered every window in the front of the building, sent nails flying through two walls, dislodged all the ceiling tiles, warped the frame of the photocopier, and left a nurse, Emily Lyons, bloodied beyond recognition. Farley believes the explosive was designed to wipe out a waiting room full of patients, but that the bomber detonated it before the clinic opened because the security guard had spotted it.

“There’s not a day that goes by that when I come in, I don’t see Robert and Emily,” says Farley, as she wipes away a tear.

Reminders of that fatal morning are everywhere. The alleged bomber, Eric Rudolph, glares out from an FBI “Wanted” poster in the waiting room. Shards of glass work their way up through the soil and sparkle in the grass after each heavy rainfall. And Emily’s blood has left a permanent dark splotch on the concrete next to the front-door mat.

But there are also signs of the enormous outpouring of support that followed the blast. Behind the front desk is a scrapbook stuffed with encouraging faxes and letters, many from total strangers. A framed drawing of dancing women hangs in the hallway, the gift of another supporter. White sheets decorated with magic-marker­scribbled messages of inspiration cover two walls. On a sheet sent by prochoice activists in Chicago, one woman wrote: “Don’t let the bastards get you down!”

The bombing closed New Woman All Women Health Care clinic for only one week. Instead of submitting their resignations, clinic staffers stayed up until 4 a.m., cleaning toilets, painting walls, and picking up bits of glass. Nobody quit. But it has not been easy for these employees, especially not in the days immediately following the clinic’s reopening. “Someone would disappear and you’d just find them in a corner crying,” Farley recalls. “You knew what it was because you just got out of the opposite corner yourself.”

Today, nothing gets her angrier than antiabortion activists who hurl violent words. “I want people to realize that this is not just about Rudolph,” she says. “It’s not just about people who call themselves the Army of God. Every time someone says something inflammatory— ‘Abortion kills babies. Abortion doctors murder babies’— they contribute to another clinic bombing. Every time they say that, I want them to picture Robert lying dead and Emily in her wheelchair, unable to see.”

Farley’s hope is that antiabortion extremists will someday be defeated by the roar of public disapproval. “If people want to think horrible things about abortion, that’s their business. But I want it to become politically incorrect and socially unacceptable to say such inflammatory things.”

The New Woman All Women Health Care clinic keeps on performing abortions. But the battle never ends. Just last week, the clinic received a bomb in the mail that turned out to be fake. Meanwhile, a sign in the tinted window facing the parking lot broadcasts the clinic’s fighting spirit. It reads: THIS
CLINIC STAYS OPEN.

Special reporting: Jennifer Del Medico

Research assistance: Soo-Min Oh


One of four articles in our The Terrorist Campaign Against Abortion feature.

Most Popular