Pro-Life Leaders Condemn Clinic Violence, Reserve Judgment About Perpetrators

ABORTION-RIGHTS SUPPORTERS rushed to condemn the Jan.16 bombings outside an Atlanta abortion facility, and three days later, near a facility in Tulsa, Okla., as the handiwork of anti-abortion zealots.Pro-life leaders joined them in condemning the acts, but some warned against jumping to conclusions about the perpetrators and their motives until more facts are known.

Two explosions, separated by about an hour, rocked a five-floor office building that houses the Atlanta Northside Family Planning Services.The second bomb, placed inside a trash container outside the building, appeared to be placed and timed to injure law enforcement officers investigating the first blast.Two cars parked near the container, however, bore the brunt of the second explosion, and only six people were slightly injured.

Joe Scheidler, the executive director of Pro-Life Action League in Chicago, said he doubted an anti-abortion zealot would have planted the Atlanta bombs.He said he's visited anti-abortion fanatics in jail who have bombed abortion facilities, and “none of them wanted to hurt anyone,” unlike the Atlanta bomber.They bombed unoccupied clinics to shut them down and took precautions so that no one would be injured.

But there was little doubt about the aim of two bombs that exploded Jan.19 in Tulsa, Okla.The facility was closed that day and no one was injured.The Tulsa bombing seemed more reminiscent of past anti-abortion bombing incidents.

In the hours following the Atlanta bombing, pro-life and proabortion leaders both condemned the incidents.Perhaps stung by criticism that they had been slow to condemn previous acts of terrorism that targeted abortion facilities, some of the leading pro-life groups issued press releases Jan.16 deploring the bombings. Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Georgia Right to Life, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and National Right to Life all issued statements. “Violence is not an answer to violence,” said Gary Bauer, the president of Family Research Council in Washington.

Atlanta Archbishop John Donoghue said: “We deplore and condemn the cowardly and pointless act of violence …regardless of who bears the responsibility.”

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, chairman of the U.S.bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, added that “such violence is the opposite of everything we stand for and everything we hope for our culture today: respect for life of each and every human being from its beginning to its natural end.We pray for those who were injured.”

As the Register went to press, investigators said they knew of no links between the Atlanta and Tulsa bombings.

Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, said the explosions showed “that abortion violence is a problem that is continuing at unacceptable levels.” She spoke at an already-scheduled press conference on the same subject in Washington with Feminist Majority Foundation and Planned Parenthood on the morning of Jan.16.

Buoyed by public approval ratings of more than 60 percent, President Clinton said: “Make no mistake: anyone who brings violence against a woman trying to exercise her constitutional rights is committing an act of terror.”

But with questions unanswered and details unknown in the wake of the bombings, some pro-lifers such as Scheidler stressed the importance of careful fact-gathering before conclusions are drawn.In a press release sent out following the Atlanta bombings, he wrote: “In several incidents of fires or explosions in abortion mills, evidence has indicated a competitor or a disgruntled husband or father whose child or grandchild has been aborted in the clinic,” said Scheidler, who cited four different incidents since 1985 to underscore his point.

“In some incidences, law enforcement authorities have suspected an inside job,” wrote Scheidler, who referred to a study that showed “that between 80 and 85 percent of clinic bombings have been related to someone inside the abortion facility with motives of collecting insurance money, gaining public sympathy and injuring the image of pro-life activists.”

Scheidler also cited recent missteps by law enforcement authorities and related media coverage. He pointed out that “media and city authorities quickly assigned the blame” of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to terrorists from the Middle East within hours of the deadly blast, a theory that was later dismissed.

Also, in the seven months since President Clinton ordered federal oversight of investigations into 70 suspicious fires at predominantly black churches in the South since 1995, officials have found that racism was just one of many motives of the 54 people arrested.Initial media reports on the fires focused almost exclusively on racial hatred as the motivation for the crimes.

Scheidler told the Register that “any bombing or burning” of an abortion clinic is “an insane act,” and that his organization has succeeded in closing down abortion clinics through filing legal suits and talking doctors out of performing abortions and women from terminating their pregnancies.He credited approaches like his with making abortions harder to obtain and helping to reduce abortions to less than 1.3 million in 1994, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Scheidler said he visited an abortion clinic in Maryland that had been bombed several years ago, and he was upset at seeing the “shards of metal that were shot all over the area.It could have hurt anyone.” Nonetheless, he said he refuses to “categorically condemn any method of closing a clinic until [abortion-rights advocates] condemn what goes on inside.” Cardinal Law and other pro-life leaders have unequivocally decried all violence in the fight to end abortion.

Scheidler's quasi-militant stance has earned him the wrath of pro-choice groups in Chicago and beyond.He faces a racketeering charge in federal court brought by abortion-rights advocates in Chicago. The plaintiffs claim he's part of a national conspiracy to commit violent acts against abortion facilities.

Meanwhile, a pro-life doctor from the Atlanta area worried that the blasts would scare away pro-lifers from the annual March for Life in the city. Dr. Kathleen Raviele, a gynecologist in Tucker, Ga., said the eighth annual Mass for the Unborn, scheduled for Jan.22, is usually a standing room only event at the local Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with Archbishop Donoghue celebrating.

The silent march to the nearby state capitol and through downtown Atlanta that follow attracts families with small children, with several Catholic schools also participating, she said.The bombing, which took place a week before the march, “makes some pro-life people afraid to march,” mostly because of potential violence, said Dr. Raviele.

While authorities in Atlanta searched for clues about the perpetrators of the bombings, the FBI announced it was taking over the investigation into arson attacks on the abortion facility in Tulsa, Okla.The same facility was the target of two Molotov cocktails on New Year's Eve. No injuries and only minor damage were reported after that incident.

William Murray is based in Kensington, Md.