The murder of Dr. David Gunn outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla., this week occurred while an outfit called Rescue America was conducting a protest. This hideous act -- and the hateful reaction of some leaders of the anti-abortion movement -- is a slap in the face of Americans who, in the name of freedom of speech, have defended protesters' efforts to shut down clinics.
Even if harassment, blocking access, threating physical harm, defacing informational signs, destroying property, throwing stink bombs and fire bombs, etc., did not add up to terrorism, adding murder to the list certainly does.
The Supreme Court ruled in January that old federal laws aimed at private terrorist groups such as the Klan did not apply to anti-abortion extremists. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens stated a truth that the majority of the court and many Americans have till now chosen to ignore: "Petitioners are dedicated to a cause that they profoundly believe is far more important than mere obedience to [state] laws or the police powers of cities . . . [and they] make no claim that their conduct is a legitimate form of protected expression."
The first reaction of the leader of Rescue America, Don Treshman, to the Pensacola murder was to say "quite a number of babies' lives will be saved." Randall Terry of Operation Rescue, a larger group of anti-abortionist extremists, said of the murder victim, "While we grieve for him, we also grieve for the thousands of children he has murdered." Those statements go beyond implicit approval for the murder of physicians performing abortions. They come dangerously close to advocating it. A sick mind could easily make that leap.
What can be done about Operation Rescue, Rescue America and their ilk? There is state law. Also, local law-enforcement officials can get the assistance of U.S. marshals when they deem their own resources about to be overwhelmed by protesters. But in some locales, the political strength of the anti-abortionists is such that local officials may be reluctant to request marshals, and without a new federal law, apparently, no U.S. assistance is possible without a request.
This situation can be changed, and should be. Congress should quickly write and enact legislation that outlaws terroristic anti-abortion activities (not mere expression and other lawful demonstrating), gives the president and attorney general the power to intervene when they judge it is necessary and makes abortion protesters who engage in harmful acts subject to punishing federal civil damage suits.
All pro-choice elements of the body politic oppose the sort of rhetoric and activities the anti-abortion terrorists routinely engage in, and they would embrace such a law. The time has come for others, including the responsible members of the pro-life movement, to do the same.