Written by Jessica Mason Pieklo for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.
Anti-abortion activists and the NRA teamed up to defeat Caitlin Halligan's court nomination.
There’s hardly a better snapshot of the modern-day conservative movement than the fight over the appointment of Caitlin Halligan. And it’s ugly. Anti-choicers joined with anti-gun reform advocates to defeat the nomination of Halligan just last week by threatening a filibuster.
President Obama originally nominated Halligan, general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney’s office and former solicitor general of New York, for a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Halligan was supposed to fill the seat vacated by Chief Justice John Roberts’ Supreme Court appointment to the Supreme Court. Instead, the NRA and the anti-choice lobbies joined forces to block her.
Halligan is considered by all reasonable people to be a mainstream judicial candidate who even with the dysfunction in the Senate should have been approved. Born in Ohio, Halligan graduated with honors from Princeton, and then went on to earn a J.D. from Georgetown Law School. After graduation she landed two prestigious judicial clerkships. First for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Judge Patricia Wald and then for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Bryer. She enjoyed broad support among members of both parties and in the legal community. Still, her nomination failed.
President Obama first nominated Halligan on September 29, 2010, but the Senate refused to take up her nomination that year. Halligan was then re-nominated in January of 2011. The following month the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination and voted 10 to 8 to let the nomination advance. In December of the same year, shortly before the end of the Congressional session, Senate Republicans filibustered the nomination.
The fight was not over yet. Halligan was renominated in June of 2012 but two more attempts to gain cloture on her nomination failed, this despite the fact that a majority of Senators supported the nomination. Senate Republicans successfully blocked Halligan’s nomination again, and again President Obama renominated her. In the beginning of March, 2013 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid again filed a motion to invoke cloture and again Republicans blocked the nomination. On March 22, 2013 Halligan requested President Obama withdraw her nomination to the court.
Written by Eleanor J. Bader for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.
It’s a tried-and-true tactic: Any time anti-abortion activists are told that they can’t disrupt worship services, harass people entering or leaving reproductive healthcare facilities, or stand in front of schools with graphic placards and signs, they scream that their First Amendment rights have been violated. This claim has oft-times proved winning, simultaneously filling the anti’s coffers and boosting their morale.
Take the city of Wichita, Kansas as an example. Yes, the very same city in which Dr. George Tiller worked–and where he was assassinated–awarded Operation Save America’s Rev. Mark Holick $11,700 in 2009 after conceding that his right to free speech had been thwarted when he was arrested at a Gay Pride parade and festival two years earlier. To hear Holick tell it, he was simply trying to “communicate the gospel” to festival-goers, not badger them by predicting that they’d burn in hell for the sin of sodomy.
Now, Holick, OSA head Flip Benham, and longtime co-conspirators Chet Gallagher and Rusty Thomas are at it again, this time in Jackson, Wyoming. The foursome filed a petition in Wyoming Supreme Court in November, alleging that their rights had been infringed upon by a restraining order meant to keep them and their signs at least two blocks away from last May’s 44th annual Elkfest, an antler auction and community party organized by local Boy Scouts to raise money for habitat enrichment and winter feeding programs for the area’s large elk population.
The OSA posse landed in Jackson several days before Elkfest and shortly after declaring that they intend to make the “Equality State”—so named because it was the first in the U.S. to grant women the right to vote—wholly “abortion free.” Their primary target is Dr. Brent Blue of Emerg-A-Care, a physician who has worked in Jackson since 1984.
“We’re a family practice that does terminations,” Blue begins. “Although less than one percent of our patients come in for them, I believe that as a family physician, abortion should be part of our practice, along with flu shots, STD screenings, dispensing birth control, and general examinations.”
Blue says that he got on the anti-abortion group’s radar a little more than a year ago when he ran for County Coroner. “I’m a Democrat,” he continues. “The guy I was up against ran as a Right-to-Life candidate. That’s when the antis began to target me and when they first started claiming that that they were going to make Wyoming abortion-free.” Read the rest of this entry →
Written by Andy Kopsa for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.
“Have you seen the pregnant mom? The young pregnant woman, probably in her 20′s, had a darker complexion with dyed red hair and tattoos on her neck and right shoulder. She also had some facial piercings. The woman looked obviously pregnant….please let us know immediately if you have seen a woman with this description.”
After reading this plea you may grow worried – what could have happened to this woman? Certainly this must be a call for help from the pregnant woman’s family, desperate to locate her. You can’t be blamed for thinking that – but you would be dead wrong.
This is an All Points Bulletin – an APB! – issued by radical Wisconsin anti-choice group Vigil for Life to track down a pregnant woman seeking services at Planned Parenthood. Yes, you read that correctly.
The young woman came to Madison but by the time she arrived Planned Parenthood was closed. Unfortunately, Vigil for Life is setting up a crisis pregnancy center right across the street from the Planned Parenthood Clinic and was there to feed this young woman anti-choice propaganda. However, the young woman slipped away before the Vigil For Life volunteers got her name.
If you are unfamiliar with Vigil for Life, these are the hardcore protesters outside Planned Parenthood clinics with their “sidewalk counselors” accosting women as they enter. Remember Ralph Lang, the man arrested in Madison who was planning an attack on Planned Parenthood to, “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies?” Mr. Lang is associated with Vigil for Life and has attended several of its “vigils.” Read the rest of this entry →
Perhaps it’s rude or callous of me to admit that part of the reason I haven’t un-friended the American Life League is because I find their posts somewhat funny. Or quaint? Even comforting? I can’t put my finger on it–all I know is that I used to be a pro-life Republican, myself, and there’s something about the ALL Facebook page that’s a little bit like going back and reading your diary from junior high, even the pages with the awful angsty poetry.
But mainly the reason I can’t un-friend the American Life League is because I don’t want to miss another opportunity to comment on their periodic What Would You Do?-style posts that ask followers what they might do, personally, if horrific things happened to them–horrific things like a doctor who performs abortions living in their neighborhood, or Planned Parenthood having a booth at the county fair. Truly, nightmares abound:
Next in this series will be "Keeping the Peace. A Law Enforcement Perspective on the FACE Act."
Thomas Burke isn’t a household name. And with any luck he never will be.
Burke, 48, is a fixture at a number of Kansas City, Kan., area reproductive health centers. He has assaulted clinic staff, damaged property and been repeatedly arrested for anti-abortion protests that have spanned nearly 30 years.
The escalation of Burke’s protest activities has culminated in eight trespassing charges, six stints in local detention, a permanent federal injunction, two felony indictments for violating the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and years involuntarily remanded to mental health facilities. Yet, nothing has deterred him and he continues to harass patients to this day.
For clinic staff and local law enforcement, it’s also a trajectory of eerie similarities.
Breeding ground of anti-abortion violence
Kansas has long been a hotbed of anti-choice protests stoked by a hard-right political climate and conservative religious views. But the prairie state has taken on something of a mythic quality among the most radical elements of the movement.
It was the seat of mass protests organized by Operation Rescue in Wichita where thousands were arrested in the summer of 1991 for blockading clinics. The city also served as a backdrop for the early activity of the Lambs of Christ and the Army of God, extremist groups law enforcement experts describe as anti-abortion domestic terrorists.
The state’s ill-gotten reputation was further cemented when Army of God member Shelley Shannon was convicted of attempted murder in a 1993 shooting assault of Dr. George Tiller. Her 11-year Kansas prison term was followed by a 30-count federal indictment for a clinic arson and acid attack spree in the Pacific Northwest. She was sentenced to a consecutive 20 year term in federal prison.
Kansas resident Scott Roeder would later kill Tiller in an execution-style shooting at a Wichita church May 31. During the trial, Army of God members visited Roeder in jail, served as character witnesses and pushed defense lawyers to present a convoluted Biblical defense justifying the murder as religiously sanctioned.
Operation Rescue disavowed knowledge of Roeder until local news reports of his posts on the group’s web pages that specifically targeted Tiller which were hastily removed. The organization was also forced to backtrack after its policy director Cheryl Sullenger admitted under pressure that she had talked to Roeder leading up to the shooting. Sullenger, herself, served two years in federal prison for a 1987 conspiracy plot to bomb a San Diego abortion clinic.
According to his own testimony, Roeder spent the better part of ten years stalking Tiller while repeatedly vandalizing the Kansas City abortion clinic, Aid to Women.
The very same place that Burke protests. Though, it’s important to note, local clinic staff do not report any known direct connections between him and national extremist groups.
Burke is an army of one.
Competing forces: God and antipsychotics
One of Burke’s first criminal incidents involved storming inside the Comprehensive Health for Women clinic and destroying a wall-mounted television. When three staff members intervened, he physically assaulted them. Court documents relate how Burke broke the receptionist’s jaw after hitting her in the face.
Continuing his apparent Magnavox crusade, he also reportedly demolished televisions in the reception area of Aid to Women and a county detention center, according to clinic director Jeffrey Pederson and court records.
Burke, however, says he regrets the attack on the clinic staff.
"There was one time when I was violent and I’m sorry about that," he said. As Burke tells it the 1992 incident occurred after he walked away from the state psychiatric hospital and hiked ten miles to the Overland Park clinic. It’s actually 41 miles, according to Google Maps.
But he is not deterred from what he perceives as a personal mission from Jesus to prevent women from using any form contraception, including abortion. He says his duty to obey God is more important than the risk of suffering a federal prison sentence. His biggest fear of incarceration is not being able to take the Sacraments at Holy Communion to atone for his sins.
Burke though differentiates himself from Roeder. "I don’t think that way," he said explaining that he does not agree with the Biblical defense some anti-choice extremists use to justify clinic violence.
"Nobody gets away with murder. Even Scott Roeder isn’t going to get away with it. And the people who are responsible for abortion are being punished by God just like Paul Hill was."
Hill, a Presbyterian minister and early member of the Army of God, shot and killed Pensacola, Fla., physician John Britton and clinic escort James Barrett outside the Ladies Center Clinic. Barrett’s wife, June, was wounded in the attack. Hill was convicted of a FACE Act violation and sentenced to life without parole. He was also convicted of state murder charges and received the death penalty. He was executed by lethal injection in 2003. Hill is viewed as a martyr in radical anti-abortion circles.
When laws don’t deter
"There’s a different kind of extreme person out there," said Sabrina Williams, security director for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, of the protesters, like Burke, who are simply not deterred by a mishmash of local laws that carry light penalties. Planned Parenthood began operating the Comprehensive Health clinic as one of its affiliates in 1997.
"We’ve got to have something that gets these folks attention that says ‘we’re not going to allow this.’"
Burke is relentless, as are many of the most aggressive protesters who are not following the law. Within a day or two of being released from jail for his many trespassing convictions, he immediately returns to the clinic to berate patients and hurl himself in front of the door. And the cycle continued. For years.
Burke now claims that he’s not protesting as much since he has become disabled by psychiatric medication.
Pederson confirmed that Burke’s visits to the Kansas City clinic have become increasingly infrequent though a raft of threatening letters, sometimes signed under the alias "Brother Martin Francis," document that he has not strayed from his single-minded cause. Williams said Burke continues to protest in Overland Park twice per month on Saturdays. "You can set your watch by it," she sighed.
That sense of vigilance is critical. Over the years, the Planned Parenthood in Overland Park has invested heavily in security measures to maintain clinic safety to thwart physical altercations. But Williams is circumspect about how much can really be done by clinics alone to hinder Burke’s efforts.
"If he could get into the building again he would be violent," she fears.
Williams notes that strong working relationships with local law enforcement agencies and domestic terrorism coordination agencies have helped to keep a lid on Kansas City area protests where local Army of God members Regina Dinwoodie and Jonathan O’Toole have long operated.
Overland Park Police spokesman Jim Weaver concurs.
"We respond whenever necessary and we get proactive information from the feds," said Weaver on the importance of multi-agency collaboration with law enforcement, the joint terrorism taskforce and clinic personnel to maintain public safety. Weaver also keeps in touch with protesters to help maintain a sense of neutrality for all concerned.
Yet for repeat offenders, like Burke, local police have few tools to deter them from continuing to break the law when brief jail terms and small fines are viewed as mere inconveniences and not punishment.
Next: Keeping the Peace. A law enforcement perspective on the FACE Act.
Written by Wendy Norris for RHRealityCheck.org – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.
This article is one of a series of original criminal justice journalism projects around the country produced by 2010 John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Fellows. The series on the FACE Act was coordinated with editorial input by Joe Domanick, Associate Director of the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice. RH Reality Check and Wendy Norris are deeply grateful to the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation for their generous support of this project.
Next in this series will be Anatomy of FACE: How a violent anti-abortion protester has terrorized a clinic for more than 30 years — and why he’s still there.
John Dunkle paces along a narrow alley waiting for his cue.
As clinic escorts hoist heavy blue tarps to shield patients from the phalanx of anti-abortion protesters assailing them, Dunkle springs into action.
Megaphone in hand, the spry 72-year-old stakes out the door barking lurid catcalls at women entering the Allentown Women’s Center.
By day’s end, the retired English teacher will have bolted across that alley at least a dozen times.
Until one day when the scene took a much more sinister turn.
Days after the May 31 execution-style murder of Wichita physician George Tiller by an anti-abortion extremist, Dunkle sidled up to a clinic escort and asked:
Which way would you rather die — by bullet or the slow torturous death of a knife?
So goes the abortion wars. What could be sloughed off as callous behavior in the midst of heated debate is causing renewed alarm among law enforcement experts.
Menacing behavior is on the upswing nationwide and is proving to be emblematic of a growing extremism against clinics by militants emboldened by Tiller’s death. Currently, federal authorities are currently investigating more than two dozen cases of suspected violent criminal acts or serious threats, according to law enforcement insiders.
And that trend is prompting officials to question the effectiveness of the federal law created to serve as a deterrent to clinic violence.
Playing cat and mouse
In the years following the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade affirming legal access to abortion services, organized protests grew in number and intensity.
In 1994, after decades of escalating extremism, President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act to provide both civil and criminal remedies to stem clinic violence and blockades.
The law prohibits "certain violent, threatening, obstructive and destructive conduct that is intended to injure, intimidate or interfere with persons seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services." The new rules also defined federal penalties for clinic property damage and destruction that had been the early aim of radical abortion foes primarily through bombing, arson and vandalism.
The intent of FACE was also to provide needed clarity for local law enforcement agencies on the often murky degrees of separation between constitutionally-protected free speech and public safety threat.
Even as the law was initially vigorously enforced violence-prone abortion opponents have adapted to test its limits.
Dunkle’s scrapes with the law offer a telling roadmap.
In 1994, he was arrested along with 20 members of a nomadic extremist group, the Lambs of Christ, for physically blockading a Rochester, N.Y., clinic by chaining themselves to a junked car dropped near the door. It took police and firefighters hours to extract the protesters. The protesters were charged in federal court with a miscellaneous civil rights violation, collectively fined $20,000 and ordered to stay away from the clinic.
Except, the permanent injunction, like others before FACE, did little to thwart the protesters. The Rochester clinic and others in western New York would be the scene of violent and repeated clashes with local police for years to come despite repeated injunctions, unpaid fines and brief jail stints. The mayhem unleashed by extremists also provided cover for increasing violence that resulted in the deaths of four people and wounding of five at clinics in Buffalo, Brookline, Mass., and Pensacola, Fla., in 1994.
Over the next dozen years, Dunkle continued his protests while building connections to one of the most virulent extremist groups, the Army of God, a shadowy network that advocates a paleo-conservative Biblical justification for the murder of abortion providers.
In 2007, Dunkle publicly resurfaced in northeast Pennsylvania and once again came to the attention of federal authorities. The devout Catholic posted on his blog that a Philadelphia-area physician should be shot in the head to prevent her from providing abortion services. He was charged with a FACE Act violation and slapped with a permanent injunction barring him from making death threats or otherwise intimidating clinic patients and staff.
But it seemed to have little effect.
Now, when Dunkle and his megaphone aren’t holding fort outside Lehigh Valley women’s health centers, he’s reveling in the exploits of other ideological extremists.
He operates a website that mimics one operated by the Army of God. On it he features serialized manifestos and unrepentant letters from anti-abortion protesters imprisoned for murders, bombings, arsons and attempted attacks against clinics. A point noted by a U.S. District Court judge in his 2007 injunction ordering federal authorities to periodically monitor Dunkle’s site for compliance.
Federal prosecutions don’t keep pace
The situation prior to the FACE Act and in the ensuing 16 years following its enforcement points to a grim reality for reproductive health clinics, staff and patients.
Prior to FACE, the National Abortion Federation tallied 1,641 violent incidences and 8,110 disturbances at clinics between 1977-93. The most violent acts — homicide, kidnappings, stalking, arsons, bombings, butyric acid attacks and clinic invasions — are nearly always attributed to anti-abortion extremists directly connected to or inspired by militant Christian organizations.
Since 1994, the Justice Dept. has prosecuted just 19 civil and 45 criminal cases. The prosecutions have overall been very successful — 62 convictions, one pre-trial diversion and one dismissal because the defendant was deemed incompetent to stand trial. Yet, they pale in contrast to the thousands of incidents reported.
Meanwhile, U.S. Attorneys are currently prosecuting four cases and notched another conviction Apr. 28 in New York City involving a blockade of a long-targeted clinic in Manhattan. The defendants will be sentenced June 10.
The incident and prosecution trends also reveal another truth in enforcing the FACE Act. Some types of violations, like bombings and arson, which alone carry heavy federal sentences have decreased significantly while other crimes are skyrocketing. Again, signaling an evolution in the violence-driven protesters’ tactics to thwart local law enforcement efforts while continuing their mayhem.
Bead-holders versus bomb-throwers
Anti-abortion activists may be united in their anger over Roe but they occupy two very distinct camps.
Motivated by a sense of personal morality, flocks from mainstream Christian churches and affiliated institutions invoke their constitutionally-protected free speech rights to express their opposition.
Largely peaceful, the protesters often recite rosary prayers, sing hymns or try to distribute well-intended but medically inaccurate literature outside the clinic. The more zealous of the bunch resort to shouting at patients about abortion alternatives — a tactic dubbed "sidewalk counseling" by proponents.
In broad terms, the "bead-holders" prefer to legally challenge Roe v. Wade by incrementally restricting abortion services through onerous state and federal laws.
The other end of the protest spectrum is so radicalized that even the most staid law enforcement insiders and religious figures are increasingly describing their actions as domestic terrorism.
They are bomb-throwers, literally and figuratively.
A May 1988 RAND Corporation report on domestic terrorism provides one of the earliest mentions of militant anti-abortion groups as threats to national security. The analysis notes that during the early 1980s these groups were among the most active terrorist movements in the United States. Nearly ideologically-driven "anti-abortion terrorist cells" conducted nearly 50 percent of all domestic terrorist activity in 1984 and 1985.
Groups like the Army of God, Lambs of Christ, Missionaries for the Preborn and the various Operation Rescue splinter groups created from internecine power struggles, all espouse the violent rhetoric, paleo-conservative theocracy and hyper-militancy typically used to describe armed anti-federalist militias and racist groups. And, like other terrorist groups, they are highly networked.
Proselytizing with self-published manuals on arson and bomb-making techniques, they fuel their adherents with fiery, convoluted fundamentalist Biblical interpretations.
Throughout the now 22-year-old report RAND specifically names the Army of God as domestic terrorists — the group to which Dunkle and Tiller’s murderer Scott Roeder have allied themselves. Further, the analysis found that law enforcement officials frequently dismissed evidence of an armed, organized anti-abortion network that threatens national security.
Today, that’s no longer the case.
Over the coming days, RH Reality Check will explore the FACE Act. We’ll be asking tough question about its effect as a deterrent to clinic violence and obstruction. State, local and federal law enforcement officers are talking candidly about jurisdictional issues that impede arrests and prosecutions. And we’ll assess the rise of militant anti-abortion groups and potential new solutions to ensure public safety.
NEXT: Anatomy of FACE. How a violent anti-abortion protester has terrorized a clinic for more than 30 years — and why he’s still there.
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