WHAT is happening to us?
Doctors are murdered and maimed for practicing their profession. Clinics are burned.
Health-care workers are stalked and threatened as they try to go about their daily work.
The playroom of a doctor's child is blasted with shotgun bullets and the family of another doctor harassed outside its home by screaming adults. The list of incidents is long and sickening in its perverse variety.
For 15 years, the fringes of the anti-abortion movement have carried out a campaign of terror and violence against abortion clinics.
Since mid-January, this terrorism has become ferocious. Attacks are more systematic, with doctors targeted for especially vicious treatment, even as the constant intimidation of clinic personnel and patients continues.
It is urgent that Congress pass the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Attorney General Janet Reno has called it "essential legislation."
The act would punish those who use assassination, violence and threats to settle disagreements and protect those who wish to oppose abortion in a peaceful manner.
The act would make it a federal crime to block access to reproductive health-care facilities and to harass and use violence against women seeking reproductive health care and those providing it.
Federal courts would be given jurisdiction to order injunctive relief and damages. Women could sue if their constitutional rights were impeded.
The act includes First Amendment protections for those who peacefully demonstrate.
Shamefully, similar legislation has languished in Congress since 1992. Despite escalating violence, it was not reintroduced until February 1993, in strengthened form.
In March, Dr. David Gunn was There was silence. Dr. Gunn's murder seemed to pass from legislative memory. But outside Washington, more doctors began wearing bulletproof vests.
shot to death outside a Florida clinic by an anti-abortion protester. President Clinton condemned it, but still Congress failed to act.
In May, Attorney General Reno testified that current federal law was insufficient to counter violence at the clinics and urged that the act be "expeditiously enacted."
Then there was silence. Dr. Gunn's murder seemed to pass from legislative memory. But outside Washington, more doctors began wearing bulletproof vests, and arson and butyric acid attacks on clinics increased. Anti-abortion people rum maged through doctors' garbage cans and tracked down the license plate numbers of clinic patients. There were kidnapping and hostage-taking threats.
In a particularly vituperative speech in mid-August, the Operation Rescue leader, Randall Terry, told his followers in Fort Wayne, Ind., to let a "wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you." There was no loud outcry of condemnation from responsible anti-choice organizations like the U.S. Catholic Conference.
Congress and the nation's governors took no action. While zealots ranted, the so-called responsible kept quiet, giving this conspiracy of violence against abortion respectability.
Is it a surprise that in late August, Dr. George Tiller, who worked at a Wichita abortion clinic, was shot by a woman who had been writing fan mail to Gunn's killer?
Republicans, Democrats and pro-life and pro-choice leaders must unite today to pass this legislation.
LTC Together, they can take the first step to stop the killing. Lack of moral outrage and timidity are fostering domestic terrorism. But passing the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act is only the beginning. The lawlessness will stop only when responsible Americans insist that it does.
Right now, what is happening is that, by silence and inaction, those who know better are letting the fringe destroy the lives of innocent Americans.
Tanya Melich is the executive director of the New York State Republican Family Committee.