Murder is not a form of protest

March 08, 1994

One measure of the level of intimidation abortion protesters have achieved in some parts of the country is evident in the fact that a court order had to shield the identities of jurors in the murder trial of Michael Griffin, who was convicted over the weekend of murdering a doctor outside a Pensacola, Fla. women's clinic last year. The life sentence imposed in the case may help bring some measure of reason into a climate that has fostered an alarmingly high toll of violence.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress have passed bills to provide stronger protections for clinics that offer abortions and other reproductive health services. Stalling tactics by abortion foes have delayed the process of reconciling slight differences in the two bills, but the final legislation is likely to be ready for President Clinton's signature within a couple of weeks.

It comes none too soon. Peaceful picketing is firmly entrenched in American tradition and deserves the legal protections it enjoys. But those who brand efforts in Congress and the courts to protect clinic access as sinister attempts to limit free speech give an incomplete picture of the issue. Law-abiding abortion opponents who bear witness to their beliefs in front of clinics are not the problem; they should -- and do -- enjoy the protection of the law. But too many of their cohorts carry their protest much further, frequently crossing the bounds of legality.

From hate mail and harassing phone calls to stalking, death threats and assaults, people who work in clinics often work in a virtual state of siege. Clinics are routinely bombed or vandalized, causing millions of dollars worth of damage and denying thousands of women many forms of health care other than abortion. Few people aware of the climate of intimidation and harassment surrounding these clinics were surprised last year when murder was finally added to the list of crimes against abortion providers. Even after the murder, the more militant leaders of the anti-abortion movement continued to fan the flames. Randall Terry, the zealous leader of Operation Rescue, told his followers to let a "wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you."

The act of standing up for one's moral convictions has an honored place in American tradition, as well it should. But hatred, intolerance and murder do not.

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