A Climate of Hostility

August 01, 1994

"The Christian principle is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. If an abortionist is about to violently take an innocent person's life, you are entirely morally justified in trying to prevent him from taking that life."

That quote is from Paul Hill, a former minister with the Presbyterian Church in America, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and, until Friday at least, director of the anti-abortion group Defensive Action. Mr. Hill was chased down and arrested last Friday after the early morning killing of a doctor and a man escorting him outside a women's health clinic in Pensacola, Fla. The wife of the slain escort, also a volunteer, was treated for a gunshot wound to the arm.

Violence is nothing new for clinics where abortions are performed. Clinics have been targeted in more than 1,000 attacks over the past decade, causing millions of dollars in damage. Staff members have been harassed, stalked and otherwise intimidated. The hostility turned deadly in March 1993, with the murder of Dr. David Gunn at another clinic in Pensacola. Since then, a doctor has been wounded in Wichita, Kans., and Congress became alarmed enough to pass federal legislation designed to provide better protection for clinics, staff and clients. Despite that law and a Supreme Court decision favorable to reasonable measures of protection, Friday's killings show that the climate fostered in some quarters of the anti-abortion movement is still deadly.

It would be wrong to blame this murderous rage on the anti-abortion movement as a whole. However, it is encouraging to note that other leaders in the movement were quick to condemn the violence. "It makes a mockery of everything we stand for," said Cardinal Roger Mahony, chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities.

"The pro-life movement has no room for violence or vigilantism. There are no qualifiers," said the Rev. Pat Mahoney, a national leader of Operation Rescue in Washington, D.C.

Those strong messages must be heard more often. At a time when the anti-abortion movement is facing setbacks in both legislative and judicial arenas, responsible leaders need to press the point that violence will only harm their cause.

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