Protection for clinics

August 09, 1994

After three murders, perhaps the nation is beginning to understand the dangers posed by the militant wing of the anti-abortion movement. The presence of U.S. marshals outside clinics threatened by violence and the FBI's decision to explore the need for a full-fledged investigation of criminal conspiracies to commit violence are reassuring steps for anyone who provides or seeks medical services at these clinics. Yet many of those same people are justified in asking why it took so long.

The litany of violence is lengthy. Because no one was killed until Dr. David Gunn was murdered in March 1993, the vast destruction of property and the psychological terror inflicted by militant activists largely went unnoticed by the public. But it took a heavy toll. For instance, one favored weapon of abortion terrorists has been butyric acid, which causes nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, breathing difficulties and inflames the eyes and skin. The stench of the acid effectively destroys carpets and furniture.

Since January 1992, dozens of acid attacks have been reported in at least 15 states. Several days before Dr. Gunn's murder last year, five different clinics in San Diego were sprayed with butyric acid, sending four people to the hospital. These incidents get less publicity than outright murders, but along with arson, bombings, stalking of clinic workers and other tactics, they clearly cross the line of peaceful protest.

Many people in the Justice Department and the FBI have been around long enough to see political tides change dramatically, making them wary of law enforcement efforts that could be NTC exposed in later years as politically incorrect. Wiretaps and other covert operations directed at 1960s civil rights and anti-war activists are a case in point.

The abortion controversy has been moving toward a political settlement -- not a consensus perhaps, but at least an understanding. That, along with new federal legislation to protect access to clinics, should be ample answer to FBI worries that its tactics in dealing with anti-abortion protests will be second-guessed down the road. Yet three murders and more than 1,000 violent acts against abortion facilities in the past decade underscore the folly of disregarding the notion among a few fanatical anti-abortion activists that the murder of clinic doctors is "justifiable homicide."

Let us hope the new federal actions will be accompanied by a stronger resolve on the part of peaceful abortion opponents to stress the contradiction between this record of violence and a cause supposedly devoted to life.

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