Anti-abortion group seeks support for Hill

September 12, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

A longtime anti-abortion activist from Bowie is leading a campaign to defend as "morally justifiable" the slayings of a doctor and his volunteer escort outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic in July.

Donna Bray says she and her supporters, known as Defenders of the Defenders of Life, are seeking moral and financial support for the accused, former Presbyterian minister Paul Hill, and his family.

Mr. Hill, 40, is charged with first-degree murder in the shotgun slayings of Dr. John B. Britton, 69, and retired Air Force Lt. Col. James H. Barrett, 74, as they arrived July 29 at the Ladies Center, one of two Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinics. Mr. Hill is charged with attempted murder in the wounding of Mr. Barrett's wife, June, 68, also a clinic escort.

"We are dedicated to defending those who have used force to defend the unborn child," Mrs. Bray said. "My motive ultimately is to try to do something to save unborn children.

"It is right to use legal force . . . to save an innocent victim from a guilty aggressor."

A petition, being circulated among "leaders" of the anti-abortion movement, declares "the justice of taking all godly action necessary, including the use of force, to defend innocent human life, born and unborn."

The petition further declares that "if in fact Paul Hill did kill and wound . . . his actions are morally justified if they were necessary for the purpose of defending innocent human life."

The petition also calls for the acquittal of Mr. Hill on federal charges of violating clinic protection and firearms laws. That trial is scheduled for Oct. 3.

A Jan. 30 trial date has been set for the murder charges.

Mr. Hill had been a national spokesman for a movement sharing the views Mrs. Bray expresses -- defining the killing of abortion providers as "justifiable homicide" to prevent deaths of unborn children.

Mrs. Bray says she has "hundreds" of supporters "from all over the country," but she declined to be more specific.

She also would not say how many people have signed the petition or how much money has been raised for Mr. Hill's wife and three children since Aug. 1.

"That's a private matter for the Hill family," she said.

The response to mailings sent in the name of Defenders of the Defenders of Life "has been overwhelming . . . and the numbers grow daily," she said.

Mrs. Bray is the sister-in-law of Michael Bray, who served four years in federal prison for conspiracy in the bombings of 10 health clinics that provided abortions in Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C., in 1984 and 1985.

Mrs. Bray said the Reform Lutheran Church of Bowie, where Mr. Bray is co-pastor, supports the Defenders but does not give the group any money. Mr. Bray has also signed the Defenders' petition.

People on both sides of the abortion issue question the group's position.

"I'm sure virtually everyone finds it abhorrent that anyone can justify the murders," said James Guest, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, which operates abortion clinics Baltimore and Annapolis. "It's horrifying to think there are people out there who think this way.

"It's not pro-abortion or anti-abortion. I think people from both camps find it repugnant that these murders are 'justifiable homicide.' "

Abortion opponent Richard J. Dowling, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference, said, "It is most unfortunate that any God-fearing, God-abiding person equates the murders of another human being with a godly act.

"To do so does a disservice to the legitimate pro-life movement and its purposes, among which is the exalting of all life."

Mrs. Bray said those who oppose abortion and decry the deaths of abortionists are "running away from logic."

If anti-abortionists believe that the unborn child has equal status with other human beings, she said, and they are not pacifists, then they must also believe that there are circumstances when self-defense and defense of the innocent are justifiable under law.

It is on these grounds that Mrs. Bray said she and her supporters condone the deaths of people who perform abortions.

"I think that it is inevitable the pro-life forces will be forced to embrace this," she said.

Mrs. Bray and her supporters do not encourage abortion foes to use force against those who support abortion rights.

But, she said, "it is justifiable, and we will not condemn it."

Mrs. Bray said she and her husband, Daniel, have been involved in abortion protests since the early 1980s.

"I spent a couple of days in jail for what we used to call sit-ins," she said.

As founder of the Defenders, Mrs. Bray works out of her home, spending her own money on supplies and postage for the current mailings in support of Mr. Hill.

She said the Hills "are friends" whom she met while working in defense of another abortion foe, Michael Griffin. He was convicted of murder earlier this year and sentenced to life in prison for the 1993 slaying of Dr. David Gunn.

Dr. Gunn, 47, performed abortions at clinics in three Southern states. He was shot to death as he approached the back entrance of a Pensacola clinic while anti-abortionists rallied in front of the building.

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