Bowie family condones anti-abortion violence

October 09, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer

BOWIE -- The neighborhood looks so ordinarily suburban, the house so pleasantly average. There are bikes on the front lawn and family photos on the piano.

And in the living room, Jayne and Michael Bray, with his sister-in-law Donna Bray, are talking about the sanctity of life -- and why they believe killing abortion doctors is "morally right."

"It would be a good thing for an abortionist to repent," Mr. Bray said. "But in as much as he is unrepentant and continuing in his deeds, in that context it is a good thing that one be terminated."

Supporters of abortion rights do not take this as idle chat. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America mailed letters to contributors this week warning of "terrorists" who believe the killing of abortion doctors is "justifiable homicide."

Among those named is Michael Bray, who was released from federal prison in 1989 after serving four years for a string of clinic bombings.

Last week, he and Donna Bray were in Pensacola, Fla. for the trial of Paul Hill, who faces life in prison in the killings of an abortion doctor and his escort last July.

At Mr. Bray's 1985 bombing trial, his wife testified that she was "tickled pink with the result" of the bombings.

Nine years later, at their Bowie home, Jayne Bray says their household is "normal." A political sign supporting Ellen R. Sauerbrey for governor decorates the front lawn. The children study, practice football, work at piano and play with neighbor kids.

The family lives, the Brays say, on his income as co-pastor of a 10-family independent Lutheran parish and head of a 10-student school. He used to paint houses in the summer.

They say they are not supported by anti-abortion activists. "I get that question a lot," Mr. Bray said, adding that the family "lives cheap" on what he earns.

Donna Bray said her husband, Mr. Bray's brother Dan, is "a consultant, just a consultant." She does not give details. "He is not in this game at all," she said. "He's at work bringing me home bacon."

The Brays say they have eight children. Others might count seven: Jayne Bray, 38, is pregnant with the eighth, due in January.

At home, she is serene, speaking determinedly about saving the unborn one moment, whispering the next to the twin toddlers exploring the living room.

Donna Bray, 34, the mother of five, smiles as she talks about her work to defend Paul Hill.

And Michael Bray, 42, is boyishly friendly, watching his seven children running in and out of the house. He loves discussing the philosophical foundations of his beliefs, comparing them to those of the abolitionist movement of the 19th century, quoting Thoreau.

But Allie Harper, executive administrator of Washington's Hillcrest Clinic, which was bombed at midnight as Jan. 1, 1985, began, calls Mr. Bray "a real menace.

"And, unfortunately, he's a nice-looking man. He has a nice-looking family. He's eloquent. But don't be fooled. He's a convicted felon. He's a danger. He answers to a different authority than the rest of us."

This Hillcrest bombing, which caused $200,000 in damage and blew hundreds of windows out of a nearby apartment building, was among the 10 for which Mr. Bray served a prison term.

"This is a guy who not only advocates terrorism but practices it," said Fred Clarkson of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Public Policy Institute. "This is a man who advocates the death penalty on the basis of his own judgment for people with whom he disagrees. This is a vigilante."

Mainstream anti-abortion groups, such as Right to Life, strongly condemn violence. Even more aggressive groups, such as Operation Rescue, ask participants in their demonstrations to sign statements rejecting violence during the protest. The groups worry that violence might undermine their work.

The Brays disagree.

"What I would say to leaders of the pro-life movement is: 21 years of abortion, and we're no better off than when we started," Jayne Bray said. "I don't see how you can hurt something that's been going 21 years with very little change.

"If you polled all the pro-life people, there's a vast majority that don't condemn Paul Hill."

"Maybe not the majority," her husband suggested. "Maybe a large plurality."

"This is not just a Bray family thing," Jayne Bray said.

Jayne and Michael Bray met at a Christian college in Colorado and married in 1976. In 1980, they moved back to Bowie, where Mr. Bray's family had lived when he was a boy. The abortion issue was in the news, they said. They joined nonviolent anti-abortion groups.

"There were no other people doing anything," Mr. Bray said. "You with what's there."

Nonviolence is "a fine strategy," he said. "I don't have any problem with it as a strategy. But I don't have any problem with using force either."

How did they go from from nonviolent protest to support for shootings?

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