Suddenly, It's in Our Back Yard

January 04, 1995|By ELLEN GOODMAN

BRROKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS — Brookline, Massachusetts -- Suddenly it's in our back yard.

Suddenly the scene of the crime is not in some isolated abortion-clinic building on a Southern highway or a strip mall. It's on Beacon Street, along the Boston Marathon route, two minutes from my front door.

This time it's not Michael Griffin. It's not Paul Hill. The suspect is another man, John C. Salvi 3d, handsome, curly-haired, clean-shaven, dressed in black.

This time the murder victim isn't even a doctor or a clinic escort. It's two young receptionists. This time seven people in all are shot. The violence has come home, big time.

Friday morning started out like the other mornings in a suburb that has three clinics located within two miles. As usual there were protesters in front of 1031 Beacon St; women praying, a man with the video camera. Some we know by sight.

Maybe the edge of danger that has sharpened nationally with the escalating clinic violence was dulled here by familiarity. Many of my neighbors and fellow commuters have learned to walk by the protesters in front of Planned Parenthood on their way to the cleaners or the bakery or the train stop.

After rush hour, Mr. Salvi allegedly walked into the clinic where they do pap smears and gynecological exams, where they perform abortions and where they are testing the pill RU-486. It's said that he took a rifle out of his black gym bag and began shooting. Killing Shannon Lowney and wounding three others.

Leaving bodies, chaos, death and terror behind, he then apparently drove to his next stop at 1842 Beacon St. There, in a building I know from endless visits to my child's orthodontist, the man went to another reception desk. He asked Lee Ann Nichols, ''Is this Preterm?''

The last thing this 38-year-old woman ever said was ''yes.'' He killed her, wounded a secretary, wounded a security guard, shot at people on the street and took off.

As the police helicopters circled the neighborhood looking for a serial assassin, as bodies were carried out of two clinics, as the man identified as John Salvi 3rd headed south to Norfolk, Virginia, where he was arrested, a pro-life spokesman offered up the usual suspect.

''These are not pro-life activities,'' said Teresa Donovan of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. ''They obviously are the actions of a deranged individual.''

Michael Griffin? A deranged individual. Paul Hill? A deranged individual. The serial assassin of Brookline? A deranged individual.

How many deranged individuals does it finally take to make a conspiracy? How many deranged individuals does it take to make a movement?

In the past decade clinic violence has spread across this country like an ideological virus. It became more virulent, too, escalating on the power of its own rhetoric. The death threats and the stalkings became fire-bombings and invasions. The wounding of one doctor became the murder of another and another and now the murder of two clinic workers.

Each time pro-life people have claimed that the killer was a loner, a deranged individual, an outsider. But the truth is much more menacing. The mainstream pro-life rhetoric that calls abortion murder has led many, step by step, to the ''logical'' conclusion that killing a ''killer'' is justifiable homicide and that murder to prevent ''murder'' is morally right.

When Paul Hill, now sitting on death row, was asked if his actions would incite others to anti-abortion violence, he said, ''Indubitably.'' When asked if Jesus Christ would have pulled the trigger, he said, ''absolutely.''

Since the Supreme Court reaffirmed the legal right to abortion, frustrated pro-life leaders have gone from trying to make abortion illegal to trying to make it impossible. One tactic is fear: harassing women who choose abortion and harassing the clinics, doctors and workers who provide them.

It's not surprising that as the whole army moves toward the extreme, a flank will carry the message over the edge. Are these deranged individuals or are they true believers of a movement that has lost the right to call itself pro-life?

We will soon know about the suspect, his mind, his motives. But with yellow police tapes strung across two doorways on Beacon St., I know enough to be chilled to the bone.

First doctors, then escorts, now receptionists. First Wichita, then Pensacola, now Brookline. How many ''deranged individuals'' are there among the familiar protesters in your neighborhood?

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

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