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Shortly after Rev. John Earl, pastor at St. Patricks Church in Rochelle, Illinois, learned the Food and Drug Administration had approved the abortion pill RU-486, he paid an up-close- and-personal visit to a nearby health clinic. Rev. Earl crashed his four-door Saturn into a garage behind the Northern Illinois Womens Health Clinic, got out, and began hacking away at the building with a pickax. Only after firing several shotgun blasts in the air was the buildings owner able to stop Rev. Earl, who was arrested and charged with burglary and felony criminal damage to the property. He was released on $10,000 bond. The following day, over 1,000 anti-abortion protesters rallied at Rockford, Illinois in support of Rev. Earl.
If you think the FDAs approval of RU-486, which ended the bitter 12-year battle over the pill, means the abortion wars are over, think again. If anti-abortion and religious right organizations, as well as congressional pro-life stalwarts such as Representative Tom Coburn, (R-OK), have their way, the use of RU-486 will continue to be contested until its taken off the market.
In early October, Rep. Coburn introduced the RU-486 Patient Health and Safety Protection Act that, according to an Associated Press report, would pass into law many of the health and safety guidelines that the FDA had considered, but rejected. Immediately after the FDAs announcement Rep. Coburn voiced support for a national registry of physicians prescribing the pill. Though dropping the registry from the bill, he left the issue open, saying that a national registry should be left to the Department of Health and Human Services discretion.
The comments of the Rev. Flip Benham, former leader of Operation Rescue and now the National Director of Operation Serve America, underscore the potential for violence from the anti-abortion movement. Admitting that we may not be able to win this battle in Washington, DC, Benham said, we will win it on the streets in cities across our nation. No doctor will be able to kill children in the privacy of his [sic] own practice without it being made known to the community at large.
Operation Serve Americas belligerent street tactics and the creation of a national registryoriginally proposed by the FDA but withdrawn after protests from doctors groupsraises the specter of another wave of anti-abortion violence. The current situation is also eerily reminiscent of the anti- abortion Nuremberg Files Project and the equally infamous Nurem- berg Files website. These two operations, while on the fringe of the anti-abortion activities, succeeded in creating a climate of drastically increased anti-abortion violence.
Skipp Porteous, of the Institute for First Amendment Studies, in a 1998 report explained that the leadership of the anti-abortion American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA) launched the Nurem- berg Files Project in preparation for the day when they hope abortion rights will be outlawed. Porteous pointed out that David Crane, ACLAs national director, intended to gather all available information on abortionists and their accomplices for the day when they may be formally charged and tried at Nurem- berg-type trials for their crimes. Information gathered was specifically geared towards evidence admissible in a court of law. The Projects secret archives were kept safe from seizure by those who would allow criminal child-killers to go free.
Paul deParrie, an assistant with the Nuremberg project, said: We dont want to make the mistakes that allowed so many Nazis to escape justice after World War II. We intend to have extensive files on each of them [abortion providers], which will permit prosecutors to easily identify the criminal perpetrators and bring the appropriate judgment against them.
The Nuremberg Files website, created by Georgia computer programmer Neal Horsley, was an over-the-top anti-abortion website featuring pictures of bloody and mangled fetuses. It provided names, and whenever possible, home addresses of physicians and health workers involved in performing abortions. Murdered physicians and abortion providers had a line struck through their names. Those who were wounded were listed in gray. This reminder to doctors and other health care providers that they and their families were being watched by violent anti-abortion terrorists created a climate of terror.
In February 1999, after a series of unfavorable court rulings, MindSpring, the Internet service provider for the site, shut The Nuremberg Files down, citing breach of contract, including harassing materials and network unfriendly activity. Almost immediately, similar sites appeared including ones in the Netherlands and Australia.
The workers at Danco Laboratories are another potential target of violence. Danco, the so-called secretive seller of RU-486, while pleased with the FDAs ruling, expressed concern over the possibility of anti-abortion violence. Spokesperson Heather ONeill denied Danco was secretive, but when interviewed by CNN.com, refused to disclose the firms New York address or the new drugs manufacturer. The threat of boycotts from religious right organizations and fear of violence from anti-abortion zealots have been major factors in the refusal of several large drug companies to manufacture or market RU-486.
George W. Bush reacted to the FDAs approval of the drug calling its ruling wrong, saying he feared the availability of RU-486 would make abortions more and more common. Although Bush threatened to reverse the ruling should he become president, a campaign spokesperson later clarified that a president cannot order drugs off the market. However, if elected, the spokesperson said, Bush would appoint an FDA commissioner to make sure the FDA considered the risks to women and that it had not taken its action as a result of political pressure from the White House. Bush also indicated that he would support a congressional move to limit the use of RU-486. (In 1989, the Adminis- tration of then-president George Bush banned RU-486 from the country).
Anti-abortion congressional representatives and activists quickly responded to the FDAs ruling. Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) told Pat Robertsons Christian Broadcasting Network, I think, in short, it has to be termed that this is an Administration of death and destruction. In a News Advisory, Troy Newman, director, Operation Rescue West (ORW), promised ORW would use the same peaceful yet confrontational tactics that have been effective against surgical abortions to isolate and expose the promoters of this death pill. He added, to think that the introduction of RU-486 will make it more acceptable to kill a child you would have to think that the introduction of Cyclon-B [sic] nerve gas to Auschwitz made it more acceptable to kill Jews.
Cathy Brown, director of the anti-abortion group Why Life?, accused Planned Parenthoods website for teenagers (www.Teen- wire.com) of marketing RU-486 to teens. There are no parental-consent restrictions attached to it, Brown told Family News in Focus, a website of the Rev. James Dobsons Focus on the Family, Parents will have no clue what their daughters are going throughwhy they are writhing in pain on the bathroom floor. Teresa Wagner, legal analyst for sanctity of life issues for the Family Research Council, claimed the FDAs approval of RU-486 could result in more abortions and therefore more dead babies and injured women. Judie Brown of the American Life League vowed: We will not tolerate the FDAs decision to approve the destruction of innocent human persons through chemical abortion. Wendy Wright, director of communications for Concerned Women for America, the countries largest womens political organization suggested there are too many sordid figures involved, from a manufacturer in China, to the people who conducted the trials in the U.S. covering up negative results.
Several weeks after the ruling, Chinese officials at the Shanghai-based Hua Lian Pharmaceutical Company confirmed they would be making the raw compound for RU-486. Long-time anti-abortion foe, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who branded the drug baby poison, told CBS News the Chinese government was making money on the killing of unborn children in America. Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, questioned potential health hazards of importing the drug from China, calling that nation a major source of impure drugs. The FDA, which previously refused to disclose the manufacturers name for the safety of workers, said the plant had been thoroughly inspected before approval was granted. (Hua Lian received help from the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation in obtaining the production license for RU-486).
If threats of violence dont shake-up abortion providers, pro-lifers hope legal action will. To this effect Covenant News, a Christian Internet News service (www.covenannews.com), announced the launch of an advertising campaign aimed at reaching women who have experienced pain and suffering because they took RU-486. Three top-post abortion counseling and referral organizations, the American Rights Coalition, Legal Action for Women and Life Dynamics, Inc., will provide women with medical attention, emotional counseling, and medical malpractice attorneys. Through the combined resources of these organizations Jim Rudd, editor of The Covenant News, emphasized, we will see huge lawsuits brought against these pill-pushing abortion doctors. Also, there should be enough information compiled to bring multi-million dollar class action lawsuits against the FDA and the pharmaceuticals that manufacture and market both mifepristone and misoprostol, the drugs necessary to complete a chemical abortion.
For years, activists on both sides argued the availability of RU-486 would dramatically change the debate forever. By allowing doctors to dispense the pill abortion would become a much more private affair. However, the hyperbole coming from religious right groups, Bushs fuzziness on the issue, and Rep. Coburns proposed legislation suggests for some time in the foreseeable future it wont be smooth sailing for those who manufacture, prescribe, and receive RU-486. The stakes are high for everyone involved. For health-care workers it could be déjà vu terrorism all over again. Z
Research assistance by Greg Paroff. Bill Berkowitz is a freelance journalist covering the religious right and related conservative movements.