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COLUMN ONE : Abortion Foes Test the Limits : Is the use of even deadly violence justified? Mainstream opponents denounce attacks on clinics and doctors. But a vocal faction says this is the only effective tool it has.

September 30, 1993|JOHN BALZAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And now this from the provocateurs of the anti-abortion movement:

John Brockhoeft, serving seven years in prison for bombing a Cincinnati abortion clinic, writes in his newsletter:

"I had to make sure before I approached the abortuaries at night with gasoline or explosives that I was walking in love, not just anger. . . . Left wing, liberal-types hate my guts. . . . (T)he nice little things they say about me are all absolutely true: I'm a very narrow-minded, intolerant, reactionary, Bible-thumping fundamentalist . . . a zealot and a fanatic! . . . The reason the United States was once a great nation, besides being blessed by God, is because she was founded on truth, justice and narrow-mindedness."

Michael Bray, who served 46 months in prison in connection with 10 bombings of abortion clinics and offices of abortion-rights groups, reports this in his Capitol Area Christian News in Washington, D.C.:

"Grand Rapids, Mich. One week following a stink bomb attack, the Planned Barrenhood (sic) office of this city was sprayed by gunfire. About 15 shots from a handgun brought $20,000 in damages. Now $20,000 divided by 15 equals $1,333.33 per bullet. A pretty good deal. We commend the stewardship of resources."

Shelly Shannon, before being charged with shooting and wounding Wichita physician George Tiller outside his abortion clinic, sends a letter to the editor of a monthly anti-abortion magazine:

"Let's pray no one gets hurt, but this is a war and we have to be realistic."

The road has come to a fork in the fight against abortion in the United States.

A powerful and pious logic is taking hold among some of the most determined crusaders across America: If abortion is murder, isn't any use of force justifiable to stop it? And isn't this violence working--spreading fear among abortion providers and causing their retrenchment?

Both sides in the weary struggle say this idea is the dry kindling for what could be a new blaze of religious violence and zealotry.

Many Americans are aware of two recent shootings of abortion doctors, the March slaying of David Gunn in Pensacola, Fla., and the August wounding of Tiller. And many Americans, regardless of their leanings on abortion, surely joined in revulsion at the deeds. Many Americans also probably accept that the shootings were the work of individuals--social aberrations who were drawn too close to the flame.

But what many Americans may not be aware of is that these shootings have brought forth a spirited self-examination among those who have devoted themselves to the battle against abortion--and from the most militant has emerged a chorus of voices for a fresh and emphatic piety in which the end entreats all means.

Violence itself is by no means novel in the anti-abortion crusade. But such open, didactic advocacy of its virtues is.

Call this the work of the radical fringe, the maniac margin. Or are they the leading edge ? Like all else in the battle over abortion, your choice of words reveals your prejudice.

Andrew Burnett, publisher of the Life Advocate, a 3,700-circulation monthly magazine based in Oregon, is a recent convert to the new hyper-militancy.

In an editorial, he writes: "The question then for each of us is, do we really believe our own rhetoric? The death of an abortionist (Gunn) has caused me to re-examine my own convictions. Was his life really more valuable than the lives of his thousands of victims? When you examine your own convictions, I pray that God will encourage you to take an even stronger stand and be willing to do even more to protect the lives of those we say are precious in God's sight."

In Pensacola, Paul J. Hill, excommunicated as a Presbyterian minister for his embrace of force, distributed a 13-page manifesto after Gunn was killed:

"You can no more deny your responsibility to defend the unborn with force than you can deny the good Samaritan's responsibility to aid the wounded and dying traveler. . . . (A)ll able-bodied men who are men indeed should rise to serve the cause in one form or another. . . ."

More typically, there is a qualifier to the preachings, either to hold off the police or assuage the soul: I don't do it myself but I no longer can condemn it in others.

"What's happening is that those who live by the sword now face dying by the sword. Violence begets violence, and abortion is the ultimate violence," says Joseph M. Scheidler, one of the grandfathers of the militant wing of the anti-abortion movement and the head of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League.

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