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Abortion foes turn on each other over the Operation Rescue name

The movement's founder, Randall Terry, and his former protege Troy Newman wage a nasty war of words over rights to the organization's name -- and its fundraising clout.

August 26, 2009|Robin Abcarian

Years ago, Randall Terry and Troy Newman were brothers in arms in the struggle against legal abortion.

"Troy was my son in the movement," said Terry, 50, a onetime used-car salesman from upstate New York who founded Operation Rescue in 1986. Terry rose to fame leading clinic blockades until lawsuits, jail terms and finally a stunning 1998 legal settlement forced him to abandon his militant tactics, and he faded from the forefront of the struggle.

Newman, meanwhile, was an up-and-coming activist in San Diego and a spokesman for Operation Rescue there. He admired Terry's energy, charisma and rhetoric. "Randall was the first guy to say, 'If abortion is murder, then act like it,' " said Newman, now 43, who became president of Operation Rescue West in 1999. "A lot of us concur that God used him at a certain time for certain projects. For a time."

But today, the two abortion foes are locked in an increasingly nasty battle over ownership of the Operation Rescue name, which Newman trademarked in 2006.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, August 27, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Operation Rescue: An article in Wednesday's Section A about a trademark battle over the name Operation Rescue attributed to Randall Terry a statement that the group is a C corporation in Kansas, meaning it must audit its books like a nonprofit and with the same accountability. The statement was made by Troy Newman.

Terry has called his former protege a weasel. Newman has branded Terry a charlatan.

Operation Rescue is a name worth fighting for: Whoever controls it benefits from its unquestionable ability to raise money from those who oppose abortion.

"Why does Troy need my name? What does he get from stealing another man's heritage? Money and media," said Terry in a telephone interview from Falls Church, Va. He moved to the Washington suburb from Florida last year in an effort to reestablish himself as a national leader in the antiabortion fight, which has heated up with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress.

Newman, for his part, has accused Terry of being a dilettante and financial failure who hopes to recapture Operation Rescue because it is "the goose that's laid the golden egg."

"Randall is articulate and convincing," Newman said from Wichita, Kan. "But so are used-car salesmen and cult leaders. He is not a true believer but a charlatan, and a manipulator. . . . He shows up at a national event, makes a flamboyant speech, gets everyone within earshot rattled and then passes the collection plate and moves on."

Newman says Terry voluntarily walked away from Operation Rescue when he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1998, then went on to other careers and causes.

Terry insists just the opposite. "I never stopped using the name," said Terry. "I have been arrested more than 50 times, spent over a year in jail, lost my home, lost my life savings, all because of my fight. Why would I let a newcomer with no scars and no history steal my name?"

Neither Terry nor Newman has registered as a tax-exempt organization with the federal government, though Terry said the group is a C corporation in Kansas, meaning it must audit its books like a nonprofit and with the same accountability. Contributions to the lobbying and activist group are not tax-deductible.

Newman said he earns a salary of $60,000, which is set by Operation Rescue's board of directors. Terry said he supports his family by writing for nonprofit organizations and through donations to the Terry Family Trust.

Whoever owns the trademark is in a good position to claim the domain name, which Newman said he registered around 1995 and still owns. He dropped the "West" from the name a few years ago.

"The URL will be mine, no question," said Terry. "There is no way we are going to lose, and they know it."

Operation Rescue, among the first to apply civil disobedience to the abortion debate, has had a tangled history, with numerous incarnations. Some question its political relevance today.

In July, a Who's Who of antiabortion leaders convened a conference call they say drew more than 35,000 listeners to discuss their opposition to President Obama's healthcare overhaul plan, which they fear will include taxpayer-funded abortions. Operation Rescue was nowhere to be found on the participants list.

"Operation Rescue is largely a blast from the past, and fairly marginalized in the pro-life movement now," said Marvin Olasky, editor of the World, a generally conservative Christian magazine.

"About 20 years ago, the Operation Rescue activities were probably creating more support for abortion overall, and as the pro-life movement recognized that, the emphasis became one of offering compassionate help to women in a crisis," said Olasky. "The group as a whole, and particularly Randy Terry, never made that leap."

In 2007, Terry filed a petition to cancel Newman's registration of the Operation Rescue name with the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. He claimed that he is the rightful owner, having received a business certificate for the name in 1988 in Binghamton, N.Y., his hometown.

Terry alleged that Newman obtained the trademark fraudulently. He said Newman's use deceives the public and that Newman receives donations meant for Terry.

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