Abortion Rights Blog

The national pro-choice campaign

US activists prosecuted in new wave of anti-abortion violence

In separate cases in the United States this week (12.11.10) anti-choice activists have been jailed for threatening abortion providers with violence, in a new wave of extremist campaign activity which included plans to bomb abortion clinics.

In North Carolina, the Rev. Philip Benham, director of Operation Save America, was charged with stalking and violating residential picketing laws, after he and his group circulated ‘Wanted’ posters listing the names, addresses and photographs of four doctors who perform abortions in Charlotte, North Carolina. The posters read ‘Wanted….By Christ, to Stop Killing Babies’ and encouraged people to contact the physicians at their clinics.

One doctor testifying at the trial said he felt like there was a target on his back because of the posters.

Benham, who claimed his group does not condone violence, cited freedom of speech in his defence. He received two years probation and was barred from going within 300 feet of abortion clinics and 1,000 feet of a one doctor’s home. 

Applauding the verdict, DuVergne Gaines of the Feminist Majority Foundation said,

“Reasonable people will look at this and say clearly this is a death threat. It scares doctors [and] terrifies them out of continuing to provide services to women that [are] guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States”.

In a separate case, also in North Carolina, Justin Carl Moose agreed to plead guilty to charges of providing instructions on how to make a bomb to attack an abortion clinic. Moose was arrested after claiming on his Facebook page that he supported fighting abortion “by any means necessary and at any cost”. In an FBI sting operation, Moose provided instructions on how to make explosive devices and how to survey a clinic to an informant who told him he wanted to bomb a local abortion provider.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing will take place in March next year.

In the third recent case, heard in Washington state last month, Donald Hertz received five years probation and 180 days home confinement after threatening the family of Warren Hearn, a Colorado-based abortion provider. He was charged with making threats across state lines and interfering with a reproductive health clinic. 

US abortion rights advocates say these cases are part of a long running domestic terrorism movement targeting abortion providers and clinics. The National Abortion Federation reports 6,250 acts of violence against abortion providers in the US and Canada taking place since 1997. 

The reappearance of ‘Wanted’ posters is causing particular concern: when similar flyers were circulated in the 1990s, three of the doctors featured in them were killed. Most recently, Kansas abortion provider Dr George Tiller was shot and killed by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder in May 2009.

  The events surrounding the murder were examined in ‘The Assassination of Dr Tiller’, a documentary broadcast on American television recently, which aimed to highlight the issue of violent anti-abortion extremism. Watch the documentary online here.