January 4, 1995 in City

Shooting Holes In Peaceful Protest

Diana Griego Erwin Mcclatchy New
 
Tags:column

Every time another young man with religious zeal burning in his gut goes to an abortion clinic to kill a fellow human being in the name of God, I shudder and think about the times I’ve sat in church - listening.

In this flashback, I’m fidgeting and squirming. The pews gleam, the stained glass glows, the organ sings, but I’m uncomfortable.

The messages I usually cling to in church - warm, melodious words offering hope and charity, peace, love and tolerance - suddenly sound harsh and condemning. Arrogant, even.

It is the time in the service for community announcements and, this time, the preacher is talking about an annual abortion protest. Parishioners will form a human cross miles long, he says, as will thousands of other believers in cities across America. But when he says that God requires us to STAND UP against the killing of children, I wonder what each of us will glean from those words.

What would Paul Hill think he heard? And, Michael Griffin?

STAND UP, you say, members of the clergy everywhere? Translate, please.

And now we have a new suspect in the growing campaign of terrorism against clinics offering abortion services: John C. Salvi, 22, the alleged gunman in the clinic shootings Friday that killed two and wounded five in suburban Boston.

This time, the dead aren’t a clinic doctor or escort, but two receptionists. The first of Friday’s shootings occurred at a Boston-area Planned Parenthood where a gunman wearing all black walked by protesters praying and singing, entered the clinic, took a rifle out of a black gym bag and started shooting, killing receptionist Shannon Elizabeth Lowney, 25. Then, less than two miles away, he pulled the same heartless, robotic stunt at Preterm Health Services, killing receptionist Leanne Nichols, 38.

Two women. Two lives. Lives interrupted ironically in the name of life.

To their credit, mainstream pro-life groups have denounced the violence all around, but that is not enough.

The leadership of groups such as Operation Rescue may write off these killers as deranged individuals, washing their hands of all blame, but where does the frenzied rhetoric that calls abortion “murder” and doctors “murderers” become a language that sanctions the killing of the killers?

What happens when the editor of a pro-life magazine adopts the famous Malcolm X phrase “by any means necessary”? Why do abortion opponents often refer to the emotional debate we’re entangled in as a “spiritual war”?

Ask Paul Hill.

Hill, the former Presbyterian minister on death row for the July shooting deaths of an abortion doctor and volunteer escort in Pensacola, Fla., continues to defend such violence as “justifiable homicide.”

” … that’s what I’m called to do,” he said in an interview from Florida State Prison. ” … save as many innocent human beings as possible.”

And he is not alone.

Thirty anti-abortion activists, most of them frequent and strident protesters well-known in their communities, signed a petition Hill circulated before the Pensacola killings declaring deadly force justified in the defense of the unborn.

“We proclaim that whatever force is legitimate to defend the life of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn child,” the statement said in part.

This is dangerous, incendiary stuff, but let us remember that 99.9 percent of those who oppose abortion are nothing like Hill and others who promote shutting down abortion clinics by any means necessary.

No, most Americans opposing abortion are compassionate, nonviolent persons whose religious faith requires them to hold all human life dear - at any stage, in virtually all circumstances.

That doesn’t make them crazy. In fact, if the religious community doesn’t have a responsibility to remind us that abortion involves a human life and should never be taken lightly, who does?

As a priest once explained to me (after I told him why I believe safe abortions must be available, although I would never have an abortion myself), religion must champion the highest moral standards, the best intentions of God - but human beings often fall short. In fact, he expected it.

Nonetheless, those who aim to resolve the ongoing abortion debate with lethal force are roaming the fringes of pro-life organizations, and the leadership of these groups knows it.

Everyone knows who they are.

Even in anti-abortion circles, there is a big difference between making a statement and breaking a law; there is an even bigger difference between breaking a law and taking a life.

The question is: Why is the religious community allowing the extremists among them to take over their message that life is precious?

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Diana Griego Erwin McClatchy News Service


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