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Context of 'January 1996: Grand Jury Finds No Evidence of Conspiracy in Abortion Clinic Violence'

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Joseph Scheidler, the president of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980), and three PLAN members enter the Summit Women’s Health Clinic in Middletown, Delaware. Scheidler later says he is “casing the place,” according to court records. The day after the visit, protesters vandalize the clinic, seriously damaging equipment. [Ms. Magazine, 12/2002]

Entity Tags: Summit Women’s Health Clinic, Joseph Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

Members of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986) enter a women’s health clinic, the Pensacola Ladies Center, in Pensacola, Florida. They attack the clinic administrator, throwing her down the stairs; attack and injure an official of the National Organization for Women (NOW); blockade the clinic; and wreck medical equipment. During the attack, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler stands outside, praising the attackers and publicly claiming credit for the incident. The clinic will close for several days for repairs. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002] The Ladies Center was firebombed twice in 1984 by anti-abortion activists (see 1984). [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38] One of the protesters who takes part in the blockade and assault is James Kopp, who in 1998 will murder an abortion provider (see October 23, 1998). [Womens eNews, 3/30/2001]

Entity Tags: Pensacola Ladies Center, Joseph Scheidler, James Kopp, Pro-Life Action League, National Organization for Women

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

National Organization for Women logo.National Organization for Women logo. [Source: National Organization for Women]The National Organization for Women (NOW) files a lawsuit against Joseph Scheidler, Scheidler’s organization Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980), and other anti-abortion organizations. NOW is joined in the suit by the Delaware Women’s Health Organization and the Pensacola Ladies Center (see March 26, 1986), and later the Summit Women’s Health Organization (see 1986). The lawsuit is part of a strategy devised by NOW president Eleanor Smeal to use federal antitrust laws to charge Scheidler and others with being part of a nationwide criminal conspiracy to close women’s health clinics through the use of violence and terror. The suit becomes known as NOW v. Scheidler. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002; Ms. Magazine, 12/2002] The lawsuit seeks a nationwide injunction to stop the clinic invasions, and asks the courts to make those responsible for the attacks pay for the damage they caused. In 2002, the future president of NOW, Kim Gandy, will say of the lawsuit: “NOW decided we had to stop the violence. Scheidler and his gang were calling in blitzes—they would attack clinics without warning and hold staff and patients hostage. Clinics were being blockaded and invaded. If we did not act, we thought clinics would not be able to stay open.” NOW attorney Fay Clayton will say the case seeks “to ensure that the constitutional right [to abortion] recognized [in 1973] would exist not just in theory, but in reality.” According to a 2002 Ms. Magazine report, the case only targets anti-abortion protesters who engage in criminal acts such as criminal trespass, assault, and conspiracy to block access to clinics. It makes no effort to halt peaceful protests as protected by the First Amendment. The lawsuit claims that PLAN and others engaged in what the federal racketeering law prohibits: namely, a “pattern of racketeering activity,” including the use of fear, force, and violence, in order to prevent people from receiving and providing legal abortions. Clayton maintains that the actions met the legal definition of organized crime. [Ms. Magazine, 12/2002]

Entity Tags: Summit Women’s Health Organization, Fay Clayton, Eleanor Smeal, Delaware Women’s Health Organization, Joseph Scheidler, Pro-Life Action League, Kim Gandy, Pensacola Ladies Center, National Organization for Women

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

A prison photo of Michael Griffin.A prison photo of Michael Griffin. [Source: Bonnie's Life of Crime (.com)]Dr. David Gunn, a women’s doctor and abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, is shot to death by anti-abortion advocate Michael Griffin, while members of the anti-abortion organization Rescue America protest outside his clinic. The protesters scream, chant, and wave signs declaring, “David Gunn Kills Babies.” Griffin steps forward from a group of protesters, yells, “Don’t kill any more babies!” and fires three shots into Gunn’s back as he is exiting his car. Gunn dies during surgery at a nearby hospital. Griffin informs police that he shot Gunn with a .38 revolver he is carrying, and surrenders to police officers without incident. Steve Powell, an employee at the office park which houses the clinic, later tells reporters that the Rescue America protesters seemed “just happy” after the shooting. Gunn had just opened the clinic a month before, and commuted to work from his home in Eufaula, Alabama. Gunn’s is one of two clinics providing abortions in Pensacola; the city also houses three “abortion counseling” facilities, operated by anti-abortion groups whose objective is to convince women not to have abortions. Gunn has received threats for several years, but in recent months the threats have become more dire. Recently, anti-abortion group Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986) featured Gunn in a “Wanted” poster (see 1995 and After) distributed in Montgomery, Alabama; the poster included Gunn’s photo, home phone number, and other identifying information. OR spokeswoman Margeaux Farrar says the organization knows nothing about the posters and did not print them. The Reverend Joseph Foreman, one of the group’s founders, says Gunn’s murder is just the beginning if the government continues to try to “silence” anti-abortion protesters. Foreman tells reporters, “I’ve been saying for years that if the government insists on suppressing normal and time-honored dissent through injunctions, it turns the field over to the rock-throwers, the bombers, and the assassins.” Many of Griffin’s colleagues and fellow protesters will argue that Gunn’s murder was “justifiable.” Many of those advocates are members of a newly formed organization, the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA—see July 1993). [Washington Post, 3/11/1993; Ms. Magazine, 12/2002; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39; CBS News, 4/19/2007] Griffin will be represented by Florida lawyer Joe Scarborough at some court proceedings, though Scarborough will not represent him at his actual trial. Scarborough (R-FL) will go on to represent his Florida district in the US House of Representatives. [New York Times, 10/25/1994]

Entity Tags: Joseph Foreman, Rescue America, Joseph Scarborough, David Gunn, American Coalition of Life Activists, Michael Griffin, Steve Powell, Operation Rescue, Margeaux Farrar

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), an organization of anti-abortion advocates who called the 1993 murder of an abortion doctor “justifiable” (see March 10, 1993 and July 1993), launches a campaign it calls the “Deadly Dozen.” The ACLA releases Old West-style “unwanted” posters of 13 prominent abortion providers. Many of the posters include the providers’ work and home addresses. The targeted doctors say they are very aware that similar posters created by other anti-abortion organizations had preceded the murders of three of their colleagues, and call the campaign a “hit list.” The FBI offers protection to the 13 providers, and many of them begin wearing bulletproof vests and taking other security precautions. After the ACLA is named in a lawsuit to prevent it from publishing the material (see 1996), ACLA leaders give some of the “Deadly Dozen” data to Neal Horsley of Carrollton, Georgia, who posts the material on his “Nuremberg Files” Web site (see January 1997). The Web site names doctors and abortion rights supporters and calls for them to be tried for “crimes against humanity.” In later years, when an abortion provider is murdered, their name will appear on the site with a line through it. Horsley uses gray tape for the names of abortion providers or staff who have been wounded. The entire Web site is designed to look as if it is dripping in blood. [Ms. Magazine, 12/2002]

Entity Tags: American Coalition of Life Activists, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Neal Horsley

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

The Justice Department ends its two-year grand jury investigation into possible conspiracies behind abortion clinic violence (see 1986, March 26, 1986, June 1986, March 10, 1993, 1995 and After, and 1996). The jury finds no evidence of any national conspiracy to commit violence on the part of anti-abortion organizations. However, Nation reporter Bruce Shapiro will write in 2001 that the evidence unearthed by the FBI’s investigation in a 1998 abortion doctor murder (see October 23, 1998 and March 17-18, 2003) proves the existence of just such a conspiracy. [Nation, 4/23/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Bruce Shapiro

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

James Kopp.James Kopp. [Source: Women's eNews (.org)]Dr. Barnett Slepian, an obstetrician in Buffalo, New York, who performs abortions, is shot to death in his kitchen, by a bullet that enters through the window of his Amherst, New York, home. His wife and one of his four children witness his murder. Anti-abortion advocate James Kopp shoots Slepian with a high-powered rifle. Kopp uses the pseudonym “Clive Swenson,” and is well known under that name in a Jersey City, New Jersey, Catholic congregation. Militant anti-abortionists call him “Atomic Dog.” It will take the FBI over two years to find Kopp, who will be arrested in France (see March 29, 2001). Kopp, who apparently was drawn to anti-abortion protests in the 1970s after his girlfriend had an abortion, has been active in anti-abortion protests for decades and joined Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue in 1986. It is also believed he joined the violent anti-abortion organization “Army of God” in 1988 (see 1982), as well as the “Lambs of God,” a Catholic anti-abortion group whose leader has characterized the anti-abortion movement as a “war between God and Satan.” Kopp is well known for designing intricate locks that anti-abortion protesters use to lock the doors to women’s health care clinics. Slepian has been listed as a “wanted” abortion provider on the anti-abortion Web site “Nuremberg Files,” which The Guardian will describe as “a virtual hit list of doctors who carry out abortions” (see January 1997). Within hours of his murder, Slepian’s name is reposted on the site, this time with a line drawn through it. [Washington Post, 1998; Womens eNews, 3/30/2001; Guardian, 4/1/2001; National Abortion Federation, 2010] By early November, Kopp will be named as a suspect in the murder, though he will not be formally charged until May 1999. He will be placed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list in June 1999. [National Abortion Federation, 2010] In 2002, Kopp will confess to the murder (see November 21, 2002). He will be found guilty a year later (see March 17-18, 2003).

Entity Tags: Lambs of God, Barnett Slepian, James Kopp, Army of God, Operation Rescue, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The Christian Defense Coalition (CDC) urges the Bush administration to show “restraint” in its handling of the arrest of accused murderer James Kopp, whose anti-abortion beliefs triggered his shooting of Dr. Barnett Slepian (see March 29, 2001). The CDC says that the “vast majority of the pro-life community” condemns violence against abortion doctors such as Slepian, and urges Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice “not to use this episode to harass and intimidate the pro-life movement as the Clinton administration did” (see May 1994 and January 1996), and makes the same request of pro-choice organizations. The CDC also urges the general public to remember that Kopp is “innocent until proven guilty.” [Christian Defense Coalition, 3/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Christian Defense Coalition, Barnett Slepian, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Clinton administration, James Kopp, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

A handcuffed James Kopp is escorted into an Erie County courtroom to face trial for murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian.A handcuffed James Kopp is escorted into an Erie County courtroom to face trial for murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian. [Source: Getty Images]James Kopp, the anti-abortion advocate who has confessed to murdering abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998 and November 21, 2002), is tried for the murder. Kopp has agreed to a bench trial in lieu of a jury; both the defense and prosecution have already agreed to a number of basic facts stipulated about the case. Defense attorney Bruce Barket argues that Kopp should be acquitted because of his moral belief that force is necessary to stop abortions, and because he did not intend to kill Slepian, but only wound him. Prosecutor Joseph Marusak counters by arguing that every step Kopp took in planning for the attack, including his choice of weapon and the use of aliases in buying the rifle, pointed to an intention to kill. After less than two days of trial, Judge Michael D’Amico finds Kopp guilty of second-degree murder. Kopp will be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. [Associated Press, 3/18/2003; National Abortion Federation, 2010] Kopp is allowed to read a long statement explicating his anti-abortion views into the court record. [Buffalo News, 1/7/2007] Pro-choice organization Planned Parenthood says of Kopp’s conviction: “The conviction of confessed terrorist and murderer James Kopp is a triumph for justice. Our thoughts are with Dr. Slepian’s family and community. James Kopp’s horrendous crime is a painful reminder of the threat posed by extremists who will go to any lengths to impose their ideology on others. Planned Parenthood and America’s pro-choice majority will not tolerate anti-choice terrorists and their limitless hostility toward reproductive health care providers and the women they bravely serve. We hope the outcome of the Kopp trial will dissuade other anti-choice extremists from further harassment and violence. Planned Parenthood is committed to protecting our patients, staff, and volunteers and to ensuring that those who threaten them are brought to justice.” [Planned Parenthood, 3/18/2003] The National Abortion Federation’s Vicki Saporta says in a statement: “Unfortunately, there are many anti-choice extremists who believe that it is justifiable to kill doctors because they provide women with safe and legal abortion care. The Army of God, of which Kopp is a member (see 1982), supports the use of force to end abortion. [V]iolence against abortion providers is never acceptable or justified.… One trend we have documented is that when one murderer is brought to justice another one is quickly recruited to become the next assassin. Kopp’s trial must not lead to another series of assassination attempts directed at physicians who perform abortions. We, therefore, continue to urge law enforcement to remain especially vigilant in enforcing the law and prosecuting those who would use violence to advance their own personal, political agendas.” [National Abortion Federation, 3/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Barnett Slepian, Joseph Marusak, Michael D’Amico, Army of God, Vicki Saporta, Planned Parenthood, James Kopp, Bruce Barket

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

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