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Context of 'March 26, 1986: Anti-Abortion Activists Attack Women’s Clinic in Florida'

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Joseph Scheidler.Joseph Scheidler. [Source: Pro-Life Action League]Anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler forms a group variously known as the Pro-Life Action League (PLAL) and the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN). Scheidler was a ranking member of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the US’s largest anti-abortion organization, until 1978, when he was dismissed from the group for his advocacy of violence. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Pro-Life Action League, Joseph Scheidler, National Right to Life Committee

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

The Pensacola Ladies Center, in Pensacola, Florida, is twice firebombed by anti-abortion activists in what author and researcher Harvey Kushner will call “part of a well-coordinated attack that include[s] two private physicians’ offices.” [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Harvey Kushner, Pensacola Ladies Center

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

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

Paul Hill, speaking to reporters after his conviction for murder.Paul Hill, speaking to reporters after his conviction for murder. [Source: Trosch (.org)]Dr. John Britton, a physician and abortion provider, and volunteer security escort Jim Barrett, a retired Air Force colonel, are shot to death outside the Ladies Center in Pensacola, Florida, by Paul Hill, a leader of the radical anti-abortion group American Coalition for Life Activists (ACLA—see July 1993). [Washington Post, 1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39; Fox News, 9/3/2003] Eight years before, several officials at the same clinic were attacked by anti-abortion protesters (see March 26, 1986). Hill later says he was inspired by the 1993 murder of another Pensacola abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn (see March 10, 1993). He bought a new shotgun after the Gunn slaying, and practiced on a firing range. The morning of the murder, as Britton, Barrett, and Barrett’s wife June enter the clinic parking lot, Hill opens fire, shooting Barrett in the head and chest. He then reloads and shoots Britton and Barrett’s wife. Dr. Britton is fatally wounded in the head and chest, while Mrs. Barrett sustains wounds in her arm. Hill then puts the shotgun down to avoid being shot himself by police, and walks away from the scene. He is arrested within minutes, and tells officers, “I know one thing, no innocent babies are going to be killed in that clinic today.” [Fox News, 9/3/2003] Hill will be executed for his crimes in 2003 (see September 3, 2003).

Entity Tags: David Gunn, John Britton, June Barrett, Jim Barrett, Paul Hill

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, 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

Anti-abortion activist Joseph Scheidler (see 1980, 1985, June 1986, April 20, 1998, October 2, 2001, and February 28, 2006) claims to have renounced the violent tactics that made him such a notorious figure of the anti-abortion, or pro-life, movement (see 1986 and March 26, 1986). Scheidler, 75, a former Benedictine monk and newspaper reporter who lives in Chicago, says he now favors peaceful marches on abortion clinics, the display of posters with graphic depictions of aborted fetuses, and what he calls “counseling” of women seeking abortions. “Obstruction—that’s over,” Scheidler says. “I was in some of those demonstrations, but I could see that was not going to be the real way. You’ve got to convert people away from abortion. You don’t just keep them out of the clinics. They just arrest you and you’re gone, and they go back in. I always hated it when the day was done, and they were all going back to the clinic and we were sitting in a [police] wagon.” He adds: “Nothing’s going to change in what we do. I haven’t stopped doing anything that I thought was effective. What will change is I think more people will come out.” [Chicago Sun-Times, 2/27/2003]

Entity Tags: Joseph Scheidler

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

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