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Anti-abortion activist John Salvi, a former hairdresser, murders two receptionists at two separate women’s clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Murders Receptionists, Sprays Bullets in Clinics - Salvi quietly enters a Planned Parenthood clinic, asks receptionist Shannon Lowney, “Is this Planned Parenthood?” and then shoots her to death with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Salvi then sprays the lobby with gunfire and departs. Minutes later, he enters the Preterm Health Services building two miles away and kills the receptionist, Lee Ann Nichols (some media sources identify her as “Leanne Nichols”). He again sprays the building with gunfire, but this time flees after security guard Richard Seron returns fire, in the process dropping a satchel containing a second gun and some 700 rounds of hollow-point ammunition. Eyewitness Angel Rodriguez later tells reporters: “He was completely calm and took his time. He kept the gun low on his hip and ran backwards, firing at least five shots. He was trying to scare people, and it worked.”
Shooting at Norfolk, Virginia Clinic - Police identify Salvi through a gun shop receipt he has left behind in the satchel, but are unable to find him until law enforcement officials arrest him for a non-fatal shooting at a women’s clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. In all, Salvi kills two and wounds five more.
Condemnation - Some anti-abortion groups are quick to condemn the shootings. The Reverend Flip Benham, leader of Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), tells reporters: “You don’t use murder to solve the problem of other murder. It is heresy.” Eleanor Smeal of the Fund for the Feminist Majority says, “While there are two sides to the issue of abortion, there are no two sides to the issue of shooting people for their opinions.” Law enforcement officials cannot find direct ties between Salvi and anti-abortion organizations.
'Ready to Go Off' - A woman who attended beauty school with Salvi, Karen Harris, later recalls: “He never showed emotion. He always had a straight face. But the main thing was how he would stare at people. He’d just stare and stare and wouldn’t look away.” Doreen Potter, who employed Salvi at a hair salon, later recalls that he flew into a rage a week before the shootings when she told him he couldn’t cut a client’s hair. After the incident, she will say, “this guy looked like he was ready to go off.” (Lemonick et al. 1/9/1995; Daly 3/19/1996; Washington Post 1998; Kushner 2003, pp. 39; CBS News 4/19/2007; Associated Press 5/31/2009)
Federal Authorities Ignored Warnings of Violence at Brookline Clinic - Planned Parenthood officials will later say that they had received an increased number of threats to their Brookline clinic in recent weeks, in part because that clinic is involved in testing the controversial RU-486 “morning after” conception prevention pill. They also say they had requested extra federal protection (see February 1994), a claim the US Attorney for the area refuses to discuss with reporters. (Lemonick et al. 1/9/1995)
Convicted of Murder, Suicides in Cell - Shortly after his arrest, anti-abortion activists will rally in support of Salvi outside his Norfolk prison (see January 1995). In 1996, Salvi will be convicted of the deaths and sentenced to life without parole; soon after, he will commit suicide in his jail cell (see March 19, 1996).
Norma McCorvey, who under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” successfully mounted a challenge to the federal government’s ban on abortion that resulted in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973), has recanted her support for most abortions, according to the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986). McCorvey has quit her job at a women’s medical clinic and joined the group, OR officials say. Her switch is apparently triggered by her recent baptism by OR leader Reverend Flip Benham. According to news reports, the organization “regards as a coup McCorvey’s defection after years as a symbol of a woman’s right to abortion.” Bill Price of Texans United for Life says, “The poster child has jumped off the poster.” McCorvey still supports the right to abortions in the first three months of pregnancy, a position fundamentally at odds with Operation Rescue doctrine. McCorvey also acknowledges that she is a lesbian and that she is uncomfortable with many aspects of conservative Christian life. (Newport News Daily Press 8/18/1995; Waldman and Carroll 8/21/1995)
Anti-abortion advocate James Kopp, accused of murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998), confesses to the crime during an interview with the Buffalo News. “I did it, and I’m admitting it,” he says. “But I never, ever intended for Dr. Slepian to die.… I regret that he died. I aimed at his shoulder.” Kopp, who for months has vehemently denied any involvement in Slepian’s death, is accompanied by his lawyer, Bruce Barket. Both Kopp and Barket intend to make their legal defense about abortion, and will attempt to claim moral justification for the murder due to Kopp’s anti-abortion views. Of other abortion providers, Kopp says: “They’re still in danger, absolutely. I’m not the first, and I probably won’t be the last.… To pick up a gun and aim it at another human being, and to fire, it’s not a human thing to do. It’s not nice. It’s not pleasant. It’s gory, it’s bloody. It overcomes every human instinct. The only thing that would be worse, to me, would be to do nothing, and to allow abortions to continue.” Kopp claims he wants to set the record straight for the sake of his supporters who were publicly proclaiming his innocence and saying the FBI had framed him. Kopp adds that he selected Slepian’s name from the phone book, and that he also cased the homes of several other physicians before deciding that Slepian’s was the most vulnerable due to a window in the back that faced the woods. After his confession, prosecutors charge Kopp with an additional charge of reckless murder with depraved indifference to human life. (Dobbin 11/21/2002; Esmonde 11/22/2002; National Abortion Federation 2010)
Ends Claims that Kopp Innocent, Framed by Police - In January 2003, the magazine Catholic Insight will observe: “With this admission, Kopp knocked the feet out from under those pro-life supporters who had suggested that he couldn’t have committed the crime because he was a pacifist, had poor eyesight, was a poor marksman, or was being framed by the police. Pro-life advocates who earlier had condemned the shootings as unacceptable acts of violence could take solace in the fact that Kopp made it clear he acted alone in the Slepian shooting and that no one in the Buffalo pro-life community had suggested Slepian as a target.” (Catholic Insight 1/1/2003)
Anti-Abortion Advocates Condemn Kopp's Shooting but Welcome Trial as Platform for Debating Abortion - The Reverend Paul Schenck, an anti-abortion advocate who has led numerous protests and has been arrested for blockading abortion clinics, says of Kopp: “James Kopp has admitted to being a cold-blooded killer, a vigilante who acted as judge, jury, and executioner. In what he did, he undermined the whole moral philosophy of the pro-life movement, which views every human life as intrinsically valuable and created in God’s image. He should fade into ignimony after being utterly rejected by all people of conscience. May God have mercy on his soul.” (Schenck 11/21/2002) Bishop Henry Mansell, a local anti-abortion leader, says while he disapproves of Kopp’s action and the use of violence against abortion providers, he welcomes the use of Kopp’s trial to create a platform for an abortion debate. “We don’t believe the end justifies the means,” Mansell says. “But given a trial, I hope there would be a discussion and an exploration of the issues in depth.” Pro-choice lawyer Glenn Murray disagrees, saying, “I would hate to think that those who want a referendum on abortion would exploit an act of terrorism.” (Esmonde 11/22/2002) “Kopp is an extremist, a terrorist, a self-confessed murderer plain and simple, so his jailhouse confession is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate us all through the media,” says Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, a pro-choice organization. The Reverend Philip “Flip” Benham, director of the anti-abortion organization Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue), says Kopp “betrayed the pro-life movement, unborn children, and the Lord he proclaims to serve. You never overcome the problem of murder by murdering people.” (Dobbin 11/21/2002)
Kopp Will Be Found Guilty - Kopp will be found guilty of Slepian’s murder (see March 17-18, 2003).
The anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue releases a statement from its director, the Reverend Philip “Flip” Benham, criticizing a rally held in Buffalo, New York, to memorialize James Kopp, the confessed murderer of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998 and November 21, 2002). Benham accuses pro-choice advocates of participating in the “murder” of “over 45 million children killed by ‘legalized’ abortion,” and says: “Those who advocate murdering abortionists are going to be given a national platform from which to spew their vitriolic poison. How sad!” Benham denies that Operation Rescue has ever advocated or supported violence against abortion providers (see August 1988, January 7, 1998, and April 20, 1998), adding that his organization has “totally debunked” the idea that “murdering abortionists is somehow justifiable biblically,” and blames “the media” for propagating “this poisonous lie” that anti-abortion advocates espouse violence in order to “divert our attention from the true holocaust savaging our nation, and paint every Christian who lives out his faith at an abortion mill as a wild-eyed lunatic, bent on doing violence.” (Operation Save America 1/13/2003)
A women’s clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Family Reproductive Health Clinic, is targeted with a series of “Wanted” posters naming the clinic’s doctors, and claiming they are “Wanted Dead or Alive” for the “crime” of abortion. The posters read in part: “We would like to introduce you to [two named doctors]. Their specialties are obstetrics, gynecology, and murder. Not only do these two men assist women and deliver babies, but they also harm women and kill babies.… You may contact them at their office or the clinic in which they perform the abortions.” The posters list the addresses of the named doctors’ private practices. The practice of anti-abortion organizations using such posters began as early as 1995 (see 1995 and After) and was ruled an illegal threat in 2002 (see May 16, 2002). The practice has allegedly resulted in the murders of three abortion doctors (see March 10, 1993, December 30, 1994 and After, and October 23, 1998), who were all named in similar “Wanted”-style posters. The practice has continued in spite of the court verdict (see January - April 2003). The clinic has been targeted for closure since 2002, when the Reverend Flip Benham, the head of Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue—see 1986), moved to the Charlotte area and vowed to shut it down. Since then, Benham and his group’s members have harassed and intimidated the clinic’s staffers and patrons; Benham has been videotaped screaming at patients that “Satan will drink the blood of your babies” and that the women will “go to your deaths” if they have abortions. Benham and his followers often use microphones amplified to what a clinic official calls “deafening levels” to speak to the patients, “swarm” patients’ cars as they enter the parking lot, and follow them up to the doors of the clinic, often stepping within inches of the patients as they harangue them. The clinic official says of the patients, “We try to prepare them for this when they make their appointment, but until you go through something like this, you can’t imagine what it’s like.” The police do little to curb the protesters’ actions, the official says. (Joffe 9/2009)
The Reverend Phillip “Flip” Benham is convicted of stalking abortion doctors in his home state of North Carolina. Benham receives two years’ probation. Benham is the leader of Operation Save America, once known as Operation Rescue ((see 1986, July 1988, August 1988, July-August 1991, January 7, 1998, April 20, 1998, October 23, 1998, and January 13, 2003). He distributed numerous Old West-style “Wanted” posters that included the names, addresses, and photographs of four Charlotte-area doctors who provide abortions. The court rules that Benham violated a North Carolina law designed to protect citizens from being targeted by “a lone-wolf assailant.” Benham and his colleagues put up posters near the doctors’ offices and in their neighborhoods, placed them on cars, and tacked them to doors. According to Detective Milton Harris of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department, “By them handing out the flyers with doctors’ photos on it, it was an indication to us that they were actually singling those doctors out within that residential neighborhood to protest.” Harris adds, “The purpose of the law is to protect that person’s identity against basically a lone-wolf assailant coming in there and possibly doing harm to that individual or that family.” One doctor who spoke during the trial said the posters were “a call for my murder” (see May 31, 2009), said they made him “fear… for his life,” and said he now “gets down on his hands and knees to make certain there are no bombs under his car.” Prosecutors said that the posters were the equivalent of “placing targets” on the doctors. Benham insists that the posters are no threat, and says his only intent was to “inform the community” that the doctor “kills babies… for a living” and has “no respect for life of children in the safety and neighborhoods of their mothers’ wombs” (see 1995 and After, January - April 2003, and September 13, 2010). But Cindy Thompson of the local National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter says that Benham “needs to leave women alone and let us make up our own minds” about whether to have abortions. “This is not free speech,” says Kathy Spillar of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a group that tracks violence against abortion providers. “This is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. These wanted posters are communicating a threat to these abortion providers, and essentially they become targets of anti-abortion extremists willing to kill.” (Lohr 11/8/2010; Somander 11/9/2010; United Press International 11/9/2010)
The Reverend Phillip “Flip” Benham, director of Operation Save America, once known as Operation Rescue (see 1986, July 1988, August 1988, July-August 1991, January 7, 1998, April 20, 1998, October 23, 1998, and January 13, 2003), is convicted of stalking a Charlotte, North Carolina, doctor. A jury takes a little over 90 minutes to convict Benham. One juror tells a reporter that it was obvious after looking at the stalking statute that Benham “violated every part of it.… He went to the doctor’s house. He went into the doctor’s office and took pictures. He spoke to neighbors and called him a murderer. That is harassing. That causes fear.” Mecklenburg County prosecutors say Benham sought to scare the doctor from practicing in Charlotte. Benham, whose group operates out of nearby Concord, North Carolina, was convicted of the same charges almost a year earlier (see November 8, 2010), but exercised his right to a jury trial. He is convicted of misdeameanor stalking because he distributed posters with a doctor’s name and photo on “Wanted” posters. The posters read, “Wanted… By Christ, to Stop Killing Babies.” The doctor in question provides abortions. Benham also illegally entered the doctor’s home and his clinic to take photographs, and he and his supporters posted hundreds of the “Wanted” flyers around the doctor’s neighborhood. Benham is sentenced to 18 months’ probation and ordered to stop his behaviors. The “abortion industry” and the city of Charlotte have succeeded in “removing our voice from the street,” Benham says. “I can’t speak. I can’t get within 500 feet. They’ve stolen from innocent babies a voice that has spoken for them.” Several other abortion providers have been murdered after similar flyers were distributed in other cities, including Dr. David Gunn (see March 10, 1993), Dr. George Patterson (see August 21, 1993 and After), Dr. John Britton (see July 29, 1994), and Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). DuVergne Gaines, the legal coordinator for the Feminist Majority Foundation, which provides legal and security assistance to Charlotte-area women’s health clinics, says, “For too long, Benham and his organization have been able to stalk and terrorize abortion providers and their families with impunity.” Benham’s lawyer says he will file an appeal, and says Benham’s actions have nothing to do with the murders of the previous doctors. Benham says he will continue to protest at other abortion clinics; as for the doctor he was convicted of stalking, he says, “There will be other people who will come and stand up for what’s right.” (Ordonez and Ridenhour 7/2/2011)
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