President Reagan, who has waged a vocal campaign against legalized abortions, Thursday condemned "in the strongest terms" the bombings of abortion clinics across the nation and pledged to "do all in my power to assure that the guilty are brought to justice."
In a brief statement, Reagan said that he would ask Atty. Gen. William French Smith to ensure that all federal agencies with jurisdiction over the bombing and arson cases vigorously pursue their investigations.
Smith immediately ordered FBI Director William H. Webster to make certain that the FBI is "providing all possible assistance" to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau of the Treasury Depart ment, which by law is the lead federal agency in such investigations.
The President declared: "I condemn, in the strongest terms, those individuals who perpetrate these and all such violent, anarchist activities." But, in contrast to some other abortion foes, he did not couple his denunciation of the bombings with a renewed attack on abortion itself.
Despite Reagan's strong language, federal law enforcement sources, speaking privately, said that no change is expected in the priority of or resources assigned to investigations and prosecutions in the 30 bombing and arson cases.
For weeks, the supporting role of the FBI in the investigations has been the focus of a mounting debate. Defenders of abortion have charged that the bureau, which has refused to classify the bombings at abortion-related facilities as terrorist acts, is downplaying the seriousness of the incidents.
But the lack of any indication of an overall conspiracy behind the bombings is what keeps the FBI from labeling them as terrorism, Assistant FBI Director William Baker said in an interview Thursday. Designation as terrorist acts would have placed the bombings, which began in May, 1982, among the FBI's top four priorities.
"Maybe now the debate over who's in charge will die down and we can get on with the work," spokesman Tom Hill of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau said after the President's announcement.
Bombing in Capital
Reagan made his statement after District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry on Wednesday criticized the FBI for not taking over the investigation of the abortion clinic bombings. The latest incident occurred New Year's Day at the Hillcrest Abortion Clinic and Counseling Service in southeast Washington.
At a press conference Thursday, Barry said he was "delighted" that Reagan had strongly denounced such acts but added that he still believes the FBI should assume the leading role in the cases. As the nation's top law enforcement agency, the FBI would raise the stature of the investigations, he said, and could provide them with additional resources and expertise.
Barry contended that he and others had helped create a national dialogue on the bombings--which he likened to Ku Klux Klan violence--so they would not be seen as isolated local incidents.
'Violence Must Stop'
In a statement Thursday, Webster said, "These unlawful acts of violence must stop." He said the FBI is participating in the bombing investigations "through close liaison with and support for ATF's investigative responsibilities."
Hill said that the FBI had provided the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau with psychological profiles of likely suspects in some of the bombings, as well as with arrest records and the use of its massive, semi-automated fingerprint files.
Officials of Hill's agency have closed 12 of the cases with the arrest of eight persons, and all defendants who have gone to trial have been convicted.
"So far, we haven't come on any link" tying the incidents together, Hill said. "We see no evidence of a conspiratorial enterprise. They're more regional in nature."
Judy Goldsmith, president of the National Organization for Women, which urged Reagan 10 months ago to condemn the bombings, said Thursday that the investigations should be broadened to include "the escalating incidents of harassment and intimidation of women entering the clinics."