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Abortion-Rights Leader Urges Calm : Health: William Baird pleads for tolerance two days after a doctor and security escort are slain in Florida. He calls for more protection at clinics.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The nation’s senior abortion-rights advocate pleaded Sunday for tolerance amid increasingly violent reactions against the right to abortion.

“I want the anti-abortion people to tolerate the right of Americans to make their own moral decisions,” William Baird said at a Costa Mesa church, two days after a doctor and his security escort were shotgunned to death outside a Florida clinic. “Why can’t we say to the Catholics and the fundamentalist Christians, ‘If you think (abortion) is wrong, then don’t you have it’ ”

But Baird, 62, a tireless abortion-rights advocate who opened the country’s first birth control and abortion counseling clinic in New York in 1963, also criticized the federal government and police for not adequately protecting abortion clinics.

The murder suspect, Paul J. Hill, had threatened to kill abortion doctors, and told a radio audience last year that killing Baird would be “justifiable homicide,” he said.

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“This need not have happened. The man was a walking time bomb,” Baird told the congregation of about 75 at the Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church.

The FBI should treat anti-abortion activists as terrorists, Baird said later, adding that unless clinics are fully protected there is a risk of reaction to the violence.

“Two hundred clinics have been firebombed . . . and the Right to Life group is not determined to be a terrorist group,” Baird said. “Tell me this is not a conspiracy. Where are the chemicals coming from? Who is training these people?”

Baird’s often graphic discussion of crude methods from the era of illegal abortions and the violence in the abortion debate brought groans from the gathering, who applauded him at the end of his talk.

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“It’s distressing,” said George Shackelford of Irvine. “I have to say it seems like some things have gotten better, but this firebombing stuff definitely seems like terrorism to me.”

Judy Semler of Huntington Beach said Baird’s message “makes me feel guilty I haven’t done more. . . . I cringe that people are getting killed.”

Baird acknowledged that he is a potential target. Throughout the years, he has been arrested eight times in five states and was the principal litigant in reproductive freedom cases three times before the U.S. Supreme Court.

One important decision came in 1972 when the court, by a 6-1 vote, overturned a Massachusetts law that outlawed selling birth control to single people and writing on the subject. In that case, Baird vs. Eisenstadt, he had been arrested in 1967 for handing out contraceptives to Boston University students.

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