Anti-Abortion March Brings Tide of Tension to Capital : Protest: Thousands pour into Washington to mark 22 years of Roe vs. Wade. Security tighter at clinics ahead of today’s rally, other events.
As thousands flooded into the capital Sunday for a massive protest march marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion, leaders on both sides of the issue girded for a confrontation in the wake of a deadly wave of violence spawned by the bitter and emotional debate over the procedure.
Shooting sprees at abortion clinics in Brookline, Mass., and Norfolk, Va., which left two people dead and five others wounded, have added a new level of scrutiny and tension to today’s annual March for Life.
In the past, the march has been peaceful, and mainstream anti-abortion leaders are urging peaceful activities this year. But abortion-rights advocates are taking extra precautions at clinics here and around the country as protests, marches, rallies and church services mark the 22nd anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision.
The December shootings were the latest in a series of attacks over the last two years that have left five people dead and at least seven wounded, forcing the nation’s abortion providers to turn their facilities into barricaded fortresses to remain in business.
Abortion-rights organizations warn that the violence and the pressure on clinics have become so intense that a severe shortage of doctors willing to perform abortions has begun to limit access for women in many areas.
Under mounting pressure to take action, the Clinton Administration, armed with tough new federal legislation, has begun to crack down on anti-abortion violence. The Justice Department has created a task force to investigate whether the violence is part of a nationwide conspiracy. The agency is working with a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., to seek conspiracy indictments.
At the same time, mainstream anti-abortion activists, fearful that they will lose political support, have roundly condemned the violence. Several Roman Catholic leaders have even called for a moratorium on clinic protests because of the shootings.
Yet many militant anti-abortion organizations have dismissed those calls.
“With all due respect, (the moratorium) does not make good moral or tactical sense,” said Robert Schenck, a Protestant minister and an anti-abortion leader in Washington.
“If America wants to reject violence, let it reject abortion without further delay,” said Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, an anti-abortion group in Staten Island, N.Y.
Some extremist groups that either condone or refuse to condemn the violence are joining in the protests here.
On Sunday, the actual anniversary of the ruling, President Clinton was the target of militant protesters who gathered at his church. But Clinton evaded them as he attended a different church in downtown Washington.
The protesters were from the American Coalition of Life Activists, a group dominated by extremists who believe violence committed to stop abortion is justifiable.
Several of the group’s leaders had signed a petition endorsing “justifiable homicide.” That petition was circulated last year by Paul Hill, who was later convicted of the July killing of a doctor and his escort in Pensacola, Fla.
The coalition’s presence in Washington for the demonstrations indicates that the radical wing of the anti-abortion movement has not been slowed by the negative reaction to the violence nor the federal investigation.
The coalition, based in Portland, Ore., planned its Washington conference to coincide with the Roe vs. Wade anniversary to announce an intensive new campaign of harassment of doctors around the country. The group identified 12 doctors it plans to harass.
The campaign comes in spite of a recent Justice Department decision to curb such harassment by filing a series of civil and criminal suits against anti-abortion demonstrators who have been stalking doctors and their families.
Such campaigns have taken their toll on abortion providers. Few young doctors are performing the procedures and many older doctors are dropping the service for fear of being next on a hit list.
About 500 hospitals and clinics have stopped offering abortions since the early 1980s, limiting access to abortions in rural areas in the nation’s heartland, where the remaining clinics are now often hundreds of miles away.
Nationwide, the number of abortion providers decreased 18% from 1982 to 1992, and 84% of counties in the United States no longer have any clinics or doctors performing abortions, according to a new study by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.