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The abortion battle within

Years ago, Randall Terry and Troy Newman were brothers in arms in the struggle against legal abortion.

“Troy was my son in the movement,” said Terry, 50, a onetime used-car salesman from upstate New York who founded Operation Rescue in 1986. Terry rose to fame leading clinic blockades until lawsuits, jail terms and finally a stunning 1998 legal settlement forced him to abandon his militant tactics, and he faded from the forefront of the struggle.

Newman, meanwhile, was an up-and-coming activist in San Diego and a spokesman for Operation Rescue there. He admired Terry’s energy, charisma and rhetoric. “Randall was the first guy to say, ‘If abortion is murder, then act like it,’ ” said Newman, now 43, who became president of Operation Rescue West in 1999. “A lot of us concur that God used him at a certain time for certain projects. For a time.”

But today, the two abortion foes are locked in an increasingly nasty battle over ownership of the Operation Rescue name, which Newman trademarked in 2006.

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Terry has called his former protege a weasel. Newman has branded Terry a charlatan.

Operation Rescue is a name worth fighting for: Whoever controls it benefits from its unquestionable ability to raise money from those who oppose abortion.

“Why does Troy need my name? What does he get from stealing another man’s heritage? Money and media,” said Terry in a telephone interview from Falls Church, Va. He moved to the Washington suburb from Florida last year in an effort to reestablish himself as a national leader in the antiabortion fight, which has heated up with Democrats in control of the White House and Congress.

Newman, for his part, has accused Terry of being a dilettante and financial failure who hopes to recapture Operation Rescue because it is “the goose that’s laid the golden egg.”

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“Randall is articulate and convincing,” Newman said from Wichita, Kan. “But so are used-car salesmen and cult leaders. He is not a true believer but a charlatan, and a manipulator. . . . He shows up at a national event, makes a flamboyant speech, gets everyone within earshot rattled and then passes the collection plate and moves on.”

Newman says Terry voluntarily walked away from Operation Rescue when he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Congress in 1998, then went on to other careers and causes.

Terry insists just the opposite. “I never stopped using the name,” said Terry. “I have been arrested more than 50 times, spent over a year in jail, lost my home, lost my life savings, all because of my fight. Why would I let a newcomer with no scars and no history steal my name?”

Neither Terry nor Newman has registered as a tax-exempt organization with the federal government, though Terry said the group is a C corporation in Kansas, meaning it must audit its books like a nonprofit and with the same accountability. Contributions to the lobbying and activist group are not tax-deductible.

Newman said he earns a salary of $60,000, which is set by Operation Rescue’s board of directors. Terry said he supports his family by writing for nonprofit organizations and through donations to the Terry Family Trust.

Whoever owns the trademark is in a good position to claim the domain name, which Newman said he registered around 1995 and still owns. He dropped the “West” from the name a few years ago.

“The URL will be mine, no question,” said Terry. “There is no way we are going to lose, and they know it.”

Operation Rescue, among the first to apply civil disobedience to the abortion debate, has had a tangled history, with numerous incarnations. Some question its political relevance today.

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In July, a Who’s Who of antiabortion leaders convened a conference call they say drew more than 35,000 listeners to discuss their opposition to President Obama’s healthcare overhaul plan, which they fear will include taxpayer-funded abortions. Operation Rescue was nowhere to be found on the participants list.

“Operation Rescue is largely a blast from the past, and fairly marginalized in the pro-life movement now,” said Marvin Olasky, editor of the World, a generally conservative Christian magazine.

“About 20 years ago, the Operation Rescue activities were probably creating more support for abortion overall, and as the pro-life movement recognized that, the emphasis became one of offering compassionate help to women in a crisis,” said Olasky. “The group as a whole, and particularly Randy Terry, never made that leap.”

In 2007, Terry filed a petition to cancel Newman’s registration of the Operation Rescue name with the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board. He claimed that he is the rightful owner, having received a business certificate for the name in 1988 in Binghamton, N.Y., his hometown.

Terry alleged that Newman obtained the trademark fraudulently. He said Newman’s use deceives the public and that Newman receives donations meant for Terry.

Newman recently sent a letter to his supporters accusing Terry of attempting “a hostile takeover” and included passages from a 1991 deposition in a civil case in which Terry said Operation Rescue no longer existed.

Terry has created a website devoted to the fight, and accused Newman of “identity theft” and of being a “rat” and a “weasel.” In two booklet-length denunciations, he called Newman and Operation Rescue’s board of directors, most of whose members are former Terry allies, a “caldron of scoundrels.” They turned on him “like rabid dogs,” Terry said, when he divorced his wife of 19 years and remarried a woman 16 years his junior in 2001.

“In the evangelical world,” he said, “the unforgivable sin is divorce.”

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In 2006, Terry converted to Catholicism and received an annulment of his first marriage.

He and his second wife, Andrea, 34, have four sons, who range in age from 3 to 6. His three children from his first marriage are adults.

But Newman and one of his board members, the Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, who worked with Terry from the beginning of Operation Rescue, said their problems with Terry are unrelated to his divorce.

“There are a host of issues involving character and integrity,” Mahoney said.

Many of Terry’s former allies have lingering bitterness over his 1998 settlement of a long-running lawsuit by the National Organization for Women, in which he agreed to a permanent injunction barring him from abortion clinic protests.

In May 2008, nine of Terry’s former allies issued a news release criticizing his “unbiblical lawsuit” against Newman. They accused him of abandoning Operation Rescue’s leadership, of “continued negative lifestyle choices” and “misuse and lack of accountability with respect to hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to the pro-life community.”

Terry denies any improprieties.

His former allies have also knocked what they consider his drifting attention -- an assertion Terry calls ludicrous -- while Newman’s focus on abortion, they say, has never wavered.

Over the last decade, Terry has been a radio talk show host, a Nashville recording artist and a student -- returning to college in New York to study Islam in order to battle Islamist extremism.

He spearheaded an effort against the art photographer Jock Sturges, whose nude photos of adolescents he considers “child pornography.” He fought against stem cell research and gay marriage and, in 2006, ran unsuccessfully for the Florida Senate. He also did stints as spokesman for the family of Terri Schiavo, the comatose Florida woman who was the subject of a galvanizing legal battle until she died in 2005.

“You would never have heard of Terri Schiavo if it wasn’t for me,” said Terry.

Newman pioneered the use of “truth trucks” -- vehicles adorned with huge photos of bloody, aborted fetal parts aimed at creating visceral opposition to the procedure.

In 2002, Newman moved from California to Wichita with the goal of putting Dr. George Tiller out of business through relentless harassment.

In May, Tiller was shot to death at his church, where Operation Rescue adherents had picketed in the past. The man who has been charged in Tiller’s slaying, Scott Roeder, told the Kansas City Star in a jailhouse interview that he had donated money to Operation Rescue.

Newman has condemned such violence and tried to distance himself from Roeder while vilifying Terry, who announced in the wake of the killing that Tiller was a “mass murderer” and “every bit as vile as the Nazi war criminals.”

Some antiabortion activists have tried to get Terry and Newman to meet with a mediator, but the efforts have failed.

“It would take some real humility,” said Missy Smith, a Washington antiabortion activist who has tried to bring the two together. “These are two strong-willed men, both of them very talented.”

John L. Welch, a Cambridge, Mass., trademark attorney who does not know either man, said that opponents in trademark disputes usually reach some agreement because the legal process can take several years.

But, he said, “I doubt this one will be settled. This one looks like a personal vendetta.”

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robin.abcarian@latimes.com


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