Pro-Choice Press

a publication of BC's Pro-Choice Action Network

SUMMER 2003 Issue

Special Report: Where Is the Anti-Choice Movement Headed?

by Joyce Arthur

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Table of Contents

Introduction and Summary

This special issue is an analysis of the successes and failures of the anti-choice movement in North America, with a focus on the history and role of extremism in the movement. To better understand the anti-choice movement, I'll try to define who comprises the movement and identify their underlying motivations and worldview. The goal will be to determine where the anti-choice movement is headed and how successful they will be in the long-term.

By examining statistics of abortion-related violence, legal and law enforcement trends, and by making comparisons of the abortion battle to other violent movements, I predict that the extreme violence that characterized the abortion issue during the 1990's will be much reduced in the future, although it will probably never completely disappear. Less severe types of violence and other harassment will likely continue and could escalate, especially in the short-term.

In Canada, the anti-choice movement is a spent force with little or no political influence or power. Canada has by and large become a liberal, pro-choice nation. In the future, the main threat to abortion services in Canada will come from the right-wing politics and violence south of the border. For that reason, much of this issue will focus on the American anti-choice movement.

The U.S. movement will probably fail in its real goal—an unrealistic one—to pass a federal ban on all or most abortions. However, the movement will be around for a long time to come and may continue to win important battles, particularly via its "incremental" strategy of passing various restrictions to erode abortion access. In addition, there is a real danger that Roe v. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states) could be overturned within the next few years, sending abortion regulation back to the control of individual states, most of which could ban abortion.

However, some daunting obstacles stand in the way of long-term success for the anti-choice movement. First, any major anti-choice victory will energize and mobilize the pro-choice movement, which still commands substantial public support and political influence even in these conservative times. The pro-choice movement has served as a strong bulwark against many anti-choice measures and it will continue to do so. Second, the anti-choice movement suffers from a number of serious internal weaknesses which I predict will contribute to its eventual downfall. Specifically, its failures are as follows:

  • Failure to deal adequately with anti-choice violence and extremists
  • Failure to turn the public against legal abortion
  • Failure to understand the pro-choice position (in order to better fight it)
  • Failure to be realistic about making major legal or political changes
  • Failure to respect women's rights, autonomy, and sexual freedom
  • Failure to respect religious freedom and democracy

History of Violence and Extremism

Early History

Clinic protests against abortion started sporadically after the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States, on January 22, 1973. In June 1974, the first injunction to bar protesters from coming onto clinic property or blocking doorways was put in place at the Northern Virginia Women's Medical Center in Fairfax, Virginia. In the summer of 1975, six women protesters were arrested at the first sit-in protest at an abortion clinic in Rockville, Maryland.

The first act of violence occurred in 1977, when a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota was destroyed by arson. From 1977 to 1983, there were 8 bombings, 13 arsons, and 5 attempted bombings or arsons, all in the United States. On August 12, 1982, an Illinois doctor and his wife were kidnapped by three anti-choice extremists and held at gunpoint for 8 days inside an ammunitions bunker. The trio, headed by Don Benny Anderson, claimed to be with Army of God, the first use of this moniker. In 1984, a big escalation in clinic violence ensued: 18 bombs, 6 arsons, 6 attempted arson/bombs, 23 death threats, and 70 clinic invasions and vandalisms. This pattern continued through the ‘80’s with law enforcement refusing to link the attacks to a terrorist movement, and often doing little to apprehend and prosecute those responsible.

Violence in the 1990's

On December 28, 1991, the first shooting occurred. Two staff members at Central Health Center in Springfield, Missouri were shot by a man in a ski mask with a sawed-off shotgun. One woman was left a paraplegic for life. Two weeks later, abortion provider Dr. Douglas Karpen was shot and wounded in a parking garage at the Women’s Pavilion in Houston, Texas.

The numbers of bombings, arsons, and attempted bombings and arsons in the United States skyrocketed in the early 1990’s. This spike was preceded by Operation Rescue-type blockades of clinics involving hundreds of protesters.

On March 10, 1993, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was fatally shot in the back by a protester as he entered his Florida clinic in Pensacola. In June 1993, anti-choice extremist Paul Hill introduced his “Defensive Action Statement”, signed by 30 anti-choice leaders, saying that killing doctors is justifiable homicide. A year later, Hill himself murdered a doctor and his escort as they arrived at another Pensacola clinic. In 1994, two female receptionists at different clinics in Massachusetts were shot dead by a protester. A clinic security guard was killed in an Alabama clinic blast in 1998 and a nurse seriously injured.

The violence spread to Canada in 1992. On May 18, 1992, a firebomb destroyed Dr. Henry Morgentaler’s Toronto abortion clinic in the middle of the night. There were no injuries, but the perpetrator was never caught. In 1994, BC doctor Garson Romalis was shot at his home in Vancouver while eating breakfast, by a sniper hiding in his back alley. This was followed by similar shootings of two more doctors in Hamilton Ontario in 1995 and in Winnipeg in 1997, as well as two New York doctors, one in 1997 and a fatal shooting in 1998. The main suspect is anti-choice extremist James Kopp, who has been charged in the Hamilton shooting and convicted of murder in the 1998 New York shooting.

In total, the 1990's saw 8 murders of doctors or clinic staff and 19 attempted murders.

Violence in the 2000's

So far this decade there has been one attempted murder and one murder. Dr. Garson Romalis of Vancouver was stabbed outside his medical office in July 2000, earning the distinction of being the first doctor in North America to be attacked twice. In July 2001, the violence spread outside North America for the first time. A security guard was shot dead at a Melbourne Australia clinic by a gunman who then threatened the staff, but was overpowered by two men in the waiting room.

Accused doctor sniper James Kopp was caught in France in March 2001 and extradited to New York in July 2002. He confessed to the murder of New York's Dr. Barnett Slepian later that year, was convicted, and sentenced in May 2003 to 25 years to life in prison. Kopp will likely never be extradited for questioning or to stand trial for the Canadian shootings.

There have been no episodes of violence in Canada since 9/11. However, shortly after 9/11 in the U.S., anti-choice radical Clayton Waagner, an escaped fugitive, sent hoax anthrax threat letters and packages to hundreds of clinics across the U.S. Waagner was caught in December 2001. Also caught in May 2003 after five years on the run was Eric Rudolph, charged in the fatal bombing at a Birmingham Alabama abortion clinic, and the main suspect in several other bombings. The execution of convicted doctor-killer Paul Hill took place in September 2003 in Florida.

Murders and Attempted Murders

The following is a chronological table of all murders (9) and attempted murders (20) of abortion providers and clinic staff in North America (including one murder in Australia). Note that the shootings of Dr. Wayne Patterson, Dr. Paul Hackmeyer, and Dr. George Klopfer were never officially attributed to anti-choice motives, but the pro-choice community is strongly suspicious.

Date Name Clinic/Place Location Assailant Description
1991 Dec 28 Don Catron, Building Manager
Claudia Gilmore, Office Manager
Central Health Center Springfield, Montana Never caught Wounded by gunshot
Wounded by gunshot
1992 Jan 14 Dr. Douglas Karpen Women’s Pavilion Houston, Texas Never caught Wounded by gunshot
1993 Mar 10 Dr. David Gunn Pensacola Women’s Medical Services Pensacola, Florida Michael Griffin convicted; life in prison Murdered by gunshot
1993 May 19 Dr. Robert Crist His residence Overland Park, Kansas Never caught Shots fired into home, no injuries
1993 Aug 19 Dr. George Tiller Women’s Health Care Services Wichita, Kansas Rachelle Shannon convicted Wounded by gunshot
1993 Aug 21 Dr. George Wayne Patterson Parking lot Mobile, Alabama Suspect acquitted;
case unsolved
Murdered by gunshot
1994 Mar 20 Dr. Paul Hackmeyer His residence, in driveway Los Angeles, CA Never caught Wounded by gunshot
1994 Jul 29 Dr. John Britton
James Barrett, Escort
June Barrett, Escort
The Ladies Center Pensacola, Florida Paul Hill convicted; executed

Murdered by gunshot
Murdered by gunshot
Wounded by gunshot

1994 Nov 8 Dr. Garson Romalis His residence Vancouver, BC James Kopp suspect Wounded by gunshot
1994 Dec 30 Shannon Lowney, Receptionist
Anjana Agrawal, Antonio Hernandez, Brian Murray
(staff/waiting room)
Planned Parenthood Brookline, Mass. John Salvi convicted; life in prison

Murdered by gunshot

Wounded by gunshot

1994 Dec 30 Leanne Nichols, Receptionist
Jane Sauer,
Richard J. Seron (staff/waiting room)
Preterm Health Services Brookline, Mass. John Salvi convicted; life in prison

Murdered by gunshot

Wounded by gunshot

1995 Jan 5 Dr. George Klopfer While driving Between South Bend & Fort Wayne, Indiana Never caught Shots fired, no injuries
1995 Nov 10 Dr. Hugh Short His residence Ancaster, Ontario James Kopp suspect, charged Wounded by gunshot
1996 Dec 18 Dr. Calvin Jackson Orleans Women’s Clinic New Orleans, Louisiana Donald Cooper, charged Wounded by repeated stabbing
1997 Oct 28 Anonymous doctor His residence Rochester, NY James Kopp suspect Shot at in house, minor injuries
1997 Nov 11 Dr. Jack Fainman His residence Winnipeg, Manitoba James Kopp suspect Wounded by gunshot
1998 Jan 29 Robert Sanderson,
guard/ police officer
Emily Lyons, nurse
New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic Birmingham, Alabama Eric Rudolph suspect, charged

Murdered by bomb

Wounded by bomb

1998 Oct 23 Dr. Barnett Slepian His residence Amherst, NY James Kopp convicted; life in prison Murdered by gunshot
2000 Jul 11 Dr. Garson Romalis Seymour Medical Clinic Vancouver, BC Never caught Wounded by stabbing
2001 Jul 16 Steven Rogers, security guard Fertility Control Clinic Melbourne, Australia Peter Knight convicted; life in prison Murdered by gunshot

Violence in Canada

Following is a listing of all known incidents of severe or moderate violence (including serious vandalism) in Canada.

June 15, 1983 — A man with gardening shears lunged at Dr. Henry Morgentaler outside his Toronto clinic in an assault attempt. Augusto Dantas was charged with possession of a dangerous weapon and assault.

1985 — Anti-choice activist Jim Demers of Nelson BC, served time in jail for destroying a vacuum aspirator he stole from Kootenay Regional General Hospital in Nelson.

February 25, 1990 — A vandal broke into the Everywoman’s Health Centre in Vancouver and destroyed an ultrasound machine and aspirator, using a crowbar. In October 2000, anti-choice activist Lane Walker turned himself in for the crime. He was sentenced to one day in jail and fined $10,000 in damages.

August 1991 — A flammable liquid was poured onto the back wall of the future Edmonton Morgentaler clinic, due to open in a month. It was ignited and caused $1,000 damage.

January 1992 — An arson attack at the Toronto Morgentaler Clinic resulted in $7,000 damage. Youths set fire to a gasoline-soaked tire and hauled it onto the porch, gutting the clinic foyer. A few days earlier, a woman released butyric acid in the clinic washroom.

May 18, 1992 — A firebomb completely destroyed the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto in the middle of the night. There were no injuries, but the perpetrator was never caught.

November 8, 1994 — The five Remembrance Day shootings, so-called because they occurred around the date of November 11, began on this date with the near-fatal shooting of Dr. Garson Romalis in Vancouver, BC. (All shootings were similar: a sniper—James Kopp is the suspect—hid behind the house and shot through a glass window or door into the doctor’s home, using a high-powered rifle.)

November 10, 1995 — Dr. Hugh Short of Hamilton, Ontario was shot and wounded in the elbow by the "Remembrance Day" sniper. James Kopp was later charged.

November 12, 1996 — The Edmonton Morgentaler clinic suffered a butyric acid attack.

November 11, 1997 — Dr. Jack Fainman of Winnipeg, Manitoba was shot and wounded in the shoulder by the "Remembrance Day" sniper.

July 11, 2000 — Dr. Garson Romalis was again attacked, this time in the parking lot of his medical office by an unknown assailant lying in wait for him. Dr. Romalis was stabbed once in the back, nicking his spleen. The culprit was never caught and there are no suspects.

October 24, 2000 — Members of the Vancouver anti-choice group Just Neighbours were arrested at the scene (and later convicted) for spray-painting over a large mural on the outside wall of Everywoman's Health Centre.

Who Is the Anti-Choice Movement?

The anti-choice movement is large and diverse. It would be a mistake to label them all as extremists or fanatics. To allow us to better assess the real nature of the anti-choice movement and its future, I have developed the following categories, based on the type of activity they most commonly engage in. The estimated proportions of each category are educated guesses (no data could be found), but should be close enough to reality to shed useful light on the relative numbers and strength of each category. Of course, some anti-choice activists will fit into more than one category.

Activity Categories

Activity Category Definition Estimated Proportion
Extremists Those who commit violence against providers and clinics, or who openly encourage or condone it.[1] 2-3%
Confrontationists Those who aggressively picket clinics or use confrontational tactics, such as showing graphic pictures of aborted fetuses on the street or Internet, distributing personal information on providers, sidewalk counseling, filing harassing lawsuits, spying, etc. 15-20%
Bead-Counters Those who picket clinics in a legal, peaceful, and non-intrusive way, or who participate in other non-confrontational protest activity; primarily motivated by devout religious belief.[2] 5-10%
Lobbyists Those who engage in at least one of the following: legislative work, political lobbying, internal organizing, and media work or publishing. 40-50%
Counselors Those involved in anti-choice "counseling" centers or similar "woman-centered" pregnancy aid; not including sidewalk counselors. Also includes "researchers" who publicize the “dangers” of abortion to women. 20-25%

1. Results from a recent Internet poll on a Christian website showed that eight percent of respondents thought Paul Hill's murder of an abortion doctor and his escort "helped the pro-life movement." Although the poll was not scientific, it gives an alarming indication that the anti-choice movement might harbour a relatively large number of Extremists. (Source: Christian News Service,\Nation\archive\200309\NAT20030904b.html)

2. I believe that Bead-Counters have virtually no political influence or impact on the abortion debate, so their "contribution" is not discussed further in this essay.

Religious Categories

Another way of breaking down anti-choice categories is by religious motivation, as per the following table. The vast majority of anti-choicers are religious fundamentalists, which comprise the first four categories below. Again, the estimated proportions are educated guesses. (Note that the estimated proportions and the assigned Activity Categories are meant to include only those who are active in the anti-choice movement.)

Religious Category Definition Estimated Proportion Most Common Activity Categories
Evangelicals "Born-again" Protestant Christians who believe in proselytizing and who promote traditional "Judeo-Christian values" including male dominance and sex only for married men and women. 40-50% Lobbyists
Papal Catholics Conservative Roman Catholics who believe and follow the Church's official doctrines against birth control and abortion. 40-50% All
Other Religious Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, and conservative Jews, Muslims, and those of other religions whose anti-choice activity is primarily religiously-motivated. 3-5% Lobbyists
Far Right Those for whom abortion is often a secondary (although important) issue. Includes racist and white supremacy groups, militia groups, Christian Reconstructionists, etc. Most are Protestant Christians and derive their agenda from a brand of religious fundamentalism. 3-5% Confrontationists
Non-Religious Those whose anti-choice activity is not primarily motivated by religious beliefs, including religious liberals, atheists, and agnostics (e.g., Feminists for Life). 1-2% Lobbyists
Religious Fundamentalism— Roots of Anti-Choice Belief

The major opposition to abortion comes from conservative religious groups. Any protest outside an abortion clinic involves obvious religious activity by picketers, including praying, preaching, singing hymns, or counting rosary beads. Anti-choice literature is often completely suffused with religious language. Counseling centres for pregnant women openly call themselves Christian ministries and try to convert women to Christianity.

An active anti-choice movement exists in most countries where abortion is legal, but the movement is politically strong only in the United States.[1] Most anti-choice activities, especially the violence, are relatively rare outside the U.S. In fact, radical resistance to abortion largely originated in the U.S., and has since bubbled over into a few other parts of the world, particularly Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia. In most countries in the world, however, the political controversy over abortion is muted or non-existent.

The main reason the United States is cursed with such massive resistance to legal abortion is probably because of its strong religious base. One of the things that distinguishes America from other countries is the separation of church and state. For example, most European countries have state churches, and citizens must pay taxes to the church whether they attend or not. But in America, the separation of state and church has actually helped religion to grow and diversify. The United States today is one of the most religious countries in the world, second only to Muslim theocracies like Iran or Afghanistan. About 40% of Americans call themselves born-again Christians.

One of the most organized groups against abortion is the Roman Catholic church. Even though most Catholics in North America are quite liberal and pro-choice, the Pope and the church hierarchy hold well-known views against abortion and birth control. And because of American tolerance for organized religion, the Vatican manages to wield a surprising amount of power and influence over American politics and culture. It has intervened in the U.S. because it has lost the battle against legal abortion in Europe, and it sees the United States as its last hope of imposing its anti-abortion views globally (Arthur 2001a).

The vast bulk of anti-choicers, then, are religious fundamentalists, who comprise my categories of Evangelical Protestants, Papal Catholics, Other Religious, and Far Right. According to sociologist Dallas Blanchard (1994), religious fundamentalists are those who share certain religious beliefs, including primarily a literal interpretation of the Bible and a belief in substitutionary atonement (this means a belief that Jesus' death on the cross was a "substitution" of himself in the place of sinners, so they would gain eternal life by being saved from their sins). Religious fundamentalists also generally believe in the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical resurrection of Jesus, and special creation of the world in six days.

Religious fundamentalists have six characteristics, according to Blanchard:

  1. Certitude — a belief that one can know the "final truth," antagonism to ambiguity, dependence on and obedience to an external authority, a willingness to assert authority over others.
  2. Reliance on external source — e.g., the Bible or Church dogma.
  3. Dualistic belief system — the division between body and soul, the physical and spiritual. Black and white distinctions between good and evil, God and Satan.
  4. Traditional family ethic — husband as head of household, stay-at-home wife and mother, obedience of wife and children. Restriction of "legitimate" family to a married man and woman with children, and condemnation of pre-marital sex, gay relationships, and single motherhood.
  5. Justification for violence — worship of a violent God, which gives a rationale for violence—God demands physical punishment for human sin and supervises a literal hell. Advocacy of physical punishment of children, the death penalty, and use of nuclear weapons. (Studies have shown that fundamentalists are more frequently wife-beaters and child abusers.[2] [Brown 1989])
  6. Rejection of modernism — Advocacy of a return to religion as the central social institution, with education, economics, and politics serving religious ends.

Other sociological researchers confirm these basic dynamics. A recent study showed that at the core of conservatism lies resistance to change and tolerance for inequality. Common psychological factors that were linked to political conservatism include: fear and aggression, dogmatism and intolerance of ambiguity, uncertainty avoidance, and need for cognitive closure. (Jost et al 2003)

Blanchard believes that such characteristics lie at the root of the anti-choice worldview. He says that anti-choice activists "desire to return to a secure world of certitude and non-ambiguity," which, he notes, is "a world that existed only in their dreams and my nightmares." He points out that such folks are a "declining, if not regrettably, a dying breed. The real world will engulf them." The Ayatollahs and Talibans of whatever religion may gain control briefly here and there, but "the people are soon retching at the thought of them." (Blanchard, personal correspondence, 2003)

Indeed, when one looks at the sophisticated, liberal democracies that are typical of western Europe, Australia, and North America, it's hard to believe that the mostly well-educated people in these nations would tolerate having their basic rights taken away. Western civilization learned a painful lesson from the horrors of World War II, lessons now deeply ingrained into our sensibilities. The modern concept of universal human rights arose from the ashes of the war and gave renewed impetus to the struggle to achieve women's equality, respect for diversity, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and other democratic ideals. These values are now deeply cherished by a majority of people in the western world. How could a fascist or theocratic regime gain the upper hand in such an environment, even by force? Therefore, while religious fundamentalism may always be an element within human society, it is unlikely to ever again achieve long-lasting or widespread power in the world. Regardless, it is a force that must always be actively repudiated because of the inherent danger it poses to human rights.

In addition to religious fundamentalism, Blanchard introduces another category called cultural fundamentalism. He defines this as largely a protest against cultural change (such as the rising status of women, sexual openness, and acceptance of homosexuality), as well as adherence to traditional norms and a moralistic outlook on the world.

Cultural fundamentalism probably stems mostly from patriarchy, which is a social system of male dominance over women and families. During our prehistory, patriarchy was justified and entrenched by religion, and the two have been inextricably united ever since. Therefore, cultural fundamentalism can be considered as a subset of religious fundamentalism, and defined as the movement to impose patriarchal religious values onto everyone by law. My Far Right category fits this definition. For example, Christian Reconstructionists seek to establish a Judeo-Christian theocracy in America—they believe that law and society should be based strictly on the Old Testament. Some Far Rightists may not seem primarily motivated by religion—the Ku Klux Klan want a return to segregation, for example. However, Far Rightists owe their position largely to conservative (or at least eccentric) religious beliefs—the KKK believes that whites are God's chosen people and that the Bible forbids race-mixing. KKK insignia even features a cross, altar, and open Bible. The basic motivation of Evangelical Protestants, for example, is the same as that of the Far Right—they lament the "moral decline" of society and desire a return to the previous "utopia" (in their minds) of traditional family values and a religiously-based culture. Ironically, the United States is arguably more religious today than it has ever been, making it an anomaly among modern secular democracies. And the same sorts of social "ills"—abortion, divorce, homosexuality, etc.—still existed in the past just as they do now, but were more hidden.

[1] Where abortion is illegal, such as in Latin America and Africa, anti-choice forces are in control of course, but they are not a "movement."

[2] Fundamentalist Fervor Increases Child Abuse.

What Motivates Anti-Choicers?

Without a clear understanding of why the anti-choice movement wants to make abortion illegal, we won’t be able to determine its future with any accuracy.

The anti-choice movement is strongly pro-fetus, at least publicly. No doubt many anti-choicers are motivated by a genuine concern for the fetus, which is reinforced by anti-choice propaganda that unquestionably labels fetuses as human beings and abortion as murder. However, being against abortion is just one interlocking piece of the worldview of most anti-choicers, which is that women should be subordinate to men, abstain from sex outside of marriage, and fulfil their primary purpose—motherhood. These views arise from a religious fundamentalist perspective on human nature and the traditional family. Given this, although the status of the fetus occupies centre stage in the anti-abortion debate, it may actually be a red herring. For one thing, a fetus has rarely been considered a human being historically, at least not before "quickening", an old-fashioned term indicating noticeable movement of the fetus. The Catholic Church's position on abortion has evolved over the centuries; abortion was completely forbidden only in 1869, but the Church's dislike of it often had more to do with the belief that abortion hid the sin of sexual promiscuity, not that it "killed babies."

Do anti-choicers really believe abortion is murder? They say that thousands of babies are being murdered in abortion clinics every day across the U.S., but if that were true, shouldn't it arouse many more of them into direct, outraged action? As Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, once said, "If you believe it's murder, act like it's murder!" A few Extremists followed his advice by exacting an "eye for an eye" vengeance, but most never did. It's certainly not because anti-choicers are incredibly peaceful and show remarkable restraint compared to normal people. We've already seen that the religious fundamentalist mindset more easily justifies violence. Also, statistics show that Confrontationists help escalate the rate of violent incidents with their rude, aggressive tactics outside clinics (Feminist Majority Foundation 2003). One could argue that the "abortion is murder" mantra serves mainly a political purpose by inflaming as many people as possible to commit, at the very least, acts of harassment and low-level violence against doctors and clinics. After all, very few people have the audacity to commit premeditated murder, but calling in a fake bomb threat is much easier and has fewer consequences.

Most anti-choicers, however—the Lobbyists, Counselors, and Bead-Counters—don't have such a visceral reaction to the "abortion holocaust." Why not? Could it be that they don't really believe deep down that abortion is murder? As a practical matter, it's very difficult to think of fetuses as full human beings because they have a number of unique characteristics that distinguish them from born human beings, such as being cocooned inside another's body, being less than two inches long for the first couple months of gestation, and looking like a tadpole. Besides, if anti-choicers really believed that abortion was a form of genocide—an unforgivable crime—they wouldn't hero-worship a former abortion doctor like Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who gets paid to brag at "pro-life" dinner parties about the 70,000 abortions he performed at his New York clinic in the 1970's. Also, they profess compassion and caring for women faced with unwanted pregnancies or who have been "damaged" by their abortions, yet they fail to appreciate that these same women—not abortion providers, not legislators or judges, and not the pro-choice movement—are solely responsible for seeking and obtaining over one million abortions in the U.S. every year. If they really believe abortion is murder, then why don't they put most of the blame on women? The most likely explanation is that they think women do not bear responsibility for their abortions. They believe that, like children, women need direction and moral guidance because they are easily victimized by circumstances and easily led by people around them.

The primary motivation behind the anti-choice agenda is a sexist paternalism that requires control of women and their sexuality. A patriarchal worldview steeped in religious fundamentalism leads anti-choicers to resent and resist feminism and women's autonomy. They believe that a woman's highest calling is to devote herself to husband and family.[3] Religious fundamentalism is also permeated with a puritanical view of sex, complete with a double standard of sexual behaviour for men and women. Boys will be boys and must sow their wild oats, but good girls shouldn't even think about sex, let alone have it. The only acceptable sexual activity for women is procreative sex in the marriage bed. In fact, sex without the intent to procreate is a sin even for married couples, according to the Catholic Church. In light of all this, it's obviously wrong for any woman to get an abortion—it means she is escaping the consequences of her sexual sins and dodging her motherhood duty. Whether abortion is murder or not is almost immaterial—that argument becomes just a smokescreen, a cheap slogan used mainly to inflame passions and incite violence.

[3] In fairness, fundamentalists also expect men to be strong husbands and fathers. They see abortion as an excuse for men to avoid their responsibilities to women and children.

Successes of the Anti-Choice Movement

For a fuller picture of the anti-choice movement's future, we must analyze how successful it's been in the social, legal, and political realms. (Its relative success in reducing abortion access with the tactic of violent extremism will be discussed later.)

To help throw light on the movement's successes (and failures), I will use as a main source the new anti-choice book Back to the Drawing Board: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement (Wagner, ed, 2003). The book’s premise is that the movement has failed to reach its main goal to abolish abortion (in the United States). The collection of 26 essays in this 328 page book are by moderate anti-choice leaders—Lobbyists and Counselors—who were asked to chronicle the movement’s history, including its successes and failures, and offer new strategies and solutions for the future. (The book will be referred to as "BDB".)

Besides using violence to terrorize abortion providers and reduce access, the U.S. anti-choice movement has enjoyed four main types of "legitimate" successes, including:

  • Keeping abortion in the public eye and keeping the stigma and controversy alive
  • Bringing public attention to the fetus and making it visible, with the help of modern technology such as ultrasound, photography, and the Internet
  • Isolating abortion in clinics and restricting hospital abortions
  • Reducing access by electing anti-choice politicians, appointing anti-choice judges, and passing numerous state and federal laws limiting the right to abortion

Keeping the Stigma Alive

Ideally, abortion should be treated as a normal part of women's healthcare—it should not be grabbing headlines. That abortion has remained an important and controversial public issue is certainly a reflection of the persistent and vocal anti-choice presence over the past few decades. However, the movement can't take all the "credit." Abortion has only been legal for about 30 years in both Canada and the U.S. Obviously, it takes time for what was once a shameful crime to become integrated into the healthcare system as a necessary and accepted medical service. But even with anti-choice efforts to keep the stigma alive, abortion services have come a long way in 30 years. Abortions are performed safely and professionally by caring doctors and healthcare staff; ongoing research and experience has improved techniques and technology; and clinics have played a vital role in removing some of the stigma by treating women non-judgmentally, with respect and compassion.

Moreover, the longer that abortion stays legal and available, the more entrenched and socially accepted it becomes. Today, young women take the right for granted and have no memory of when abortion was illegal. This can breed apathy and ignorance about the importance of the right, but it also ensures that legislators and judges will at least hesitate before taking it away. In a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld some restrictions on abortion but stopped short of reversing the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, (Casey vs. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1992), the majority argued that Roe v Wade could not be overturned (in part) because to do so would cause serious inequity for people who have depended on legal abortion for two decades to "organize intimate relationships and make choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society." The court also said that "the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives." (Syllabus,

On the other hand, as one anti-choice writer points out (Jack Willke, BDB: For Better or Worse, pp 125), tens of millions of women have had abortions in the U.S. since 1973, and might be expected to become abortion supporters together with their partners or close friends. But this has not translated into steadily increasing support for abortion rights over the years. Even though abortion has personally affected a large number of North Americans, those who have exercised the right have been mostly silent. Of course, abortion is an intensely personal and often stressful experience that most women simply prefer to keep private, but their silence is probably due at least in part to the ongoing stigma of abortion. Nevertheless, the sheer numbers of women who have had abortions implies a great deal of latent pro-choice support, which could become a force to reckon with if abortion rights are ever seriously threatened. For one thing, women who otherwise remain silent may at least vote for pro-choice candidates.

Bringing Public Attention to the Fetus

Making the fetus more visible to the public is only a partial success for the anti-choice movement. Certainly, modern society is more aware of the fetus than previous generations because of the advent of medical photography and ultrasound. The fetus began its political career after LIFE Magazine published a series of colour photos of developing fetuses in 1965. Yet this same time period saw the rapid growth of the effort to repeal abortion laws. Nowadays, such pictures are easily accessible on the Internet, including of course, pictures of alleged aborted fetuses that anti-choicers use for shock value.

However, it's debatable how much the sight of a fetus, dead or alive, really sways people against abortion. In spite of anti-choicers' efforts over the years to make the fetus the centre of public attention, they have mostly failed to move society to their side, judging by various polls. Anti-choice "Counselors" have started using ultrasound machines in many crisis pregnancy centres, because they believe that when a woman sees her living fetus, it helps persuade her not to have an abortion. But the declining rates of abortion in the U.S. can largely be attributed to causes unrelated to people's views of the fetus, primarily to changing demographics. (I'll expand on both these points later, under Swaying Public Opinion—a Stalled Battle.)

The gory pictures of dead fetuses that protesters display are more likely to make people wish the abortion issue would just go away—they generally find such tactics more distasteful than abortion itself. The grotesque photos may reduce abortions in a more sinister way, however—they seem to act as a trigger to anti-choice violence against doctors. The killer of Dr. David Gunn claimed he was driven temporarily insane by images in Hard Truth, a graphic anti-choice video that, ominously, was released shortly before the first shootings occurred in 1991 in Springfield Missouri (Harrison, 2003). Another inflammatory video, Assignment Life, was cited by the defence in the trial of four Extremists as a major influence in leading them to bomb three clinics in Pensacola Florida in 1984. (Blanchard and Prewitt, 1993)

Isolating Abortion in Clinics

Restricting hospital abortions and isolating abortion in clinics has helped marginalize abortion services and turn abortion providers into pariahs in the medical community. Most medical students don't learn how to do abortions because they're not generally performed at hospitals—interested students must voluntarily seek out a rotation at a private clinic. (In Canada, two-thirds of abortions are still performed at hospitals, but medical students are still not adequately trained.)

In the U.S., anti-choice political pressure contributed to abortion services being moved out of the hospitals and into clinics, but the anti-choice movement can take only a small part of the credit. (In fact, this success is barely mentioned in BDB, only briefly by one author.) It was the pro-choice movement and the medical establishment that were mostly responsible for clinics—the former because clinics are more effective at delivering safe, prompt, inexpensive, and supportive care to women; the latter out of fear and distaste. (Of course, the medical establishment itself has a powerful anti-choice lobby within it.)

The unfortunate side-effect is that free-standing clinics are magnets for anti-choice harassment, while hospitals are much more difficult to target. Clinics are often on the street, easily accessible—for both patients and protesters—and cut off from other businesses and medical facilities. Protests at clinics are tolerated as protected First Amendment activity, but as one doctor notes in frustration, "If we observe 'quiet zones' round hospitals, why no similar restraints at abortion clinics?" (Hodgson 1995)

The Incremental Strategy

The incremental strategy of slowly chipping away at women's right to abortion through the political and legislative process, has probably been the single, most successful strategy of the anti-choice movement. It's the one that continues to pose the most danger to abortion rights and access. Ironically, most of the BDB authors don't seem to realize this because they are focused on other, more unattainable goals.

First, a bit of history: The Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion in all 50 states in January 1973, causing the pro-choice movement to relax its guard. Within a few years, the anti-choice movement had mobilized to fight back in the legal arena. Through the late 1970's and especially the 1980's, the momentum belonged to anti-choicers. Anti-choice presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. appointed numerous right-wing, anti-choice judges throughout the judicial system. Their legacy has been the passage of numerous abortion restrictions through the 1990's and 2000's. Every year, dozens of anti-choice bills are introduced in state and federal legislatures. In the first part of 2003 alone, over 200 such measures were introduced by states, more than ever before.

What these restrictions mean is that while abortion remains accessible to white, middle-class women, it has become an illusory right for everyone else. Laws restricting abortion primarily victimize less advantaged women, including youth, the poor, the uneducated, rural women, ethnic minorities, and women with health problems. The first major abortion restriction occurred in 1976, when Congress passed the Hyde amendment prohibiting the use of Medicaid funds to pay for poor women’s abortions. Further Supreme Court decisions allowed states to require parental consent for teenagers' abortions, prohibit the use of public funds and facilities for abortion, and ban abortions after about 24 weeks (when the fetus is viable). Many states also mandate waiting periods for abortion, forcing women to visit the clinic at least twice. Some states have passed "informed consent" laws that compel abortion providers to give anti-choice propaganda to their patients. And a federal law is expected to pass this fall that will ban most second trimester abortions at the expense of women's health and rights. The American pro-choice movement spends huge amounts of time and money to defeat the passage of these laws, but too often they are not defeated (Arthur 2003a).

The highly successful incremental strategy is not the favoured tactic of most of the anti-choice movement. (Its real cherished goal is to pass a federal law or constitutional amendment banning all abortions, which for numerous reasons, is unlikely to ever happen—more on this later). According to a new book, Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War (2003), the success of the incremental strategy may owe far more to the work of what author William Saletan calls "pro-choice conservatives" than to the anti-choice movement. Saletan claims that the pro-choice group NARAL (then the National Abortion Rights Action League, now known as NARAL Pro-Choice America) revamped their abortion strategies in the 1980's in order to build up support among conservatives who favoured tradition, family, and property. NARAL exploited public ambivalence on the question of abortion. The majority of Americans, an indistinguishable mix of “pro-choice conservatives” and "pro-life pragmatists” don't want (or expect) to make abortion illegal, but support parental involvement laws and no federal funding for abortion, on the basis that others—families and taxpayers—have just as much "right to choose" as women. Although NARAL did not foresee it, according to Saletan, pro-choice conservatives now control the abortion debate in the U.S. As a result, privacy and access have been sacrificed in order to maintain the shell of legal abortion. Saletan describes President George W. Bush as a classic example of a pro-choice conservative with his "three-step" dance designed to capture both anti-choice and pro-choice voters: 1) He opposes abortion and wants to foster a "culture of life", but 2) He won't outlaw abortion, because America is not ready for that; therefore 3) Compromises must be struck in the form of various restrictions that target teens and poor women especially. Such measures are in line with the rest of Bush’s agenda of respecting parents and taxpayers while limiting government control. (pp 264)

It will take decades of hard work for the American pro-choice movement to repeal the tide of restrictions on abortion, if such a feat can be accomplished at all.

Meanwhile, a huge setback is looming over the horizon. If Bush is re-elected in 2004, it is widely feared that he will be able to appoint one or two conservative Supreme Court justices, bringing an anti-choice majority to the court and endangering Roe v. Wade. If this historic ruling is overturned, the legality of abortion will revert back to individual states. Likely consequences are as follows: Thirteen states still have pre-Roe criminal laws against abortion and could start enforcing them immediately by obtaining court injunctions to close clinics. Other states, particularly those with Republican legislatures and governors, may act quickly to pass abortion bans. A politically astute abortion provider from Arkansas, Dr. William Harrison, told me that abortion might remain legal and accessible in only about 5 to 10 states, including the most populous states of California and New York, as well as Washington State and Kansas (personal communication, 2003). Hundreds of thousands of women elsewhere would be forced to travel outside their state or to Canada, if they can afford the trip. We would probably see a return of illegal and even unsafe abortions in states with anti-choice laws. Although safe but clandestine abortion services may still be available to women with the resources and courage to seek them out from equally brave providers, the most vulnerable women may attempt dangerous self-induced abortions, or rely on unskilled, unlicensed practitioners.

Tragically, it may take numerous deaths of women before Americans relearn the forgotten dangers of illegal abortion and take action against restrictive abortion laws. Even so, many years may pass before laws are actually repealed, because courts and legislatures tend to lag well behind public opinion.

Canada's Dying Anti-Choice Movement

In Canada, the anti-choice movement has little or no political influence or power. Although active and vocal, it is quite insular—mostly ignored by the mainstream media and dismissed by influential politicians. It spends its resources on battles it hopes it may have some effect on, such as lobbying against stem cell research, public funding of abortions, and gay marriage. Anti-choice activists in Canada rarely express any hope or resolve to make abortion illegal, except by means of occasional court cases where they try to obtain legal personhood for fetuses. All such efforts have failed completely, resulting in strongly worded rulings that have entrenched women's equality under the constitution while negating any supposed rights for fetuses.

Overall, one could say that Canada is a strongly pro-choice nation with a stubborn streak of anti-choice sentiment running beneath it. Most provinces experience at least some anti-choice activity, but two provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, have borne the brunt of anti-choice violence, harassment, and clinic protests. That may be because governments there were publicly supportive of abortion rights and worked to improve access. Or it may simply be a matter of demographics. BC and Ontario are more heavily populated than other provinces, have more abortion clinics and providers, and of course more abortions. Regardless, protest activity at clinics has been down in recent years, due in part to buffer zones put in place in the mid-1990's in Ontario, BC, and Alberta. Plus, a significant proportion of today's protesters are Bead-Counter types, not Confrontationists.

Quebec also has many clinics and providers, but its liberal Catholic population is strongly pro-choice and there is virtually no anti-choice activity. In other smaller provinces, especially the Maritimes, the population is more conservative and abortion services may not be well-publicized or socially accepted. This reduces anti-choice activity, but it also makes it harder for women to access services, and harder for pro-choicers to defend abortion rights.

Perhaps another measure of the relative strength of the pro-choice position in Canada is the small size of the pro-choice movement versus the much larger anti-choice movement. When a status quo is well-established, it requires fewer resources to protect it and greater resources to fight it. Hence, Canada has an estimated 270 anti-choice groups (including "counseling" centres), but only a dozen or so pro-choice groups, mostly very small ones with marginal revenues and perhaps 2 or 3 part-time paid staff persons between them. About 170 anti-choice groups have charitable tax status, compared to only one pro-choice group with that status. Groups with charitable tax status generate significantly higher revenues because supporters can make tax-deductible donations. Although most anti-choice groups in Canada are small and volunteer-run, many have paid staff, sizable memberships, and decent funding. Anti-choice groups enjoy a strong organizational advantage over pro-choice groups, because most are religiously-based, enlisting entire church congregations in their efforts.

In spite of winning at the numbers and funding game, anti-choice groups have been spectacularly unsuccessful when it comes to changing laws or public policy in Canada. Not a single restriction on abortion has ever been passed since the 1988 Supreme Court Morgentaler decision that threw out Canada's abortion law in its entirety (the law was liberalized in 1969 but proved to be unconstitutional). However, anti-choicers have been successful in other ways. They have kept the issue going with their lobbying and propaganda efforts, although to a much lesser extent than in the U.S. where the debate is loud and dynamic compared to the relative quiet in Canada.

Probably the biggest "success" of Canada's anti-choice movement relates to the rise of anti-choice extremism in the U.S. and its spread to Canada. Extremist and Confrontationist tactics have had a large impact on abortion provision in Canada by creating a climate of intimidation among doctors and healthcare workers. The Canadian anti-choice movement is considerably more genteel than its U.S. counterpart when it comes to such tactics, most of which we might never have experienced were it not for our long and porous border with the U.S. The shootings of three doctors since 1994 were almost certainly carried out by an American anti-choice radical (suspect James Kopp). Confrontationist tactics such as clinic blockades and home picketing were largely led or taught by American Extremists like Joseph Scheidler.

The overall effect of anti-choice efforts in Canada, whether homegrown or imported from America, has been to create a chilling effect on the provision of abortion services. Doctors maintain a low profile to preserve their safety and privacy and politicians ignore the issue to preserve their reputations and careers. The result? Fewer doctors are willing to perform abortions; those who do so find themselves on the fringes of the medical community; abortion itself is cloaked in stigma and marginalized as a legitimate health service; many serious obstacles to access remain—including blatantly illegal ones; and women still have abortions in an atmosphere of misinformation, shame, and secrecy.

Although anti-choice propaganda and extremism have hurt access and slowed the social acceptance of abortion, the Canadian anti-choice movement is, by and large, a spent force, an anachronism increasingly left behind by the progressive values enshrined in Canada's 1982 constitution and since furthered by the courts. The current political environment in Canada means that abortion rights are well-protected by the courts and legislators. Out of five major political parties, four are officially pro-choice, and the fifth has no plans to stop legal abortion. A large majority of Canadians believe that abortion is a private decision between a woman and her doctor, plus most Canadians have little respect and even less patience for religious fundamentalists who would impose their views on the rest of us.

By far the most pressing danger to abortion rights in Canada lies south of the border. If abortion becomes less accessible or illegal in the U.S., American women may start flocking to Canada to get abortions. Apart from the access problems this would pose for Canada's clinics and hospitals, such "abortion tourism" would probably make Canada a prime target for American extremists. The Canadian anti-choice movement would also be energized and emboldened by a change in U.S. climate. Therefore, no analysis of the anti-choice movement's future in Canada can be complete without a thorough evaluation of its American counterpart.

United States—Violent Patterns and Trends

In the U.S., the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1976 freed large numbers of conservatives to shift their attention to the anti-choice cause. Violence began the very next year during the Jimmy Carter administration. Carter was pro-choice, but he did cut off Medicaid funds for poor women's abortions with the Hyde amendment. Although sporadic, violence slowly increased over the next several years, especially after the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 (at this time, violence consisted mostly of bombings, arsons, and attempts). Reagan was the first strongly anti-choice president—one of his first promises was to make abortion illegal, which raised high hopes in the movement. Reagan never really acted on this empty promise, but he did help the Lobbyist arm of the movement in other ways—he lent ongoing support to the Hyde amendment, banned the importation of RU-486, prohibited the federal funding of fetal tissue research, and introduced the "global gag rule" that prevented U.S. funding from going to overseas agencies that provided information on abortion. (Blanchard 1994)

Reagan may have inadvertently escalated the violence during his first term, because he refused to condemn it, in spite of many well-publicized requests that he do so. He even hosted a delegation of anti-choice leaders at the White House, including Extremist Joseph Scheidler, during which he promised the group he would consider granting pardons to anti-abortion bombers. Reagan took a public stand against abortion in numerous speeches, including annual addresses to March for Life participants, and in 1983, he published an essay in Human Life Review (published by Human Life International), in which he urged "the antiabortion forces not to lose heart," exhorting them with the vague phrase: "Something must be done." One anti-choice extremist, Don Anderson, who in 1982 kidnapped and held at gunpoint a doctor and his wife for eight days, stated from his prison cell in 1985 that he "agreed with pro-choice groups that bombers were encouraged by the absence of direct condemnations of their activities by Reagan … [They feel] they have a green light from the president—that's the impression I got." (Washington Post, January 4, 1985, as cited in Blanchard 1994)

Despite this support, conservatives were unhappy at Reagan's inability to make abortion illegal. In 1983, the U.S. Senate defeated a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. The very next year saw an unprecedented increase in the rate of anti-choice violence. Sociologist Dallas Blanchard, who has researched the anti-choice movement, attributes this rise to "a building frustration with the Reagan administration's lack of effectiveness in counteracting [legal abortion]. As the frustration grew, more activist elements came to the fore. In sum, Reagan's apparent sympathy for the anti-abortion movement led to rising hopes for change, which were effectively dashed, the classic condition for an increase in violence." (Blanchard 1994, pp 55, 58)

It was not until January 1985 that Reagan finally spoke out against anti-choice violence, after three clinics were bombed in Pensacola Florida on Christmas Day, 1984. The violence tapered off after this denouncement, although rates still remained higher than in previous years. Reagan's FBI director, William Webster, refused to label clinic bombings and arsons as terrorist acts, thereby keeping the FBI out of the mix and hampering law enforcement against the violence. (Radford 1993) By 1986, rates were escalating once again.

Elected in 1988, George Bush Sr. largely continued Reagan's policies, and also appointed three ultra-right judges to the Supreme Court, which later severely crippled the Roe v Wade ruling. Rates of anti-choice violence remained fairly steady during this period, but there was a huge increase in picketing and blockades, courtesy of the Confrontationist group Operation Rescue.

Violence—including increased use of vandalism and clinic invasions—more than doubled over 1992 and 1993. This escalation was most likely precipitated by Operation Rescue-type activity, in part because of the sheer numbers and attention that clinic blockades brought to the abortion battle, but the election of Bill Clinton in 1992 probably angered anti-choicers. Clinton was responsible for a number of pro-choice measures—he repealed the global gag rule and appointed a pro-choice Supreme Court judge, forestalling the danger of an anti-choice majority on the Court. Probably Clinton's most important legacy was the passage of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) in 1994, which prohibited violence, obstruction, and threats to clinics.

The FACE Act was the culmination of pro-choice resistance to confrontationist tactics outside clinics, particularly the Operation Rescue blockades that began in 1988 and fizzled out by 1994. The cities targeted by Operation Rescue quickly lost their patience because enormous police resources and taypayers' money were required to keep the peace and process hundreds of arrestees. Plus the clinics fought back by using armies of clinic defenders, obtaining court injunctions, and launching civil lawsuits. The result was frequent failed blockades, numerous convictions, and increasingly harsh penalties and fines for blockaders, who were often left to rot in jail without support from their anti-choice leaders. Operation Rescue itself was virtually bankrupted by the heavy fines. At one point, some activists started using their children to block entrances, thinking kids wouldn't be thrown in jail, but parents were convicted of contributing to the delinquency of minors and began losing custody of their children. (Blanchard 1995)

This reality made ordinary picketers less and less willing to risk arrest and they deserted the Confrontationist movement in droves. In 1988, blockades were attended by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people, but by 1994, only a handful were showing up. These stalwarts were more committed and radical; for example, many were "professional" picketers who spent all their time traveling from clinic to clinic, and some were Extremists. When the doctor shootings began, they happened at clinics, often during protests. Michael Griffin was responsible for the first fatal doctor shooting of Dr. David Gunn in March 1993, which he carried out during a picket at a clinic in Florida. In July 1994, two months after the FACE Act passed, Paul Hill murdered a doctor and his escort while protesting in front of another Florida clinic. In December 1994, John Salvi murdered the receptionists at two clinics in Massachusetts after participating in several "rescues" at one of the clinics earlier in the year.

Sociologist Dallas Blanchard links the anti-choice shootings of the 1990's to the failure of Operation Rescue tactics. Because anti-choicers were frustrated at their inability to close clinics and turn the tide of public opinion to their favour, they turned to desperate measures (Blanchard 1995). This violence was probably also motivated by retribution, not protest, according to a theory that anti-choice Extremists want to bring down God's apocalyptic judgment against the evil of abortion (Mason 2002). (A common belief is that God has stopped protecting America because of abortion—that's why anti-choicers blamed abortion for 9/11, for example.)

But this increase in violence created even greater problems for the movement. A major outcome of the 1990's wave of shootings was more and better law enforcement. Before, clinics often had a hard time convincing local law enforcement to take seriously the often vicious antics of anti-choice protesters. That began to change under the influence of the Operation Rescue blockades, the high-profile shootings, and the pro-choice Clinton administration. The FACE Act meant that clinics no longer had to depend solely on their local, often conservative police forces. They could call in the FBI instead, who would apply the law evenhandedly and help educate the local police at the same time. With an actual law to enforce, police no longer had the option of staying neutral in what they often saw as a political debate. Now it was a law and order issue, and one that had increasing relevance to them after an off-duty police officer was killed in a bomb blast at a Birmingham Alabama clinic in 1998. In Canada, it took three shootings of doctors between 1994 and 1997 before police finally sat up and heeded pro-choice warnings about a serial sniper on the loose. Even then, it was not until a New York doctor became the sniper's first fatality in 1998 that American and Canadian police joined forces to identify a suspect and wage an all-out manhunt.

The National Abortion Federation points to improved law enforcement as a chief deterrent of anti-choice violence, especially in high-profile cases. "The visibility given to the arrest, imprisonment, and prosecution of two violent, high profile anti-choice extremists [James Kopp and Clayton Waagner]… served as an important deterrent in dissuading others from committing violent acts. … Also contributing to the decline have been the vigorous enforcement of the law by local, state, and federal officials, and effective vigilance, training, and dedication of clinic staff." (National Abortion Federation 2003).

Both Kopp and Waagner, as well as the recently captured bomber Eric Rudolph, had been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List. This trio of high-profile manhunts, arrests, and aggressive prosecutions have contributed to a reluctance on the part of Confrontationists to openly support the terrorists, let alone join with them. This leaves Extremists with a greatly reduced support network. As the director for law-enforcement relations at the Feminist Majority Foundation, Margaret Moore, points out, anti-choice extremists "are terrorists, just like al Qaeda. They can't operate unless they have financial, religious, and social support." (Miami Herald, August 31, 2003). As a result, the ranks of the Extremists appear to be dwindling. There has been no occurrence of major terrorism since the autumn of 2001, when Waagner sent hundreds of hoax anthrax threats to clinics.

Since 2001, however, Confrontationists have increased their use of aggressive and harassing tactics outside clinics, including the use of graphic pictures of aborted fetuses and taking pictures of staff and patients to publish on the Internet. When aggressive activity outside clinics is left unchecked, it often leads to an escalation of violence, as occurred with the Operation Rescue blockades. Zero tolerance by law enforcement is critical to ensuring that such escalations do not occur again. A few Extremist supporters of convicted doctor killer Paul Hill called for violent retribution in response to Paul Hill's September execution (e.g., Regina Dinwiddie, Donald Spitz, Neal Horsley, Michael Bray, and Hill himself). This incitement will hopefully be ignored, but any relief that clinics and abortion-rights groups might get from Hill's execution will be tempered by their apprehension and the need to take increased security precautions over the coming months.

Even though extreme anti-choice terrorism appears to be on the wane, it's not likely to ever stop completely. There will always be a few Extremists among us, people who are not swayed by outside opinion about them because they are religious fanatics—too irrational and too unpredictable. They consider themselves above "man's law" and are willing to martyr themselves.

Failures of the Anti-Choice Movement

Political Pipe Dreams

In spite of their successes and the looming potential reality that Roe v. Wade may be overturned, many anti-choice leaders have quite different—and unrealistic—hopes and plans for their movement's political future in the United States.

The BDB authors (Back to the Drawing Board, Wagner 2003) discuss various political failures of the anti-choice movement. Most commonly cited are the inability to appoint enough anti-choice judges to the Supreme Court and other courts, the Republican party's failure to act decisively on its anti-abortion plank when it's in power—particularly anti-choice Presidents, and the Democratic party turning pro-choice.

One of the more common strategies advocated is to elect more anti-choice legislators and Presidents, who would be expected to pass more abortion restrictions and appoint more anti-choice judges, especially to the Supreme Court. However, many authors still have high hopes of passing a federal law or constitutional amendment to ban abortion outright across the U.S. Only two or three are wise enough to admit that such a goal is currently impractical and unrealistic because they don't have the necessary majorities in federal and state legislatures, or the public support. At best, they hope to overthrow Roe v. Wade and return abortion regulation to the states. In the meantime, this minority of anti-choice leaders advocates the incremental approach of implementing various abortion restrictions. They seem to recognize that in a democracy like the United States, you must have enough public support in order to make a change as major as re-criminalizing all abortions.

While a few other authors in the book point to the critical need to convert people to the "pro-life" camp before changing the law, others don't even consider this factor. They simply wish to impose illegal abortion on everyone as if by divine fiat, regardless of majority wishes. One author (Howard Phillips, BDB: Time for Constitutional Fidelity, The Constitution Party, pp 182-204) advocates creative legal strategies to bypass the need for a constitutional amendment to end legal abortion (thereby conveniently bypassing the public as well). His suggestions include requiring all federal judicial nominees to commit to "fetal personhood", impeaching any judge who doesn't toe that line, and enforcing a completely anti-choice judicial system, which could then rule with impunity that fetuses are persons under the 5th and 14th Amendments. There is zero recognition by the author, or any other author in the book, that such use of the constitution would profoundly violate women's rights, not to mention corrupt the justice system.

Most authors agree that the ideal goal of the movement is: "100% pro-life, no exceptions, no compromises." Only two authors point out that while just 20% of Americans support abortion on request for any reason, a large majority of Americans support legal abortion for at least the "hard" cases—rape, incest, and the life of the woman (less than 20% favour a total ban.) Not a single author realizes that these numbers actually give the movement a foot in the door to pass a law banning the majority of abortions, since the public apparently just wants to be assured that women can still obtain truly "necessary" abortions.[4] This realistic option is never explored because most of the authors are committed to the unattainable goal of "complete legal protection for human life." (Clarke Forsythe, BDB: Litigation Strategies and Democratic Deliberation: Let the People Decide, pp 47). One author concedes that the lack of public support for a total ban does indeed make it impossible to actually pass such a law, but they should try and do so anyway as an “educational tool" for anti-choice activists. (Charles E. Rice, BDB: The Legal Profession and the Law Schools: Should We Blame the Lawyers?, pp 10).

Obviously, a movement that still expects to achieve a federal ban on all abortions in the face of overwhelming public opposition does not have a good grasp on reality and is doomed to disappointment. In fact, one of the major failures of the movement occurred over just this issue during the early 1980's. Groups were split over whether to fight for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing legal protection for all fertilized eggs, or whether to fight for a bill that would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade by returning abortion to state control. The in-fighting in the anti-choice movement over these bills resulted in the ultimate failure of both proposals, because neither could gain enough support or momentum. As the BDB book makes clear overall, the movement is still split today between the absolutists who want a constitutional amendment or federal ban, and the pragmatists who prefer to battle incrementally or state-by-state. (Jack Willke, BDB: For Better or Worse, pp 128)

Anti-choicers also seem to believe that legal abortion is doomed based simply on their emotional conviction that abortion is wrong. One BDB author begins his essay by asserting that the anti-choice movement can still win despite its weak and ill-conceived strategies, because its pro-choice opponents "have built a house of cards." He provides no rationale for this statement—we're left to presume it's because legal abortion doesn't have a moral leg to stand on. Strangely, he spends the rest of his essay documenting the organizational and financial success of the pro-choice movement, and how anti-choicers should emulate it. (Charles A. Donovan Sr., BDB: Learning from our Adversaries, pp 310). Of course, even if something is deemed immoral, it doesn't mean it will fail. In fact, we can argue that it's the anti-choice movement that operates on fundamentally immoral and incorrect premises—not to mention being naïve, inflexible, and violent—yet these seemingly fatal flaws have not stopped it from achieving some significant successes.

[4] Pro-choice activists might worry that parts of this essay provide valuable insights and assistance to the anti-choice movement. However, because they wear religious fundamentalist blinders, it's unlikely that anti-choicers are capable of treating seriously the observations and recommendations in this essay.

Swaying Public Opinion—a Stalled Battle

Another major weakness in the anti-choice movement is their inability to convince most of the public that abortion should be made illegal. Thirty years ago, anti-choice strategy was based primarily on public education. They were convinced that once people were made aware of the "reality" of abortion, the majority would naturally oppose it and want to stop it.

Although some veteran anti-choice leaders came to recognize that “education was not enough” (Phyllis Schlafly, BDB: Principle or Pragmatism? Abortion Politics in the 21st Century, pp 164), the erroneous belief about the effectiveness of public education is still widespread today. For example, most Confrontationists continue to firmly believe that the use of aborted fetus pictures forces people to suddenly realize the “horror” of abortion. The Center for Bio-ethical Reform (CBR) of California specializes in displaying large billboard-sized photos of aborted fetuses on university campuses, on the sides of trucks, and on banners behind planes. CBR's attorney Robert Muise admits that these depictions cause such a "visceral response, and often violent response in some people" that the "billboard truck drivers are required to wear body armor." But he attributes peoples' distress to being confronted with abortion itself, likening CBR’s tactics to the civil rights movement of the 1960's "and every other movement that tried to displace people from their complacency." (Honolulu Advertiser, July 22, 2003.) The truth is, being confronted with such pictures just turns off most people (even many anti-choicers) because they are offended at the tactic, not by abortion. Most reasonable people simply dismiss the sign-holders as fanatics. In the words of two anti-choicers who viewed the CBR truck display driving through New Jersey last year: "I think it's terrible. Life is definitely precious, but to me, I think this degrades that life." And: "If they really want to make a difference, why don't they talk to people? I think they just want to drive around saying: 'Look at me.'" (Newark Advocate, August 20, 2002)

Further proof that such tactics are futile, including public education in general, can be found in opinion polls over the years. Pro-choice support remains solid among Baby Boomers who experienced illegal abortion and the struggle to legalize it. The recent rise in anti-choice support over the last few years seems to be mostly restricted to youth. A study (by the University of California, Los Angeles) of American college freshmen in the fall of 2002 showed that 54% of students thought abortion should be legal, down from 67% a decade earlier. A New York Times/CBS News poll in January 2003 found that among people 18-29, only 39% agreed that abortion should be generally available to those who want it, down from 48% in 1993. Reasons cited for this drop in support did not include anti-choice "education," however. Experts attributed it to a range of other factors, including no memory amongst youth of the consequences of illegal abortion, a reduced demand for abortion because of the decline in teenage pregnancy over the past 10 years (which in turn is mostly attributed to increased contraceptive use), easing of the social stigma of single parenthood and adoption, and the use of ultrasound technology by the medical community.

Overall, in spite of the massive public education efforts of anti-choicers, there has been very little change in support for abortion rights for decades, and what change there is cannot even be attributed to anti-choice propaganda. As anti-choicer Phyllis Schlafly recently lamented, “Our population is still where it was in 1973, with 60 percent tolerating abortion, 20 percent opposing it entirely, and 20 percent firmly supporting it.” (Phyllis Schlafly, BDB: Principle or Pragmatism? Abortion Politics in the 21st Century, pp. 169)

Many anti-choicers fail to appreciate the extent of public pro-choice sentiment, which often causes their initiatives to end in failure. A painful lesson was learned by Switzerland's anti-choice movement in 2001, who mistakenly believed that most citizens would be sympathetic to their cause. Anti-choicers initiated a referendum on abortion so they could place their own strict anti-choice measure on the ballot. The result? Swiss voters overwhelmingly legalized abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, while the anti-choice proposal garnered only 18% of the vote. In Canada, anti-choicers have forced many cases into court trying to establish personhood for fetuses. Each time, setting the precedent more and more firmly, the courts have said that fetuses are not persons under the law, and that women have full constitutional rights while fetuses have none. Yet anti-choicers continue to waste their time and dwindle their chances by trying over and over again. They’re so dogmatically convinced that fetuses are persons that they can't comprehend that others might legitimately think they’re not. Anti-choicers are barely willing to even acknowledge this opposing position, let alone address it in any rational way. So they keep losing in Canadian courts, including the court of public opinion, and they don’t know why.

Another indication of the anti-choice movement's blind spot regarding public sentiment relates to the decline in abortion rates in the U.S. over the last few years. Probably most if not all of the decline relates to the demographics of an aging baby boom population, which requires fewer abortions. Women in their twenties have always had the most abortions because that's when women are the most fertile and sexually active (while wanting to delay having children). But this cohort is a smaller proportion of the population than it used to be—hence, fewer abortions are needed. Another major reason cited for the decline is increased contraceptive use (and to a lesser extent, delayed sexual activity and increased abstinence by youth, and decreased access to abortion due to growing legal restrictions, violence, a declining provider pool, and lack of funding). However, anti-choicers must ignore any evidence that birth control reduces abortion rates because of their ideology that contraception increases promiscuity and therefore abortions.

Anti-choicers generally attribute the entire decline in the abortion rate to a shift in social attitudes about abortion, for which they give themselves a pat on the back. They say that fewer women are choosing abortion because they see it as killing a baby. Says one spokesperson, “You have to be able to dismiss the humanity of an obviously human child in order to accept that abortion is OK.” (Contra Costa Times, July 26, 2003) Of course, women who believe abortion is wrong, or that it’s murder, still have abortions. Their decision has nothing to do with “dismissing the humanity” of the fetus, and everything to do with whether or not they feel ready to have a baby. Abortion becomes “OK” when the woman’s personal circumstances justify it, not based on how she perceives the fetus politically or morally. The probable effect of anti-choice propaganda is not to reduce abortions, but to make women feel guilty for needing them.

The false belief that education will turn the public against abortion may be rooted in the apocalyptic viewpoint held by most anti-choicers. Apocalypse is a religious term that literally means "revelation." Anti-choicers expect America to suddenly wake up, to experience a revelation that abortion is evil—only then will the nation be transformed into a godly culture of life. (Mason 2002)

When the anti-choice movement bases its positions on religious ideology and magical thinking instead of evidence, and on false hopes and assumptions instead of reality, its political progress will likely suffer. How can they expect to still convince a majority of the public to support them when their "education" efforts have largely failed so far? When they don’t even know why they’ve failed, or even refuse to admit failure at all?

Misjudging the Pro-Choice Position

The types of major errors described above arise from a lack of understanding by anti-choicers of why people are pro-choice, especially abortion providers and pro-choice activists. According to anti-choice thinking, perhaps the public can be forgiven for being ignorant about the "evils" of abortion, but there’s simply no excuse for those in the “abortion industry.”

Anti-choicers' real problem, however, is that they don't "know their enemy"—most of them simply don't comprehend the pro-choice position. One often hears a refrain from rank and file anti-choicers that goes something like this: “I just don’t understand how anyone can kill babies. You people are evil monsters and I hope you all burn in hell.” Official anti-choice publications tend to put it in slightly more civilized terms, but the same sentiments lurk in the subtext of their writings. Here's a typical quote from a Lobbyist anti-choice leader: "It is a sick, sick person who thinks that the murder of 115,000 unborn babies in the womb is a sign of Canada's superiority." (Jim Hughes, President of Campaign Life Coalition, CLC National News, July 2003) According to their emails, media statements, and other writings, anti-choicers also tend to believe that pro-choice leaders are hate-filled liars, willing to say anything to promote their "culture of death." They even seem convinced that pro-choice activists know full well (or at least deep down) that what they're doing is morally wrong.

One anti-choice author questions the tactic of "prayer outside clinics," because she recognizes that it leads the public to dismiss them as religious fanatics. She suggests a better tactic might be "surrendering the clinic battlegrounds to the tensions that will naturally and inevitably arise within the clinics themselves because of the atrocities taking place there." (Barbara R. Nicolosi, BDB: The Problem of Selling Half the Story, pp 269).

Of course, the only reason Confrontationists say they are outside clinics is because they claim their presence there "saves babies." This belief, mostly erroneous, is rooted in a lack of understanding about why women have abortions and why clinic staff provide them. First, the vast majority of women who show up at an abortion clinic have already made a firmly resolved decision to have an abortion. By and large, women who have abortions are far from reluctant; there is a great deal of truth in the slogan "abortion on demand." Second, those women who haven't yet made up their minds are much more likely to be persuaded against abortion by the legitimate counselors inside than the illegitimate ones outside (although the protesters will take credit for those anyway, as well as for the "baby saves" of women who weren't even there for abortions). Third, the protester presence literally serves as a walking advertisement for the clinic's services. Clinic staffers report that patients often find them because they saw the protesters out front—or because they themselves have protested out front.

For example, Catholic high schools will occasionally bus over a class of young teens to protest at a local clinic and the typical reaction of clinic staff, speaking from years of experience, is: "Well, at least they'll know where to go when they get pregnant." Probably every clinic that experiences protesters has performed abortions for at least one of them at some point, with a minimum 7% of abortions overall being performed on anti-choice women (Henshaw et al 1982; Alan Guttmacher Institute 1996). Occasionally, a clinic staffer even thanks protesters for the free advertising, generally in response to picketers' self-righteous comments about their vital role in "exposing" the clinic's dastardly business to the public. The news that their presence is actually good for business comes as a shock. Staffers at two clinics described typical reactions: "I thought he was going to stroke out!" and "The protester almost went into a sort of fit—I left him gasping and reeling!" (personal communications, 2003) This type of reaction exposes the protesters' mistaken but dogmatic belief that clinic staff are deeply ashamed of what they do and prefer to stay hidden.

Anti-choicers wear blinkers when it comes to understanding the passionate and ethical convictions of pro-choicers and clinic staff—who of course, generally take great pride and joy in their jobs. It’s human nature to hold one’s beliefs sincerely—virtually all human beings do, we can’t help it. In the case of pro-choicers, we are woman-centred; we believe in reproductive health and freedom and the ability to control one's own destiny, and we stand for improving the quality of lives of born people. We simply don’t believe that a fetus has the same moral claim on us as born children and the women who bear them, or the same capacity to suffer and feel emotions. These beliefs are not unreasonable, unethical, or difficult to comprehend.

But anti-choicers do not understand these views, thus increasing their chance of failure. How can the movement expect to devise successful strategies and win their war against abortion when they don't even know why the public is pro-choice and why women need abortions? When they're ignorant of their "enemy’s" true beliefs and good intentions? When they naively ascribe evil motives to pro-choice leaders, and moral uncertainty and shame to clinic staff?

Disrespecting Women —the Achille's Heel

No authors in BDB express any concern for women’s rights at all, except for two authors who want to save women from the "deeply damaging impact" of abortion, and a couple others who hope to exploit women damaged by abortion for political ends. The rest of the authors' narrow focus on fetal rights completely excludes and negates women's fundamental right to bodily integrity—and even their right to life. The ideal goal of most of the authors is: "100% pro-life, no exceptions, no compromises."

The invisibility of women to the anti-choice movement reflects yet another major blind spot, one that the entire movement has suffered from since the beginning. After being rightly accused of caring nothing about women, they came up with a "fix" for this weakness starting in the late 1970's. Over the next two decades, they opened thousands of "crisis pregnancy centres" across the continent, staffed mostly by volunteers with no professional qualifications. The centres' main goals were to stop women from having abortions, while converting them to Christianity if possible. They became notorious for using deceptive and unethical means to achieve these goals. For example, they were known to lie to women about how far along they were, hold them against their will for hours, force them to view grotesque anti-abortion videos, pressure them to sign adoption papers, and preach to them about the sin of abortion. Today, these centres are not quite as bad as they used to be, because plenty of bad publicity and a series of lawsuits forced them to be more careful around their vulnerable clients. However, the centres have not stopped exploiting women by exacerbating their fears, anxiety, and guilt over abortion. The Counselor imperative is to talk a woman out of an abortion, with the means justifying the end. Such means involve lecturing the woman for even thinking of having an abortion, and scaring her out of the decision with guilt tripping, threats of punishment from God, and threats of dire consequences—mental, physical, and social. Probably the most lasting legacy of Counselors is the truckloads of dangerous misinformation they continue to spread, much of which has made its way into the public consciousness. That is what is causing a "deeply damaging impact" to women.

Led by the Counselor types in the anti-choice movement, various campaigns have "researched" and publicized many supposed dangers of abortion, such as the alleged link to breast cancer, which has now been almost conclusively refuted. The facts don't faze anti-choice activists, however, who continue to frighten and threaten women with this claim, as well as their other favourite claim that virtually all women will suffer long-term psychological trauma for having an abortion. Similar claims are equally baseless—that abortion has frequent and severe physical complications, and increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, infertility, and death from any cause.

What this type of "counseling" reflects is not a concern for women's rights and health. It simply masks the anti-choice ideology that women who have abortions are either victims, or fallen women who must be put back on the straight and narrow (illustrating the Madonna/whore dichotomy by which religious patriarchy categorizes women). Anti-choicers believe that "fallen women" have betrayed their motherhood duty and need to suffer for it. I'm not saying that Counselors are being deliberately malicious. In fact, they are mostly well-meaning, but they operate under the religious conviction that women's natural, primary role is to be mothers, and abortions are therefore always bad for women. Women who "benefit" from anti-choice counseling are those most likely to buy into this stereotype themselves.

In the 1990's, Counselors started to do post-abortion counseling, in which women are offered "forgiveness and healing" for abortions they've already had. This generally involves forcing a woman to admit she murdered her child, increasing her guilt by personifying her dead fetus, putting her through a mourning process, and then helping her to forgive herself for being a baby-killer. By coaching women into such long-term suffering for their abortions, Counselors ensure a ready supply of new victims to help publicize the trauma of abortion. At the same time, many women who feel "victimized" by abortion have an emotional dysfunction that compels them to blame others for their abortion decision. Therefore, a large part of post-abortion counseling also involves creating scapegoats, mostly clinic counselors and doctors who are invariably portrayed as heartless, bloodthirsty, money-grubbing, and incompetent. ("They didn't tell me it was a baby!")

In BDB, a couple of authors see the "harm" of abortion to women as the key to stopping it. One concludes his essay by advocating lawsuits against abortion providers because of the “mounting scientific evidence of abortion’s ill effects.” (Phillip Ney, BDB: A View from Clinic Psychiatry: Abortion Wounds, pp 94). Another author says that the "myth of abortion as a 'necessary evil'" can be dispelled by convincing the public "that abortion harms women as well as the unborn, [then] it will not be seen as 'necessary.'" (Clarke Forsythe, BDB: Litigation Strategies and Democratic Deliberation: Let the People Decide, pp 49). This type of tactic is already starting to appear in court. The original plaintiff in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case, Norma McCorvey, has turned anti-choice and recently petitioned the courts in an effort to get the decision overturned. Her motion, which was quickly dismissed, was based on "new evidence" not available in 1973—over a thousand affidavits from women "damaged" by abortion.

Counselors are unable to recognize the ample scientific and anecdotal evidence that most women suffer no long-lasting ill effects from abortion. Such evidence should quickly quash any court action brought by anti-choicers, who will be blindsided because they are in denial. They can't comprehend that abortion could be a positive experience for a woman—a lot of women in fact—so it simply doesn't enter into their thinking. Their philosophy is based on outdated stereotypes about women's primary need to be mothers, which necessitates turning all post-abortive women into victims. It's probably because their counseling activities are based on gross errors in judgment about the nature of women and their reactions to abortion, that Counselors must rely on misinformation and deception in order to attract and hold women.

A movement that is based on an antiquated view of women as victims, or women as mothers above all else, is simply not living in the real world. Close to one half of all women in North America have had an abortion or will have one. A significant minority, perhaps as many as one in five, are childless and will remain so by choice. Women today demand respect and empowerment. They are participating in the public sphere in record numbers and they're everywhere—academia, government, the military, the corporate world, industry, sports, medicine, law, and science. They are choosing when to have children, how many, or whether to have any at all. Liberated women are an unstoppable force who will not give up their hard-fought freedoms lightly. Because Counselors deny this reality, and because they generally do more harm than good to women, it's likely that the Counselor arm of the movement will end up contributing to the ultimate failure of the anti-choice movement.

Disrespecting Democracy and Freedom

The vision of the future held by too many of the authors in BDB—all mainstream[5] anti-choice leaders—is perilously close to that of the horror film The Stepford Wives, or Margaret Atwood's novel The Handmaid's Tale. They want and expect nothing less than a full return to the country's "religious base" and "Judeo-Christian values"—within one generation no less (Jack Willke, BDB: For Better or Worse, pp 135). Besides the ideal of "no abortions, no exceptions, no compromises," this basically means women back in the kitchen (and pregnant), gays and lesbians back in the closet, children back under their parents' thumb, and everyone back in church on Sundays.

One author is quite firm in her belief that "sexual integrity is the key to ending abortion." This means no sex for anybody except married men and women who want to make babies while worshipping God, because: "God's plan is that sex, unconditional love, marriage between a man and a woman, children, and God—all go together. If we try to remove one of these from the equation, we have almost all the modern social ills—abortion, but also rampant divorce, co-habitation, fatherlessness, a gay sub-culture, STDs, loveless marriages, promiscuity, child abuse, and more." (Margaret Hartshorn, BDB: Putting It All Together, pp 117).

Here is how another author envisions utopia: "Victory will be an America in which the Judeo-Christian values that guided our forefathers are once again respected and obeyed throughout the land. There will not be the glorification of promiscuous sex or alternative lifestyles in Hollywood or real life. Gone will be the celebration of youth and allowing children to do their own thing." (Paul W. Weyrich, BDB: An Honest Evaluation, pp 145-146)

To bring about this degree of cultural change requires a lot more than simple education. We're talking about a complete revolution. The anti-choice movement has a virtually impossible task ahead of them, because one cannot have a successful revolution without strong public support. How can they expect the public to return to its "religious base" and to Judeo-Christian values, when most people place high values not only on their own freedoms and rights, but those of others? The sheer diversity of North American society and the continuing high levels of support for legal abortion mean that we're not going to become "100% pro-life, no exceptions, no compromises" any time soon. In fact, such a "cultural renewal" would almost certainly require the force of law, suppression of dissent, punishment of non-conformists, "eye for an eye" justice, and the end of secularism, democracy, and freedom as we know it. In other words, what many of these authors are advocating is nothing less than a fascist theocracy.

Luckily, it's doubtful the anti-choice movement will ever get that far, given their penchant for ignoring reality and pursuing ill-conceived and futile strategies. A more intriguing question is why they would even expect to achieve and maintain this state of affairs. Even if they could impose a sweeping federal ban on abortion, do they actually believe the public will just meekly obey it? The assumption by the anti-choice movement, even the moderate Lobbyists, that the problem will be solved if they can only achieve a federal law banning abortion, is naïve in the extreme. Such a law would be virtually unenforceable, just like the Prohibition law against alcohol during the 1920's. Although the anti-choice movement likes to compare itself to the slavery Abolition movement, it has much more in common with the Temperance movement that brought about Prohibition, and would produce similar results (Luker, 1984). Making abortion illegal would foster widespread disrespect for the law, corrupt the police, strengthen organized crime, and turn tens of millions of ordinary women into criminals, not to mention countless health professionals who would feel obligated to help women by continuing to perform abortions.

[5] When I refer to the “mainstream" movement or leaders, I refer to the Lobbyists, Bead-Counters, and Counselors who generally claim to be anti-violence.

Disrespecting the Fetus and the Already Born

In spite of the dire social consequences (akin to Prohibition) if a sweeping abortion ban were passed, the anti-choice movement would rejoice. Apart from their glee at the prospect of being able to try and execute abortion doctors, the movement generally refuses to acknowledge the carnage that went on when abortion was illegal. Everyone knows—except anti-choicers—that when abortion was against the law, it simply went underground, with women dying or being injured in great numbers from unsafe abortion. When anti-choicers do acknowledge this fact on rare occasions, they have three main counter-arguments. First, they dispute the numbers and claim, arbitrarily, that they were far lower than the evidence shows. Second, some declare that it doesn't matter, since women who die from illegal abortions deserve their fate as murderers. Third, they say that just because women will have abortions anyway doesn't mean we should legalize it, just like we shouldn't legalize homicide just because people will commit murder anyway. (This latter argument overlooks society's universal consensus that murder is wrong and should be punished, whereas there is no such agreement on abortion. Plus, very few people actually commit murder, while most women will—or would—avail themselves of abortion services if necessary.)

In any case, anti-choicers show little or no concern for the fate of the fetus, which is the same regardless of the legality of abortion. How else to explain the Catholic Church's tight-fisted control over the anti-choice laws in Latin America, home to the highest rates of abortion in the world, apart from Africa—another Catholic stronghold where women literally die like flies from unsafe, illegal abortion. The truth is, anti-choicers are not against abortion per se. They're only opposed to giving legal and social sanction to abortion. Laws against abortion are a form of social control over women and their sexuality. Such laws serve their purpose admirably, not by stopping abortion, but by punishing women for being promiscuous and selfish, and for shirking their God-ordained motherhood role.

It should be noted that in countries where abortion is illegal, contraception is often illegal also, or inaccessible. Therefore, rates of unintended pregnancies, abortions, and unwanted births all tend to be higher in these countries, than in countries where abortion and contraception are legal and available. Where abortion is illegal, middle and upper-class women simply go to private clinics or leave the country for abortions. Poor women and teenagers who can't access these alternatives either take their chances with an unsafe abortion or bear children against their will, dooming the entire family to a life of poverty. Regardless, the fate of fetuses or unwanted children is obviously not the priority of the anti-choice movement.

On the surface, the anti-choice movement reveres the fetus, but it is not above callously exploiting it. Activists have thrust dead fetuses at women during clinic protests, presented them as evidence in court, and thrown them at politicians on the campaign trail, including Bill Clinton. In addition, they have stolen fetal remains from hospitals, sent them to anti-choice groups for staged burials, and photographed them in grisly poses for propaganda purposes (Morgan 1999, Gorney 1998). If they really believe fetuses are people, such disrespect for the dead is inexcusable.

The main goal of the anti-choice movement is a complete hypocrisy. They're not truly concerned about fetuses and they're not out to stop abortion as they claim. They only want to make it completely illegal, and as a result, inflict untold pain onto women and children. How can they expect such a despicable and cruel outcome to ever be accepted in our sophisticated society, in which women have enjoyed ever-increasing opportunities over the last century? Do they honestly believe that women are going to just give up their lives and liberty to have ten kids, just because the anti-choice pass a law saying they must? Or do they indifferently assume that women will meekly resign themselves to dangerous, self-induced abortions, or seek out illegal abortions from doctors working in dingy back rooms who are reduced to constantly looking over their shoulder?

Surely that could never happen. Not only is it ludicrously improbable, it would violate every basic value and freedom that we hold dear. How could reasonable, good people, the majority of the American public, stand for it?

Refusal to Deal With Anti-Choice Violence

In her 1984 book, Abortion & the Politics of Motherhood, Kristin Luker cautiously predicted that the abortion debate "will gradually become less important to the American public in the future. As more and more women work and the economy shows no signs of returning to the good old days, the struggle between the supporters of exclusive motherhood and the supporters of working mothers may very well become moot for all but a tiny minority of women." (pp 244-245) Although Luker was right about the continuing advance and entrenchment of women in the workforce, she was wrong about the abortion debate becoming moot. The struggle has never stopped dominating American society and politics, with the extreme violence in the 1990's bringing it to a crescendo. In fact, the violence has helped the anti-choice movement keep abortion in the public eye.

Although the Extremists make up a small minority of the anti-choice movement, their influence has been far greater than their numbers. This is because their terrorist activities are high-profile and very destructive, and are designed to instill fear into the entire pro-choice movement. There is no doubt that the violence has created a climate of fear and intimidation in which many doctors are reluctant to perform abortions. But it’s not just doctors who may be intimidated. Even if they want to perform abortions, doctors' hands may be tied by their families, hospitals, employers, colleagues, insurers, or building managers, all of whom are jittery about the prospect of anti-abortion violence and harassment and would rather distance themselves from the controversy, even if they’re pro-choice.

Although the violence does reduce the availability of abortions to some extent, the actions and the disproportionate influence of Extremists also result in a loss of credibility and political power for the anti-choice movement as a whole. The mainstream part of the movement (Lobbyists, Counselors, and Bead-Counters) largely ignores this at its peril.

There are several typical reactions of the mainstream movement to anti-choice terrorism. Often, they denounce the violence, but at the same time, they frequently make qualifying statements about how they can understand why the extremist did it considering the “violence against the unborn,” which they see as equally bad as shooting doctors. For example, the Center for Bioethical Reform (CBR) says on its website: “CBR is strictly non-violent. We oppose violence against babies and against the abortionists who kill them.” ( Such qualifications, of course, serve only to justify more violence. A strong parallel can be drawn to the lynching of blacks in the 1930's in the southern U.S. Newspapers of the day stopped short at actually supporting the violence, but editorials "appeased mob mentality by suggesting that lynching was somewhat understandable" … "because the target of the mob was black and the victim of the 'offense' was white."[6] Similarly, public acceptance that abortion "kills babies" leads to more tolerance of the violence against clinics and doctors.

Also accompanying anti-choice condemnations of violence may be statements that deny any involvement or association with the violence, as well as denials that those who commit violence are “pro-life.” For example, the American Life League (ALL) says in its proclamation against violence: “We call on all perpetrators of violence to recognize that, far from being pro-life crusaders, they are nothing more than common criminals.” According to ALL (, persons or groups who espouse or carry out anti-choice violence only “claim to be part of the pro-life movement” and are only “allegedly pro-life groups.” (emphasis added). A spokeswoman for Florida Right to Life, Lynda Bell, said fears of Paul Hill's execution inspiring more anti-choice terrorism were "ridiculous" because "All the legitimate pro-life organizations have always been against violence," (Associated Press, August 19, 2003) Of course, the question of whether Extremists are legitimately “pro-life” or not is a pointless and phony distinction. All anti-choice Extremists and groups consider themselves "pro-life" and are part of the movement in the eyes of everyone except those in denial.

Although some anti-choice groups condemn violence unequivocally and may be quite sincere about it, others are probably doing so more out of pragmatism, after belatedly realizing the damage that anti-choice terrorism has done to their credibility. It's rare for anti-choicers to condemn a specific pro-violence group or individual, except for the most notorious doctor-killers. Almost all denouncements of violence are vague and general, and reserved only for murders. The anti-choice movement has maintained an almost total silence regarding the thousands of acts of less extreme violence, such as bombings, arsons, death threats, butyric acid attacks, clinic invasions, and so on. Further, the movement has never devoted any resources to actually fighting the violence. Quite the opposite in fact—almost every anti-choice group in the country fought against the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), which was drafted specifically to protect clinics from violence (Wilder 1998). Some anti-choicers even try to deflect attention from their movement's terrorist acts by compiling very dubious lists of "pro-abortion violence"—alleged crimes committed by abortion providers and other pro-choicers that have nothing to do with terrorism (Arthur 2003).

Inside the mainstream movement itself—when anti-choicers talk to each other—they rarely even mention violence against providers, as if it’s irrelevant. A possible reason for this silence is that they quietly support the violence, since it actually helps reduce the availability of abortion. Public displays of approval by mainstream anti-choicers are rare now, but Dallas Blanchard (1994) cites an incident at the 1981 National Right to Life Committee meeting, where the anti-choice audience enthusiastically applauded indirect references to vandalism and arson at abortion clinics (pp 99). More recently, when Dr. Barnett Slepian was shot in 1998, the editor of a Catholic newspaper foolishly spoke out loud about the benefits of shooting abortion providers: “How can anyone help but be pleased that murders of abortionists just might have some positive side effects. Fewer doctors are willing to face the stigma, and now the threat of personal harm, associated with performing abortions.” (Paul Schratz, BC Catholic, Nov 2, 1998). Such comments imply widespread but hidden support for the violence, as well as help encourage it.

This covert support, and the vagueness and the silence of the mainstream movement towards anti-choice terrorism, essentially erases the lines between the Extremists, Confrontationists, and the supposedly peaceful Lobbyists. It allows “purely spiritual” groups such as Helpers of God’s Precious Infants to approvingly quote on its website Joan Andrews-Bell, a convicted clinic invader who condones the killing of abortion doctors under certain circumstances. It allows Confrontationist groups like Life Dynamics and Operation Save America to link to Extremist groups on their websites, including Missionaries to the Preborn, Missionaries to the Unborn, and Lambs of Christ—all of which have given support to anti-choice terrorists such as Paul Hill or James Kopp. It allowed "non-violent" Human Life International to invite Joan Andrews-Bell to be a keynote speaker at its 1999 annual conference in Toronto, Ontario. It allows Lobbyists to continue to associate with Extremists at conferences, rallies, protests, and in books and publications—even to hire them.

There are numerous examples of such associations. Pat Robertson, former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the right-wing American Center for Law and Justice, hired Extremist Michael Hirsch after he graduated from Robertson's law school. Hirsh's thesis was a defence of "justifiable homicide" of doctors; he went on to write killer Paul Hill's legal defence briefs while still in Robertson's employ (Reiter 2000). Canada’s “peaceful” Campaign Life Coalition worked closely with pro-violence Missionaries to the Preborn in 1998 to put on a joint "Show the Truth" tour in Ontario. They also called Joan Andrews-Bell "a shining example of what the pro-life movement is all about". In 2000, the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver hosted a "pro-life" fundraising dinner and invited Dr. Bernard Nathanson as a keynote speaker, even though he condones the murder of doctors in the act of performing an abortion (Arthur 2001b).

A conspicuous example of the mainstream movement’s head-in-the-sand attitude toward violence can be found in BDB (Back to the Drawing Board). Of all the essays in the book, only one mentions the problem of anti-choice terrorism. This confirms that Lobbyists and Counselors simply ignore the violence as irrelevant to their cause and to their future. It is worth quoting this single passage in full. In the essay A History of Pro-Life Leadership (pp 123-136), author Dr. Jack Willke writes:

A word about the violence in the movement. This has been, from the very beginning, an incredibly peaceful, prayerful movement. We have gone through a phase called RESCUE, when there was conscious breaking of the law by peaceful sit-ins and blockage of entrances. In response to this, the abortion industry was able to convince the U.S. Congress to pass several draconian laws and today RESCUE is but a memory.

Outside of the one thousand or more American abortion facilities, however, you still find sidewalk counselors. These protesters, who are largely women and often with their own children, are peaceful and prayerful. They offer help, pro-life literature, and information to women seeking abortions. Through their efforts, literally hundreds of thousands of children live today. The suggestion that these are violent people who shoot abortionists or burn down clinics is preposterous. For the record, no pro-life leader has ever been involved with, much less convicted of, acts such as burning down a clinic.

But what of the shootings? To date, five people have killed—but not by members of legitimate pro-life groups. The United States has over one thousand abortion facilities, with pro-life protesters in front of them several days a week, for over thirty years now. The man- and woman-hours number in the hundreds of millions, and the work is nerve-racking, heart-breaking and intensely emotional. The amazing news is not that there have been five abortionists and attendants shot, but rather that there haven’t been thousands. Leaders such as Joe Scheidler in Chicago, the Reverend Flip Benham, Reverend Pat Mahoney, and Randall Terry can be proud to have overseen one of the most extraordinary, peaceful, and prayerful social movements in the history of this nation.

This argument is quite breathtaking in its complete inversion of logic and truth—not only does Willke deny that the violence is even related to the “pro-life” movement, he actually gives credit to the anti-choice movement for saving the lives of countless doctors! Ironically, Willke’s belief that it’s “amazing” that more doctors haven’t been shot amounts to an open admittance that doctors should normally consider themselves a legitimate target. This is both a tacit acceptance of the violence coupled with a denial of responsibility, precisely the type of contradiction that gives the lie to the peaceful intentions of mainstream anti-choicers. Who exactly would be killing doctors anyway, if “peaceful pro-life protesters” were not out there drawing attention to them and vilifying them?

The truth of course, is that:

  • Plenty of clinic protesters and almost all protest leaders are men.
  • Many protesters are belligerent and aggressive in manner, including women.
  • Clinic protests are directly associated with increased levels of violence (Feminist Majority Foundation 2003).
  • The "rescue" blockades of the late '80's and early '90's were far from peaceful—plus they created the climate of intimidation and terror that led directly to the shootings that began in 1991.
  • Both male and female picketers have committed severe violence and are responsible for most of the moderate violence and other harassment outside clinics[7].
  • Anti-choice leaders have indeed been convicted of severe violence[7]. (e.g., Michael Bray, Joan Andrews-Bell, Joseph Scheidler) and a few have been suspected of helping others commit arsons and shootings—e.g., John Burt (Novick 1993).
  • The four male leaders Willke mentions by name are either Extremists or excessive Confrontationists—they have openly encouraged people to break the law and have all been arrested themselves for illegal anti-choice protests or blockades. Terry and Scheidler, in particular, have orchestrated criminal campaigns of threats, violence, and intimidation against clinics, via clinic blockades and other actions aimed at shutting down clinics. Scheidler has given direct support to bombers and arsonists, and his 1985 book Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, gave the movement a "blueprint" for many terrorist extremist tactics, since adopted by two generations of zealots.

The much-publicized attacks on doctors have caused the average person to associate violence with all anti-abortionists ("They shoot doctors, don't they?"). Many anti-choicers have bitterly decried the "injustice" of the whole movement being painted with one big, black brush, while absolving themselves from any blame. But it’s well accepted by the pro-choice movement and the mainstream media, as well as by the public and many legislators—that inflammatory anti-choice rhetoric, pictures, and actions likely incite and escalate the violence.

Calling doctors “baby butchers,” comparing abortion to the Jewish Holocaust, showing grotesque photos of alleged late-term aborted fetuses, and verbally abusing patients and staff outside clinics are confrontational tactics that help create a climate of terror and escalate the level of violence. In its 2002 Clinic Violence Survey Report, the Feminist Majority Foundation found that such intimidation tactics have not only intensified since 2000, but are associated with anti-choice violence—they are a “precursor to violence.” In fact, the reported rate of violence more than doubles when intimidation tactics and/or anti-abortion leafleting occur at a clinic.

Yet anti-choicers ignore or dismiss the violence, which can only imperil the credibility and future of their movement. How can anti-choice strategies and lobbying succeed, when the mainstream movement remains blind to the hugely negative impact of anti-choice violence on their image and influence? How can they possibly “win the war” against abortion when they refuse to even acknowledge their role in facilitating the violence? The very fact that they disown all responsibility for it, can in itself contribute to more violence. After all, how can Extremists be reined in when the rest of the movement won’t lift a finger to control them because they think it’s got nothing to do with them? And why should Extremists be motivated to stop the violence when the mainstream movement provides them with a range of support—from tacit silence, to further encouragement cloaked by insincere denunciations, to outright acceptance via continued associations with Extremists?

As long as the violence continues, the public credibility of the anti-choice movement will continue to decline. Lost credibility translates directly to lost political influence. Serious politicians simply cannot afford to work with extremists or anyone tainted with extremism. Even though the violence may reduce the availability of abortion by intimidating some providers and their support network, the violence actually backfires on the anti-choice movement in other ways. For example, when a shooting occurs, both the public and media tend to sympathize with the pro-choice side—they condemn the violence unequivocally and perceive anti-abortionists as extremists and fanatics. In the aftermath of anti-choice violence, abortion providers may receive support from government and police, such as more funding, new laws and buffer zones that curtail anti-choice protesting, better law enforcement, and more prosecutions and harsher penalties for offenders. And because violence begets not just fear, but a great deal of outrage, it also creates surges in pro-choice activism. On balance, the strategy of reducing abortion access through violence probably creates far more problems for the anti-choice movement than it solves.

Confrontational anti-choice tactics have had similar effects. The major rise in pro-choice activism through the 1990's is in direct response to the massive anti-choice protests and blockades of the late '80's and early '90's. In many ways, as we enter the 21st century, the pro-choice movement and the future of abortion provision is stronger than it has ever been simply because of the ongoing threat posed by anti-choice extremism. While some providers have quit the field out of fear and intimidation, many more have responded by growing more determined than ever to continue providing abortions. Instead of becoming frightened, they get angry. Beginning in 1993, an entire new generation of abortion providers has been educated and politicized under the banner of Medical Students for Choice. The origin of this group can be traced directly to two acts of anti-choice extremism: the 1993 assassination of Dr. David Gunn, and the mailing just weeks before of a vulgar pamphlet of inflammatory anti-abortion jokes ("Bottom Feeder") sent to the homes of 30,000 medical students by the Confrontationist group Life Dynamics (Joffe et al, 1998). Considering that Life Dynamics' vision is "an America where abortion may indeed be perfectly legal, but no one can get one," it is highly significant that their work is responsible for the creation of thousands of new abortion providers. Not only do these new providers help ensure the future of abortion provision, most are women who are more politically savvy than many of their older, predominantly male peers.

[6] Lynching in America: Carnival of Death,

[7] According to the Feminist Majority Foundation, which does extensive research on anti-choice violence and harassment, “severe violence” includes blockades, invasions, bombings, arsons, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence, gunfire, bomb threats, death threats, and arson threats. “Moderate violence” includes graffiti, broken windows, tampering with garbage dumpster, tampering with phone lines/calls, nails in driveway/parking lot, vandalism of staff homes or personal property, glue in locks, motor oil in driveway/parking lot, home picketing, and break-ins. “Other harassment” includes screaming at patients, pushing signs in their faces, touching them, physically restraining them, opening car doors of patients, yelling through windows of private patient rooms, following patients down the street or to their homes, impersonating police officers or clinic staff to abuse the trust of patients, naming clinic staff and discussing their personal lives during demonstrations, on the radio, and on bumper stickers.

The Fall of Anti-Choice Extremism

Based on the above analysis, I would like to suggest two possible scenarios for the future of the anti-choice movement. Its members can either transcend extremism by repudiating it completely, thereby breathing new life into their movement, regaining the public trust, and weakening the resolve of the pro-choice movement. Or, they can continue their current course of action and preside over what is probably a dying movement.

In the first scenario, they must change their behaviour by treating the violence as a serious matter. Some suggested actions they could take include:

  • taking responsibility for creating the atmosphere of terror with their violent rhetoric and confrontationist tactics
  • clearly directing the entire movement to cease all such activities
  • issuing an unqualified public apology for those tactics and for the ensuing violence
  • dealing with their Extremists by publicly repudiating and shunning them without exception
  • launching civil lawsuits against Extremists and Confrontationists for damaging their cause and reputation
  • cooperating fully with law enforcement to prosecute any illegal acts carried out by anti-choice persons
  • supporting and passing measures to increase prosecution rates and penalties for such illegal acts

For the movement to survive as a credible political and moral force, it must become more moderate and adopt a "reluctant" pro-choice stance. It will have to give up attempts to make abortion illegal and perhaps switch its focus to reducing unwanted pregnancies.

Obviously, this is a complete makeover of the most radical kind, one that I'm sure virtually all anti-choicers would scorn, with utter disbelief that such a ludicrous scenario could even be suggested. It's certainly not going to happen with their willing cooperation. The religiously-based dogmatism and certitude of the anti-choice viewpoint precludes making such a major change. Most anti-choicers are irrevocably committed to their fundamentalist worldview and incapable of relinquishing their hatred for abortion and abortion providers. This intolerance can only find expression in extremist tactics and rhetoric, regardless of their negative consequences to the movement. Anyway, it would take a concerted, unified effort to implement this new vision, and the mainstream movement is far from homogeneous, with too many disagreements and divisions.

Further, violent extremism is not an aberration that the anti-choice movement can easily shrug off. It is the natural conclusion of the anti-choice viewpoint and an integral part of "God's plan." In the book Killing for Life, author Carol Mason examines how abortion became "America’s "Armageddon” for the anti-choice movement, a human atrocity similar to, but even worse than slavery and the Holocaust. Legal abortion is seen as a harbinger of apocalypse (the cataclysmic end of the world as brought on by God's judgment). Originally confined to more radical elements of the movement, Mason says that by the 1990's, the mainstream movement had assimilated the view of abortion as an apocalyptic battle between good and evil. “Close analyses of [anti-choice literature] show that pro-life ideology accommodates retributive violence not only implicitly and in practice but explicitly and in principle. Pro-life retribution is seen as a way to restore the order of God. In this light, the phenomenon of killing for ‘life’ is revealed not as an oxymoron, but as a logical consistency and a political manifestation of religious retribution.” (Mason 2002, pp 5)

We can also see the violent, retributive mindset of anti-choicers when we consider their rabble-rousing "abortion is murder" slogan, and their willingness to impose their religious values onto society at large by law. The force of law always carries with it a system of enforcement and punishment. A strong thread within the anti-choice viewpoint is the desire to punish those responsible for abortion, including both abortion providers and women. Confrontationists talk wistfully of the day when abortion doctors can finally be put on trial for "crimes against humanity" and subjected to capital punishment. As for women, enforced motherhood and third-class citizenship should be punishment enough.

The second scenario, in which the anti-choice movement continues their current course of action, is far more likely to happen. Because of their inability to repudiate the extremism, the movement as a whole may be brought down by it eventually. In the meantime, Extremist elements should dwindle and become marginalized anyway because of law enforcement crackdowns—this is already starting to happen—but their disappearance may be greatly slowed by the continuing inappropriate response to it by the rest of the movement. A slower decline will result in further and more long-lasting damage to the work of Lobbyists and Counselors. Any sporadic act of violence will still be associated with the anti-choice movement and will continue to drag down their image and influence, as well as bolster pro-choice activism.

Sociologist Dallas Blanchard believes that the extreme violence we experienced in the 1990's may indeed be the last gasp of a dying movement. He draws parallels to the anti-union movement in the U.S. at the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the anti-civil-rights movement in the 1950's and '60's. People who were against labour unions and desegregation first tried to get their way through legislative and political means and public education. "In each of those movements you saw a similar pattern of escalation [in violence] as goals were frustrated," said Blanchard. "The violence tapered off when the federal government stepped in and said, "We're not going to put up with this anymore' and began passing and enforcing laws." (Blanchard 1995)

Blanchard continues to support this basic thesis today, although he points out that, just as racist and anti-union violence continue at a far reduced level, "violence against providers will also continue ad infinitum, but fewer folks will be willing to pay the price for it." To some extent, violent anti-unionists used their religious beliefs to help justify their actions, according to Blanchard. However, it did not appear to be the primary motivator as it was with the Ku Klux Klan and even more so with today's anti-choice extremists. Because religious fundamentalism—and the apocalyptic ideology that accompanies it—plays such a key role in the anti-choice movement, the violence "may last longer and be more frequent than the other types, but still will be reduced." (Blanchard, personal communication, 2003).

However, it's difficult to analyze or predict patterns of extreme anti-choice violence because such acts are relatively rare. Although there have been no murders or attempted murders in North America since July 2000, this could represent a temporary lull, not a permanent decline. Rates of bombings and arsons also present an uncertain trend. Arson rates did go down after 1999 but an apparent decline in bombings after 2000 is not so clear since they're rarer than arsons—plus spikes occur and can't be predicted. For example, in the 26-year period from 1977 to 2002:

  • A total of 41 bombings were reported—generally about once a year, with major spikes in 1984 (18) and 1997 (6). Years with zero bombings include 1988, 1992, 2000, and 2002.
  • A total of 166 arsons were reported—an average of ten times a year prior to 2000 (now once or twice a year), with major spikes in 1992 (19) and 1995 (14).
  • A total of 82 arson and bombing attempts (not threats) were reported—an average of two or three times a year, with major spikes in 1985 (10) and 1992 (13). Only 2002 had zero attempts.
  • Rates of clinic invasion, vandalism, and stalking remain high and have decreased little if at all since 1993, while anthrax threats have increased. Only death threats appear to have decreased significantly since 1995, with a further decline by 2002—although this latter drop could be a temporary blip. (Source: National Abortion Federation Violence and Disruption Statistics)

The upshot is, although extreme violence and some types of moderate violence have generally become less frequent, they are still common and occur regularly. The campaign of violence that began in 1977 has been systematic and never-ending. Major spikes in violence in the mid 1980's and the early 1990's were apparently triggered (at least in part) by the political failures of the anti-choice movement. This means that another major spike in violence could be just around the corner, depending on political events. The silver lining is that new laws (such as the FACE Act), effective law enforcement, and the harsh penalties that have recently been levied against convicted Extremists should translate to further reductions in violence. But the effect of extreme violence is the same whether there is only one murder each decade or twenty; abortion providers will remain in fear and the pro-choice community will remain on the defensive.

Is it possible to predict whether there will, in fact, be one or twenty murders over the next decade? It depends a lot on the strength of the anti-choice terrorist network in the U.S. It’s hard to say how much financial and logistical support this network really provides for “martyrs” who volunteer to shoot a doctor, but we do know the following: Major players in the network are in close contact with other. Some Extremists have hinted that “safe houses” exist to protect fugitives. Two New York Extremists were recently convicted for helping James Kopp evade capture. The families of jailed terrorists are often aided financially by people in the network. A group of Extremists headed by Michael Bray of Maryland sponsors an annual event called the White Rose Banquet, which formally honours terrorists and raises funds for them and their families. The family of Paul Hill received a "large check" from an anonymous benefactor after he murdered a doctor and his escort (Liston 2003).

As a rough estimate, perhaps 100 to 200 Extremists are known to publicly support the murder of doctors—those who speak to the media, show up at Extremist events, or have signed Paul Hill's “Justifiable Homicide” petitions. We can assume that many more remain unidentified or prefer to work behind the scenes. The key question is how well-organized and disciplined this network really is. No doubt there is considerable organized support for those who have already committed terrorist acts. But do some Extremists actually work to recruit, indoctrinate, train, and equip potential terrorists? We know that the Army of God publishes a multi-authored manual for attacking clinics, a copy of which is in the hands of most Extremists—such as Shelley Shannon who shot Dr. George Tiller in 1993. Some Extremists apparently play the role of mentor—under the influence of Neal Horsley and Bob Lokey, young Jonathon O'Toole has become increasingly vocal and fanatical.

Circumstantial evidence for a recruiting network points to a few other suspects. Police caught Extremist John Burt casing a clinic in Florida with John Brockhoeft, who had a bomb in his car trunk at the time (Brockhoeft was convicted of conspiracy and later convicted for bombing Ohio clinics). Also, some of Burt's impressionable followers apparently turned into terrorists shortly after he took them under his wing, including young bombers Matt Goldsby and Jimmy Simmons (according to Reiter 2000, pp 69), and killer Michael Griffin, who shot a doctor while Burt was leading a protest on the other side of the clinic. A witness testified that Burt shook hands with Griffin moments after the shooting, although Burt denied it (Frantz 1995). The phone number of the Army of God's "media spokesperson" Donald Spitz, was found in killer John Salvi's pocket when he was arrested after his shooting spree at two Massachusetts clinics (Reiter 2000). Salvi is from New Hampshire, but immediately after the shootings, he travelled across several states to Norfolk Virginia—where Donald Spitz lives—and was caught after firing 22 shots outside the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk (he was unable to get inside). This clinic was reportedly little-known and hard to find (Frantz 1995), but was frequently picketed by Spitz and had been bombed by Michael Bray in 1985. Many pro-choice activists consider Bray to be the Army of God's "ringleader."

The activities of these three Extremists (Bray, Spitz, Burt) certainly raise suspicions about the existence of a recruiting and training network. However, I suspect that this possible network works only haphazardly and sporadically. Most Extremists are probably content to broadcast their doctrine of “justifiable homicide” and hope some nutcase listens to them. After all, it takes considerable resources, discipline, and nerve to run a recruiting and training network, especially an efficient one. There's little support for such a thing in American society and a high penalty to pay if someone talks. It’s much safer to incite terrorism at a distance, using words only, because the liability is far less.

The structure of the anti-choice terrorist group Army of God supports this theory. It is an amorphous group with no hierarchy and no membership requirements—anyone can claim to be a member of the Army of God and bomb a clinic on its behalf, without ever talking to anyone else. The drawback to this system (for the Extremists) is that terrorists don’t often materialize and act on their own, whereas an established training network could produce a lot more of them. In spite of some circumstantial evidence for at least a small network, anti-choice murders have been relatively rare and are getting rarer due to law enforcement. Therefore, it seems unlikely that an effective recruiting and training network exists for would-be terrorists.[8]

[8] If Extremist John Burt ever operated such a training network in Florida, those days might be over now. He suffered a humiliating downfall in June 2003 when he was arrested for sexually molesting girls at his home for unwed mothers.

Future of the Anti-Choice Movement

It might be useful to take a longer view and compare the abortion battle not just to the anti-civil rights movement of the 1960's, but to the struggle for black civil rights since the end of the Civil War in 1865. Although slavery was made illegal by a constitutional amendment in 1863 and the Civil Rights Act passed in 1866, laws must enjoy broad support before they are generally obeyed. Riots immediately ensued after the Act was passed, and white mobs of vigilantes—bolstered by religious conviction—continued their brutal campaign of lynching blacks well into the 20th Century. The Ku Klux Klan formed in 1866 and was responsible for fomenting much of the violence, including the violence of the 1960's civil rights movement that brought things to a head. The fact is, that in spite of laws protecting blacks, racism remained entrenched and legitimized in American society for a century after the Civil War. Once the battle was largely won, however, racism became socially unacceptable and the frequent violence that accompanied it took a nosedive. Even though most Americans never condoned racist violence in its heyday, they openly condoned the racism that led to it, and that was enough to allow the violence to continue without serious reprisals.

Strong parallels can be drawn to the abortion battle. Most Americans don't condone anti-choice violence, but a large number do condone (either tacitly or directly) forced motherhood, which can be likened to a form of slavery. The general acceptance of a restricted social role for women and their perceived duty to become mothers, leads directly to the support of anti-choice laws and protests, and a toleration of accompanying violence (although it's against people that help women, not women themselves). Further, the anti-choice movement as a whole does not support the FACE Act, passed in 1994 to protect clinics from violence. While this law and other criminal statutes are being enforced against the worst forms of anti-choice terrorism, harassment and moderate violence continue largely unabated.

Another analogy can be made to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which has been ongoing with no end in sight for 55 years. Like the abortion conflict, the battle in the Middle East has been fuelled by religious fundamentalism and hopelessly contradictory goals and worldviews. Israel wants to carve out a peaceful Jewish homeland in the heart of a hostile Arab/Muslim world. The Palestinians aren't really interested in compromise and have little sympathy for the Jews' history of persecution—their only goals from the beginning have been to get rid of Israel completely and take back the land they feel is rightfully theirs. The obvious solution to this conflict would seem to be to establish autonomous states for both Israel and Palestine, but another half-century of bloodshed could easily be ahead of us before that happens. Again, a strong parallel can be found to the abortion struggle. Many (hopefully most) Palestinians do not support suicide bombings, but they fully support the anti-Israel cause in general. This helps justify and prolong the violence, just as it does in the abortion battle.

Looked at from this viewpoint, the abortion conflict could take several more decades to resolve itself, perhaps an entire century. The question is how it will resolve itself. My optimistic view is that, just as America gradually woke up to the evils of racism, it will also come around to supporting true equality and autonomy for women. Just as a positive solution for the Palestinian/Israeli conflict must involve acceptance of some sort of Jewish state in Israel—because the Jews who live there aren't going anywhere, barring nuclear annihilation—a positive solution for the abortion conflict must involve an understanding of the need for abortions—which women will never stop having, even in the face of laws against abortion. Anti-choice violence and harassment will only die out when people stop supporting the anti-choice cause in general, when being anti-choice becomes socially unacceptable. Like racism and anti-Semitism today (in North America at least), the anti-choice viewpoint would still persist, but on a reduced, more hidden level, erupting only on occasion into violence and harassment.

Can we really expect most religious fundamentalists to change their minds and become more tolerant? Recall that one of the major characteristics of a religious fundamentalist is certitude, which involves depending on and obeying an external authority. Although such authoritarianism might imply that most fundamentalists' minds are set in concrete, conformity plays a critical role in authoritarianism. Religious fundamentalists tend to be deeply conformist at heart—witness their efforts to compel everyone to believe and behave according to their narrow external codes—e.g., the Bible. ("Conformists" are those who comply without question to the beliefs and practices of their group.) The key to change therefore lies with a change in their external authority. If leaders who are respected by religious fundamentalists would renounce a particular tactic or belief and espouse a change in direction, most followers would follow.

For example, some public figures and groups, mostly religious fundamentalists, apologized for and renounced their racism in the aftermath of the 1960's civil rights movement (e.g., Southern Baptist Convention, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace). As a result, racism is no longer considered acceptable today by fundamentalists (although it can be argued that many harbour a great deal of latent racism). Likewise, if Arab/Muslim leaders were seen to be making truly determined efforts to stop terrorism and encourage toleration of Israel, it would go a long way to quelling Middle-East violence and tensions—sooner rather than later. To effect similar quick change in the abortion battle, we need leaders like the Pope, George W. Bush, or James Dobson (influential head of Focus on the Family) to lay down the law, as it were, to anti-choice fundamentalists. A good place to start would be for them to disavow the claim that abortion is murder, coupled with a call for understanding of women who need abortions. Such change from the top seems unlikely to come about in the near future, however, which means that the abortion struggle may well prove to be the battle of a century, just like the struggle against racism after the Civil War.

A final factor must be considered when gauging the future of the anti-choice movement. To a much greater degree than racism and anti-Israel sentiments, the abortion issue is characterized by ambivalence because it involves the death of a fetus. Even if women were to achieve greater social and political autonomy, and with it, free abortion on demand, many people will continue to have moral concerns for the fetus. To attain true social peace on this issue, we must work to significantly reduce unintended pregnancies and therefore the need for abortions. On balance, however, we have every reason to be confident that a civilized, educated world, one that places a high value on individual liberties, will eventually reject anti-choice views and the accompanying oppression of women, just like it has already rejected slavery, racism, and anti-Semitism.


The anti-choice movement is mired in rigid religious fundamentalism. Hampered by its authoritarianism, its antipathy to women's autonomy and human freedoms, its failure to understand or respect pro-choice sentiment, and perhaps most of all, its propensity for violence and apocalyptic retribution, it seems doomed to failure. Our diverse and democratic society will leave such "traditional values" behind, but not without a prolonged fight that may stretch well into this century. The anti-choice movement is influential and enjoys broad public support—but only in the strongly-religious U.S., nowhere else in the world where abortion is legal. Although America faces ever-increasing restrictions on abortion and the possible overturning of Roe V. Wade in the near future, the pro-choice movement is still strong and savvy. It also enjoys broad public support, as well as the support of law enforcement against anti-choice violence.

So here's my fervent wish: If the U.S. government ever foolishly passes a federal law or constitutional amendment banning abortion—or even if they just overturn Roe v. Wade—I hope that millions of people will take to the streets in protest, armies of clinic defenders will keep the clinics open, hundreds of doctors will publicly announce their intention to continue performing abortions, and thousands of women will walk into clinics with their heads high.

The will of the people can make any abortion ban unenforceable from day one, leaving no alternative but repeal. And that might truly be the final nail in the coffin for the anti-choice movement.


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