The Case for an Anti-Abortion Violence Registry


Over the past fifteen years,
federal legislation has required state governments to track convicted
sex offenders and — for better or for worse — many states have
followed up with restrictions on the places where these offenders may
live and work. In light of the epidemic of anti-abortion violence that
has targeted reproductive health care providers over the past three
decades (including 41 bombings and 173 arson attacks since 1977),
Congress should create a similar registry for individuals convicted of
politically-motivated felonies that target abortion clinics or abortion
providers. The narrow purpose of such legislation would be to prevent a
small cadre of highly-dangerous individuals, all of whom have
previously demonstrated a disregard for both public safely and civil
discourse, from approaching either reproductive health clinics or their
employees. Much as we do not permit convicted pedophiles to teach
kindergarten or convicted hijackers to board airplanes, common sense
dictates that individuals who have been imprisoned for plotting
violence against abortion clinics should never again be permitted
anywhere near such facilities.

The vast majority of abortion opponents in the United States have
always embraced non-violence. However, this is not necessarily the case
with a small subset of hardcore anti-abortion activists who spend their
days — and often earn their livings — organizing protests outside
reproductive health clinics. The American public was reminded of the
rather chilling attitudes and backgrounds of some of these extremists
in the aftermath of the recent assassination of Kansas physician George
Tiller, allegedly by "pro-life" activist Scott Roeder. As was widely
reported in the media, Operation Rescue’s senior policy analyst, Cheryl
Sullenger, kept Roeder apprised of Dr. Tiller’s whereabouts — an
accusation she first denied and later admitted — and her phone number
was found on the dashboard of his car. Sullenger was quoted in the
press as stating, "He would call and say, ‘When does court start?
When’s the next hearing?’ I was polite enough to give him the
information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what
I mean?" Yet far less attention was paid to the details of Cheryl
Sullenger’s previous conviction for conspiring to blow up a California
abortion clinic and her prior three-year prison sentence for supplying
the explosive powder for that bomb. At the time of her guilty plea,
Sullenger, who federal prosecutors described as being in the "upper
echelons of culpability," had the audacity to tell the judge that she
was "trying to save lives." Such a woman has no business coming within
shouting distance of an abortion clinic ever again.

Sullenger is not alone. Increasingly, individuals convicted of
violence against abortion clinics during the 1980s and 1990s are
reaching the ends of their prison sentences — and many, far from
pursuing other causes upon release, appear to be reinserting themselves
into the hardcore anti-abortion movement. Unfortunately, keeping tabs
on these often unrepentant and dangerous individuals is highly
challenging, and the case of Sullenger demonstrates that organizations
like Operation Rescue cannot be trusted to turn them away. One
promising solution would be sentences that included, as a condition for
parole or release, lifetime bans upon loitering around or approaching
abortion clinics. However, a national registry might prove far more
manageable than the ad hoc imposition of such restrictions. Needless to
say, these bans should be narrowly focused in order to allay First
Amendment concerns. Those convicted of anti-abortion violence would
still be permitted to engage in most forms of meaningful and peaceful
civil dissent: writing to their legislators, protesting on the National
Mall, even serving as high-ranking officials in such organizations as
Operation Rescue. They would simply not be allowed near clinics. (A
judicial bypass provision could be incorporated if a registered
individual ever sought an abortion for herself or to accompany her
teenage daughter.) In addition, much as local parents are currently
informed when a convicted sex offender moves into the neighborhood,
local abortion providers ought to be notified when such an
anti-abortion convict settles in their community.

I have always believed that protests outside abortion clinics, rather
than embodying our nation’s powerful tradition of free speech and
vigorous debate, actually undermine that legacy. While shouting at
female patients during their most vulnerable moments may be a
Constitutionally protected right, doing so does not contribute to a
robust marketplace of ideas. Nor does the legality of such
demonstrations make them any less distasteful. Civil society would
benefit greatly if anti-abortion activists took their protests to state
capitals or to the steps of the United States Supreme Court instead. (I
would find it equally distasteful if pro-choice activists chose to
commemorate Roe v. Wade outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Easter
Sunday, but–at least to my knowledge — such displays rarely occur.)
While anti-abortion activists have a right to protest outside clinics,
at least from beyond a safe buffer zone, that right is not absolute.
Nor should it be. Attempting to kill or maim the occupants of a health
facility, or to burn these caregivers out of business, should be more
than enough grounds to permanently forfeit any right to protest nearby.
Of course, the number of individuals required to register would likely
be small. That is no reason not to act. Targeting an abortion clinic is
not merely a crime against a particular facility, after all, or even
against supporters of abortion rights, but is an act of terrorism that
threatens our very democracy. Not even violent sex offenders can do
that.

I am hopeful that, after reflection, both political supporters and
opponents of abortion rights would embrace such a registry. Doing so
would lend convincing credence to the anti-abortion movement’s claims
to nonviolence and would prevent dangerous ex-felons from infiltrating
its ranks. Keeping these violent zealots away from abortion clinics
will not resolve our ongoing public debate over abortion. However, such
a registry might improve the tenor of the public discourse. If nothing
else, it will help reassure vulnerable women entering abortion clinics,
and the physicians caring for them, that none of the protesters outside
the building has ever attempted to kill or injure someone like them
before.

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  • invalid-0

    …common ground. As a pro-lifer, I agree wholeheartedly that anyone representing my position who promotes violence of any sort against pro-choicers should be identified and restricted in some way from expressing their anger with acts of violence. Thank you for acknowledging that the violence comes from “a small subset of hardcore anti-abortion activists”. I would not be surprised of many of these extremists are just searching for any reason at all to act out violently.

  • invalid-0

    Correction. Sullenger NEVER admitted to keeping Roeder apprised of Tiler’s whereabouts. She only said she answered his questions about court times and dates. Tiller was not even present at many court hearings. You need to print a correction and an apology to Mrs. Sullenger.

  • colleen

    Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy adviser for Operation Rescue is a felon convicted of conspiring to bomb a clinic. Her name and phone number was found in Roeder’s car after he was arrested.

    I understand that she’s something of a hero to you people but the notion that court times and dates don’t indicate someone’s whereabouts or that anyone here owes this terrorist an apology is just pathetic.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • invalid-0

    Colleen, I don’t want to dismiss your charges against Sullenger without cause, but I would like to know your source. If all you say is true then I would have to agree with you. You must back up your claim – I hadn’t heard this before. Thank you.

  • crowepps

    "She only said she answered his questions about court times and dates."

    Of course, Sullenger didn’t know which court hearings Tiller would be  present at, did she?  So when she answered those questions there was no reason to assume Dr. Tiller would miss that hearing.  Your request for a correction is based on the presumption that ex-con Sullenger is accurately reporting her interactions with Roeder and that even though she might be charged as an accessory to Tiller’s death, she would tell the truth.  Under those circumstances she is not a credible witness.

    Her phone number was in plain sight on the dashboard of his car.

    http://blogs.pitch.com/plog/2009/06/inside_the_car_of_the.php

  • http://www.LifeNews.com/stevenertelt.html invalid-0

    How about a pro-abortion violence registry? We could include people like those who almost killed pro-life advocates outside abortion centers in Arkansas and California. We could include the man who tried to disable the Operation Rescue Security system, the ones who have left death threats for Kansas pro-lifers, the ones who have burned down and attacked pregnancy centers, etc. Oh I’m sorry, we’re not surprosed to acknowledge that abortion advocates do anything wrong. We’re just supposed to focus on these nutcases who have nothing to do with the pro-life movement.

  • colleen

    Jim, I got my information from reading the news reports immediately after Tiller’s assassination by a member of the anti-abortion movement. If you learn to use Google you can read about it to.
    Sullenger’s record as one of many violent ‘pro-life’ felons is a matter of public record.
    As for what I must and must not do, I thought I’d been clear. I have no interest in wasting my time in discussions with someone claiming that men who murder their pregnant wives or prison guards who rape their charges are crimes associated with the pro-choice movement.


    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • frederick-clarkson

    On the surface, this idea may sound attractive to some, but this is just an interesting solution to a problem we do not have.

    Few of the convicted antiabortion felons return to clinic protesting, and none that I recall, have returned to violence after having served their sentences.

  • http://www.consistent-life.org/ invalid-0

    The registry should cover all incidents where people use violence in the abortion controversy on both sides. It does happen on both sides, and it is wrong either way.

  • invalid-0

    colleen, I did my research and found that Ms. Sullenger did indeed serve time for attmpting to bomb a clinic 20 years ago. Not my kind of pro-lifer, but she seems to have more found peaceful, yet agressive, means of pursuing some goals which I agree with.

    • invalid-0

      she seems to have more found peaceful, yet agressive, means of pursuing some goals which I agree with.

      Ms Sullenger’s current employment is the equivalent of hiring a convicted child rapist to teach 2nd grade.

  • invalid-0

    “Seems to have found peaceful, yet aggressive, means”

    Sullenger informed and aimed a lunatic at Dr. Tiller in the hopes that he’d fire. Doesn’t seem too peaceful to me.

    We might all get farther in finding “common ground” if we could understand at the gut level that just because someone agrees with our goals, that does NOT mean that their means are acceptable, or for that matter, effective.

    Operation Rescue and its supporters have been acting like intolerant, criminal, homicidal LOONS for years and haven’t succeeded in changed things one bit. Aggressive is not the same thing as persuasive, and it sure isn’t peaceful.

    Of course, they have succeeded in giving Christianity a black eye it will take decades to recover from, but I don’t consider that a plus.

  • invalid-0

    Appel’s name has been added to the Abortifacist Registry for his proposed violence against our liberties.

    Considering the frequency with which his side paints us as violent, you’d think he’d be grateful we weren’t whacking his precious abortionists daily and torching their wretched clinics. It’s not enough that we are innocent of their libels (they KILL the innocent, after all), we’re supposed to genuflect to their fears and prejudices. Sorry, ain’t gonna wear your star, NaziBoy.

    I’ve never shot an abortionist or vandalized one of your clinics and I want to be thanked for it. I want Appel’s abortibabbling ilk to grovel and thank us for not being what they so casually accuse us of.

  • invalid-0

    there’s so many “concerned” pro-lifers on here coming out with a bunch of unsubstantiated b.s. about how “violence” goes both ways.
    When was the last time that a pro-life person was gunner down in their church? Names? Dates? News reports?
    You have none.
    We keep a registry of suspected terrorists and these anti-choice loons are cut of the exact same cloth.
    This is a great idea.
    It’s about time we started to enforce laws and keep lists against domestic terrorists.
    Perhaps the next OK City could be averted.

  • invalid-0

    So you’re winning the argument 1-0. Does nothing else count as violence?

    • invalid-0

      Hah. “Winning the argument”.
      I guess facts are the enemy to the pro-lifers now. Actually no, they always have been.

    • invalid-0

      Grow up, Jim, this isn’t some stupid game. You folks are so frantic to ‘prove’ that your victimhood that you’re attempting to ‘prove’ that men who murder their pregnant girlfriends or wives are somehow ‘pro-choice’ feminists attacking martyred ‘pro-life’ fundamentalists. You folks are literally making shit up, throwing it around and hoping it sticks. How lame is that?
      What it comes down to is a fundamental inability to admit the inherent violence of your own movement and your complicity in that violence.

  • snowflake

    I posted a tv station news video about how a man was unjustly pulled over by the police and investigated by the Secret Service because he had a pro-life sign.

    The point of the video was that the man was CLEARED by the police and the Secret Service, and that the tv staion was reporting on that.

    Now the video is gone–EVIDENTLY REALITYCHECK.ORG KNOWS MORE THAN THE SECRET SERVICE DOES.

  • therealistmom

    Don’t jump to conclusions. I’ve had posts disappear here for perfectly innocent reasons, I assume a hiccup in the boards or some other server error. Yelling “help help I’m being oppressed” doesn’t do anything but make you look silly- ESPECIALLY on a privately owned message board where there is no first amendment right to speech anyway.

  • snowflake

    I will assume the best until I hear differently.