Ignore That Self-Affixed Halo: Anti-Choicers Know Just What They Are Doing to Incite Violence

This article was amended at 5:06 pm, Wednesday, August 10th to make a correction. The photo of Troy Newman is at the site of Dr. Tiller’s clinic after his assassination, not at the site of the church where he was murdered.

Immediately after the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of his church in Wichita, Kansas just over two years ago, anti-choice leaders who had long used stridently violent language to describe Dr. Tiller specifically and abortion care generally, fell all over themselves proclaiming innocence of any connection to the murder.  Among these was Troy Newman, current president of Operation Rescue, who stated:

“We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down… Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.”

But the fact is that Newman and his cohorts regularly used imagery and language that depicted Dr. Tiller himself as a monster and in many ways indirectly if not directly suggested him as a target for someone willing to commit a violent act. That someone turned out to be Scott Roeder, who had, it turns out, several links to Operation Rescue.

And, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Any doubt of Newman’s own gruesome feelings of glee about Dr. Tiller’s murder can be summed up in a photo showing Newman standing at the site of Dr. Tiller’s clinic after his assassination giving a thumbs up.

Operation Rescue and other anti-choicers have now turned their sights on Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who is providing late abortion care to women in need several times a month in Germantown, Maryland.  During the several hours I spent on three days in Germantown, to help with clinic defense, I saw suggestions of violent action everywhere, courtesy of the anti-choicers marshaled by Operation Rescue and its colleague organizations.

First, for example, there was the truck plastered with photos of what the anti-choicers claim are mangled fetuses.  These photos, whether real or not, are obviously distasteful, and meant to be so. But they are also misleading if not outright fake.  If, for example, a woman is carrying a fetus that has died in utero, and it is removed for her own mental and physical health, it may well look grisly. So would, for example, heart surgery. But the implication without context is that someone is killing near-born babies without reason. Using photos-and science for that matter–that is either created entirely for shock value or so grossly misrepresents reality as to have no relation is a primary strategy of the anti-choice movement.

But also plastered across this truck, amidst the “dead baby” photos were photos of Dr. Tiller and of Dr. Carhart. Those of Dr. Tiller pronounced him “dead,” and those of Dr. Carhart had large yellow arrows fixed around the perimeter with the word “Abortionist” in large black block letters, pointing to Dr. Carhart.  The message, if not explicit, is nonetheless clear: “One of these men is dead, the other is still working. Whaddya gonna do about it?”

Then there were the sidewalk chalk drawings, pictured here. 

These drawings, which were one version of other drawings that appeared on a different day as well, were drawn out by teenagers “called in” by OR to help out with the protest.

Among these on Sunday were the sayings:

  • Would it bother us more if they used guns?
  • What would Jesus do? (with a gun)
  • Would it bother us if they used guns?

A drawing of an exploding gun as at the bottom of this row of chalk drawings.

Again, these images have two purposes. One is to suggest violence is an answer to something that anti-choicers don’t like, namely, women exercising self-determination in their lives by determining whether and when to have children, taking control over their own reproduction and sexual health, and safeguarding their own and their family’s health when a wanted pregnancy goes horribly awry.

The other is to intimidate those who are protecting women seeking care, and doctors who serve them. What would come to your mind if you walked the street toward your doctor’s office and there were exploding guns sketched on the sidewalk leading up to the office door?

Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups such as those in Germantown use religion and piety to advance a patriarchal agenda cloaked in religious fervor.

But it is violence by any other name.

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  • leslie-palma

    I don’t see a picture of Troy Newman giving the thumbs-up at Tiller’s church.


    Also, a comment on a website does not a link make. Anyone can comment on any website, or else I wouldn’t be commenting on yours.


    When you were “reporting” on the protests at Germantown, did you ask any of the teens about those gun drawings? I find them disturbing too. But had I been there, notebook in hand, I would have asked.

  • maiac

    So, this isn’t the best (or best researched) commentary I’ve ever read on RH Reality Check. But several of your objections don’t make much sense…


    I don’t see a picture of Troy Newman giving the thumbs-up at Tiller’s church

    Perhaps you also didn’t see this line from the article – “We are working to upload this photo sent by a colleague but are having problems with the resolution.” You maybe wanna allow for more than two hours to solve tech problems?


    Also, a comment on a website does not a link make. Anyone can comment on any website, or else I wouldn’t be commenting on yours.

    For the author of this piece to link to the RH Weekly Roundup in which this story was first reported does seem to be lazy linking, but you also have to be living under an abortion rock to not have seen the well-reported news on Roeder’s links to OR. In case you are actually this oblivious, and not just playing stupid, please think about a few things:

    Roeder did not make one comment on OR websites. He made many comments on their site, all using his real name, and many expressing a clear inclination to violence. In addition, he was KNOWN to OR staff members, at least one of who HELPED HIM STALK DR. TILLER (see http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/06/03/69361/operation-rescue-adviser-helped.html). OR, will giving lip service to condemning his actions, was also present at his trial to “not to condone or condemn” and make arguments that “Will the jury be allowed to hear evidence – such as the grizzly means by which these babies were slain and disposed of – evidence that would clearly effect Mr. Roeder’s state of mind?”

    Did OR “tell” or “order” Roeder to murder Tiller? No, no evidence of that. But there is plenty of evidence that at least some of their leadership/membership assisted him in obtaining the information he needed to murder and ignored telling signs of the impending murder.

    That IS a connection.


    When you were “reporting” on the protests at Germantown, did you ask any of the teens about those gun drawings? I find them disturbing too. But had I been there, notebook in hand, I would have asked

    And what kind of answer would you have expected? Something about the precious, precious murdered babies – an answer that has nothing to do with the question asked?

    Regardless, the point here is that these obviously indicate an atmosphere and discourse of violence in the anti-choice rhetoric.

    The anti’s can try to explain that away all you want.. but what possible answer could these teens have given that would make a gun NOT a violent image???


  • jodi-jacobson

    I am not clear what you are referring to when you say: “A comment on a website does not make a link….”  Can you clarify?  Are you referring to the link to our earlier reporting after Dr. Tiller’s murder?  If so, those are legitimate news reports earlier published and there is nothing at all unusual about linking back to our own reporting since the links for the original sources are in those pieces.  Not clear what the issue is; Newman’s statement was widely disseminated at the time.

    If that is not the link about which you are concerned, I am not clear what is and so can not respond effectively.

    As for asking the teens: In Germantown, I participated as both a clinic defender and an observer with a long work history in this field.  As such, I did not engage in conversation with anti-choicers and the creators of the chalk drawings were not available to speak to in any case as they disappeared as soon as they were done.  Since we were attempting to maintain a peaceful presence in defending the clinic, we did not engage them or others, except as I noted on the last day when antis came to the driveway of the clinic entrance adn spoke to some of the defenders.  I did not interview those who drew the drawings; I am not sure what good it would have been.  The point is the same. If you are using violent imagery in a climate in which violent terms are repeatedly and stridently used against a doctor (or anyone else for that matter) in the manner of antichoicers, you can not claim innocence if something does happen.

    This is a commentary; it is not a news report and is not labeled as such.  It is my interpretation of what I saw and experienced.  I am happy to answer specific questions if you have them.




  • fred-exley

    Enjoyed your article.

  • kate-ranieri

    Shortly after Dr. Tiller was murdered, one of our notorious (in Allentown PA) antis asked staffers and volunteers which they preferred “Die by a knife or a gun?” Of course, it was a veiled threat that we took seriously.


    Behind their thin veil of piety, is the antis’ lust for violence. And that violence begins in small ways with hateful comments and grows into a large beast, craving more violence. The gun drawings are evidence as was the comment from one anti choicer in Germantown who recommended using their guns. They’re a scary bunch of folks.

  • sayna

    “When I, or people like me, are running the country, you’d better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we will execute you. I mean every word of it. I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed… If we’re going to have true reformation in America, it is because men once again, if I may use a worn out expression, have righteous testoserone flowing through their veins. They are not afraid of contempt for their contemporaries. They are not even here to get along. They are here to take over… Somebody like Susan Smith should be dead. She should be dead now. Some people will go, “Well how do you know God doesn’t have a wonderful plan for her life?” He does, it’s listed in the Bible. His plan for her is that she should be dead.”

    [Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, at the Aug 8, 1995 U.S. Taxpayers Alliance Banquet in Washington DC, talking about doctors who perform abortions and volunteer escorts]

     Make no mistake, these people are and always have been promoting violence.


  • catseye71352

    By both the legal and dictionary definitions, the anti-abortion movemenmt’s actions are nothing more and nothing less than domestic terrorism. Why are they not on the watch lists?

  • maiac

    Lambs of God (sometimes called Lambs of Christ) IS on the FBI’s watch list as a domestic terrorist group.


    And, in all fairness to the FBI, prior to President Obama’s election, clinic violence (while still a problem) had been decreasing.


    But other than those to caveats… I’m totally with you!

  • concerned-feminist

    Clinic violence is only decreasing because the number of clinics is decreasing. Make no mistake, once all the clinics are gone it will go right back to the good ol’ days of direct violence against women. (already happening in some cases)