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Sunday, October 25, 1998 Published at 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK

World: Americas

Violence and the pro-life campaign

Fire bombings have destroyed many abortion clinics

Since the Roe vs Wade ruling 25 years ago that legalised abortion in the United States, the anti-abortion movement has been waging a sustained campaign against it, and some of its supporters have turned to violence.

In 1996, for example, almost a third of all abortion clinics reported violent attacks, such as bombings, arsenal and vandalism.

Last year abortion clinics in the United States recorded 17 very serious attacks. One clinic, in Greensboro, North Carolina, was burned down after an arson attack and forced to close. At another hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, protestors set off two bombs.

[ image: Some 72,000 people have been arrested for picketing clinics]
Some 72,000 people have been arrested for picketing clinics
These are extreme cases. More common is the harassment of both women seeking abortions and staff at abortion clinics.

One of the most common tactics used by "pro-lifers" was to picket abortion clinics. The pickets hoped to persuade or intimidate pregnant women not to have abortions.

In 1984 the picketing of hospitals was made illegal, but the intimidation tactics did not stop. Last year, the Abortion Federation received reports of more than 600 threats to pregnant women and doctors.

The number of abortions performed in the US is falling, from 1.6 million a year in the late 1980s to 1.4 million a year in 1996.

Some 'pro-choice' campaigners blame this on the militancy of the "pro-lifers", which reached its peak in 1993 and 1994, when anti-abortion activists killed five hospital workers.

The first murder was in March 1993, when Dr David Gunn was shot dead by a member of Rescue America. The group's leader, Don Threshman, said that although the death was unfortunate "quite a number of babies' lives will be saved."

The following year Dr Baynard Britton and his body guard, James Herman Barrett, were shot dead by the pro-life activist Paul Hill.

Hill was the leader of the Defensive Action League, which advocated "justifiable homicide" against doctors who perform abortions. When he was sentenced to death in early December 1994, he urged those who "value innocent life" to follow his example.

Before the end of the same month, 22-year-old pro-life activist John Salvi shot dead two receptionists and injured five other people at two abortion clinics near Boston.

[ image: A pro-life campaigner under arrest]
A pro-life campaigner under arrest
Although the killings were isolated incidents, and not condoned by the mainstream pro-life movement, they occurred at a time of mounting violence against abortion clinics. In 1992 there were 194 violent incidents reported at hospitals around the US, and in 1993 there were at least 329 attacks.

As a result of the violence, many doctors and hospitals are not prepared anymore to perform abortions, making it increasingly difficult for many women to exercise their constitutional right.

Pro-life campaigners, however, argue that the real violence are the 1.5 million abortions every year.

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Internet Links

US National Coalition for Peace and Life

US National Right to Life

US National Abortion Federation

US National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League

Full text of Roe vs Wade Supreme Court hearing

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