The pro-life and anti-abortion movements


Both the pro-life and anti-abortion movements are motivated by one concept: that human personhood begins at conception. To these groups an embryo and a fetus are all human persons who should be granted the same rights, privileges and protections as a child or adult (Violence & harassment at U.S. abortion clinics). Operation Rescue is an anti-abortion organization that states that it is dedicated to the protection of children in the womb and their mothers who are exploited by abortion. The group declares that “We work in every way we can to manifest the truth of God concerning abortion” (Operation Rescue Colorado).

Unfortunately, “every way we can” includes violence, murder and the misuse of religion to inspire what any moral individual could only interpret as unholy acts.

The god-father of Operation Rescue is Joseph Scheidler, director of the Pro-Life Action League which he has called the “Green Berets of the Pro-Life Movement” (The battle to defend abortion clinics: organizing against Operation Rescue).

Scheidler has had a long history of associating with convicted clinic bombers and has written a book called Closed: 99 ways to stop abortion which describes how to harass and intimidate abortion providers and clinic patients. Scheidler was present at Operation Rescue blockades in New York City, directing and condoning operations. The formal leader of Operation Rescue is Randall Terry who organizes it out of his Project Life headquarters in Binghamton, New York. Most Operation Rescue participants are male, and virtually all are white.

Many women’s groups feel that Operation Rescue and other anti-abortion groups have a broader agenda than abortion alone. Some feminists state that “The submission of women is at the core of all these attacks on women’s rights and is a backlash to the changed role of women in every facet of our society” (Promise Keepers holds no promise for women). Yet others theorize that Operation Rescue is part of a vast right-wing conspiracy. They see Operation Rescue as providing a door which lures people into conservative politics. Once in, a broader conservative agenda is promoted. In 1999, Operation Rescue changes its name to Operation Save America and announced that it would no longer just focus on abortion (Operation Rescue changes name, widens focus). The group said Operation Save America will work to combat pornography, teen sex, homosexuality and the removal of God from schools, all common causes of the Religious Right. According to Operation Save America spokesperson, “We do want to save this country, not just the unborn. We want to show our love for this country and our desire to return to the moral grounds this country was founded on” (Operation Rescue changes name, widens focus).

Today, the Religious Right wields extraordinary political power. The Religious Right is beginning to dominate the Republican Party, and the Republican Party has won majorities in both Houses of the U.S. Congress (The rise of the Religious Right in the Republican party). Thus, the influence of the Religious Right has become immense. And they now have a powerful ally in the White House, President George Bush. The President’s Faith-Based Initiative that seeks to eliminate the separation of church and State is transforming the United States into a “Christian” nation.

As shown below in Table 1, violence against abortion providers has been going on for decades, but has changed focus over the years to respond to political and legal conditions.

Incidents of Violence and Disruption Against Abortion Providers

Murders, Attempted Murders

Bombing, Arson, Attempted Bombing or Arson

Invasion, Assault & Battery, Vandalism, Trespassing, Death Threats, Burglary, Stalking

Hate Mail, Harassing Phone Calls, Bomb Threats

Arrests Made at Blockades

Number of Blockades

Number of Incidents of Picketing

Source: The National Abortion Federation (cited in Violence & harassment at U.S. abortion clinics)

In 1992, Operation Rescue along with other anti-abortion groups launched a national campaign dubbed “No Place to Hide.” This campaign was a response to the weakening of the anti-abortion political position that shifted tactics, from clinic protests and letter-writing campaigns to a campaign of terror, targeted primarily at the dwindling number of doctors who perform abortions (Fredericks, 1993).

In an attempt to force doctors to stop providing abortion and reproductive healthcare services the “No Place to Hide” campaign targeted abortion providers, clinic workers and their families with a multitude of harassment tactics (Burghardt). Methods included residential pickets and issuing “wanted” posters with the photograph, name, home address and weekly itinerary of abortion providers. In some cases, the family members of physicians and clinic workers, including small children were followed and harassed.

The founder of Operation Rescue, Randall Terry, said, “We’ve found that the weak link is the doctor…We’re going to expose them. We’re going to humiliate them” (Burghardt). Within a short time following this speech made in 1992 five people were murdered and fifteen other individuals were seriously wounded by anti-abortion assassin’s. On the weekend before the slaying of a doctor performing abortions in Pensacola, Florida, named Robert Gunn, Operation Rescue had distributed wanted posters with this doctor’s photograph and phone number (Fredericks, 1993).

The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 was signed into law in 1994, imposing huge fines and jail sentences for the illegal blockades of clinics. And, in 1994, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that federal marshals will provide protection to any abortion clinic requesting it (Violence & harassment at U.S. abortion clinics). These protections have decreased the number of blockades and the number of arrests at blockades. Now, anti-abortion organizations including Operation Rescue have changed tactics, and engaged in hate letters, harassing phone calls, bomb threats and picketing.

The RICO law, which was originally aimed at combating organized crime, has also been used against organizers of abortion clinic blockades in the mid-1990’s. RICO has been successfully used against Operation Rescue. In 1998, a U.S. District Court jury found that twenty-one acts of intimidation, including physical violence outside clinics, amounted to a vast enterprise of extortion under the RICO law (Johnson, 1998). The suit brought by the National Organization for Women named as defendants two militant anti-abortion groups, Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League, and their leaders, Joseph Scheidler, Timothy Murphy and Andrew Scholberg. Randall Terry, the president of Operation Rescue, had earlier agreed to pay damages in a settlement.

The media is another way that anti-abortion groups try to garner support for their cause. However, most major newspapers support abortion rights on their editorial pages, and two major media studies have shown that eighty percent to ninety percent of U.S. journalists personally favor abortion rights (Shaw, 1990). Right-wing organizations are trying to reverse this trend. Many of their ideas and proposals are first developed at think tanks funded by right-wing foundations and corporations (Clinton, conspiracism, and the continuing culture war). The ideas are then tested within right-wing alternative media, such as small-circulation newsletters, journals, and direct mail appeals. As popular themes that resonate with conservative audiences emerge, they are moved into more mainstream corporate media through columns by conservatives, press releases picked up as articles in the print media, conversations on radio talk shows, and discussions on TV news roundtables.

Reaching a larger audience is helping to mobilize mass constituencies for right-wing ideas (Clinton, conspiracism, and the continuing culture war). Christian Right media is extensive and reflects a large subculture in our society. In late 1998, televangelist Jerry Falwell solicited funds to expand in order to rally America’s 200,000 conservative pastors who collectively speak to 50-60 million persons each week. In 1999 Pat Roberson’s 700 Club television program featured a special weeklong series of reports on “America’s Moral Crisis” including abortion. Viewers with concerns about the moral crises were urged to call the National Counseling Center, part of the Christian Broadcasting Network Ministry. The Center claims to have logged 5,000 calls per day.

Right-wing ideals are no longer limited to smaller right-wing niche media channels. The most notable example is Fox News Channel, conservative Rupert Murdoch’s 24-hour cable network that first aired in 1996 (Ackerman, 2001). Since its launch, Fox has become a central hub of the conservative movement’s well-oiled media machine. Together with the GOP organization and its satellite think tanks and advocacy groups, this network of fiercely partisan outlets — such as the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative talk-radio shows like Rush Limbaugh’s — forms a highly effective media vehicle where GOP-friendly news stories such as the war against abortion can be promoted, repeated and amplified.

Following the September 11 attacks on America, Operation Rescue (now known at Operation Save America) released a statement that the attacks were retribution from God. According to OSA, because of the United States’ “basic disregard of the Law of God and for life…blood is coursing down the corridors of our schools, workplaces, and streets” (Operation Save America claims attacks on America “rebuke” for U.S. pro-choice policy).

The Operation Save America statement shows the similarities between this extremist group and those who use Islam as their cover. A Feminist Daily News Analysis reveals (Operation Save America claims attack on America “rebuke” for U.S. pro-choice policy):

Both groups use religion as a tool to promote fear and terror as they attempt to dismantle basic human and civil rights. Both groups target feminism as a symbol of Western progress, and ultimately, both groups threaten democracy itself by attempting to force their distorted religious views onto the modern world in an effort to dismantle freedom and civil liberties.”

The proliferation of domestic religious terror is similar to the rise of Islamic monistic theocracies and Jihad. In both cases, a truly religious person would never approve of the gross misuse of religion to justify terrorism. Indeed, Islamic and Operation Rescue extremists seem to be just as motivated by political and social factors as they are by religion.

Groups such as Operation Rescue/Operation Save America represent a dangerous threat not only to a woman’s right to choose, but also to broader freedoms such as the separation of church from state and the right to choose one’s own sexual orientation. Their agenda has gained tremendous political support and is quickly making headway into mainstream media. Legally, providers of abortion services have enjoyed some reprieve from violent activities conducted by anti-abortion groups through enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and application of RICO to financially cripple violent movements. However, these protections cannot be taken for granted as terrorists find ways to exploit religion to justify illegal violence, calling to question if the law can continue to protect a woman’s right to choice.


Ackerman, S. (2001, August). The most biased name in news. Extra! Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Burghardt, T. “No place to hide” campaign fizzles. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Clinton, conspiracism, and the continuing culture war. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Fredericks, K. (1993). Anti-choice terrorism in the U.S. Green Left Weekly. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Johnson, D. (1998, April 21). Jury rules that anti-abortion leaders violated racketeering laws. New York Times. Retrieved May 15, 2004 from Web site:

Operation Rescue changes name, widens focus. Catholic World News. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Operation Rescue Colorado. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Operation Save America claims attacks on America “rebuke” for U.S. pro-choice policy (2001, September 13). Feminist Daily News. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Promise Keepers holds no promise for women. (1997, July 13). Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Shaw, D. (1990, July 1) Abortion bias seeps into news. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

The battle to defend abortion clinics: organizing against Operation Rescue. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

The rise of the Religious Right in the Republican party. Retrieved May 16, 2004 from Web site:

Violence & harassment at U.S. abortion clinics. Retrieved May 15, 2004 from Web site:

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