Rhetoric alert

On the sidewalk, Manchester NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.
On the sidewalk, Manchester NH. Photo by Ellen Kolb.

It’s been only a few days since the murders of Garrett Swasey, Jennifer Markovsky, and Ke’Arre Stewart by Robert Dear at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado. I’ve heard suggestions that “rhetoric” in general and the Center for Medical Progress in particular created a climate of violence. In that fantasy world, people like Dear would never commit murder if only abortion resisters would remain silent and invisible.

Wake up.

Without exception, the rhetoric accusations I’ve read have been written by people who equate peaceful prolife action with violence. I’m reminded of the New Hampshire state rep who said at a committee hearing on the buffer zone that handing a woman a pamphlet could be an act of violence. Now that’s some rhetoric.

That rep made an outrageous claim – but it worked. The buffer zone law is in place, although unenforced thanks to a federal injunction. The reps had a chance to remove the blight from the statute books earlier this year. Nope. They kept it. Buffer zone fans warned that repeal would “send the wrong message” – the message being that the First Amendment is OK even for nonviolent pro-life demonstrators.

Remember that the New Hampshire law was passed without any documentation from law enforcement that client safety was a problem at New Hampshire abortion facilities. It was passed despite the fact that laws against harassment, assault, illegal weapons possession, and trespassing are already in place. The governor and a majority of legislators over two sessions with differing party majorities bought into the fantasy that buffering the First Amendment would somehow protect safety and balance and access where other laws didn’t.

How did that work out in Colorado?

Colorado has a variety of buffer zone law called a bubble zone, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Within 100 feet of a reproductive health facility (sic), it’s illegal to get within eight feet of anyone entering or leaving the facility. That didn’t protect Dear’s victims.

So the zone didn’t work. Laws against trespassing, assault, and illegal use of firearms didn’t work. Must be the rhetoric.

One New Hampshire newspaper recently advanced the rhetoric argument with some rhetoric of its own, citing Republican candidates but implying culpability on the part of all who call abortion what it is.

“Every Republican contender for the world’s top job opposes abortion, and most have denounced the legal medical procedure in harsh or even apocalyptic terms. All are now denying that their rhetoric demonizing abortion providers played any role in inciting the man accused of killing three and wounding nine at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic last week. They’re wrong. Their words may not have directly spurred accused killer Robert Dear to violence,… [b]ut the GOP candidates’ high-profile assault on abortion and Planned Parenthood, the nation’s major provider of health care to women, has done much to create a climate capable of spawning violence.” 

The editorial erroneously and embarrassingly calls PP “the nation’s major provider of health care to women” when there’s a network of Catholic health care providers in the United States including 600 hospitals and 1400 other health care facilities where women are cared for, but leave that aside for today. Consider instead the phrase “high-profile assault on abortion and Planned Parenthood…has done much to create a climate capable of spawning violence.”

Is there any opposition to PP that doesn’t amount to “high-profile assault” in the eyes of PP’s defenders? On that question hangs the credibility of everyone citing rhetoric as a factor in the Colorado killings.

Getting tax money away from abortion providers and giving it to abortion-free health care agencies…insisting that women be protected by the same safety standards inside an abortion facility that they’re entitled to at any other ambulatory care facility…investigating and reporting on the activities of PP affiliates, and making those reports public in unedited videos…working to gain legal protection for children who survive attempted abortion…fighting to give women the right to know if their abortion provider has a history of leaving women injured…every effort to stop another Gosnell.

Is that high-profile assault?

Peaceful efforts to resist abortion and its fallout are not part of the same spectrum as violence, threats of violence, assault, and murder. The difference is in kind, not degree.

And thereby hangs the nub of the blame-the-rhetoric argument: the false if comforting belief that all resistance to abortion, whether peaceful or violent, is dangerous. That leads to the false security of buffer zone laws – the kind of law that was overturned in Massachusetts and enjoined in New Hampshire and failed to deter Dear in Colorado.

A reader sent me a lengthy and thoughtful email, moved to cry out after viewing the video to which I recently linked from 40 Days for Life with David Bereit and Jewels Green.  “I just heard a part of what David Bereit has to say…. and frankly, it bothers me.  Just what the hec[k] are pro-lifers doing out there that is not peaceful? enlighten me, Ellen… please, because I am not seeing it.” 

It’s not a question of what’s not peaceful. It’s that abortion providers and promoters post-Colorado have thus far failed to distinguish peaceful demonstrations from threats and violent behavior.

A story from USA Today reprinted in the New Hampshire Union Leader (12/2/2015) about abortion providers’ reaction to the Colorado atrocity illustrates this.

“In court filings, the [National Abortion Federation] said anti-abortion activists have perpetrated more than 60,000 ‘recorded instances of harassment, intimidation and violence against abortion providers, including tens of thousands of acts of violence and other criminal activities against NAF members including murder, shootings, arson, bombings, chemical and acid attacks, bioterrorism threats, kidnapping, death threats and other forms of violence.’… An annual survey conducted in 2014 by the Feminist Majority Foundation found the percentage of women’s health clinics reporting they had been targeted in some way by anti-abortion violence, stalking, threats or intimidation had nearly doubled over the previous four years, from 27% in 2010 to 52% in 2014….Overall, the survey found, about 43% of clinics said they experienced anti-abortion activity on a weekly basis. One in four saw it daily.”

So are those 60,000 recorded instances actually 60,000 criminal activities?  More to the point, is nonviolent demonstration outside an abortion facility considered harassment or intimidation by the folks at NAF and FMF? What explains that discrepancy between 60,000 reported incidents and “hundreds” of law enforcement investigations?

The National Abortion Federation, by the way, was a Gosnell enabler. Make of their statistics what you will. NAF is selective about what it reports. From the Gosnell grand jury report, page 13:

“Gosnell, bizarrely, applied for admission [to the National Abortion Federation] shortly after Karnamaya Mongar’s death. Despite his various efforts to fool her, the evaluator from NAF readily noted that records were not properly kept, that risks were not explained, that patients were not monitored, that equipment was not available, that anesthesia was misused. It was the worst abortion clinic she had ever inspected. Of course, she rejected Gosnell’s application. She just never told anyone in authority about all the horrible, dangerous things she had seen.”

It’s a tough time for nonviolent public witness, when journalists and politically-connected abortion advocates decline to distinguish peace from violence. That makes nonviolent public witness against abortion more important than ever.

This is a time for more investigative journalism, more peaceful presence on the sidewalks and at the State House, more insistence that laws against violent behavior be enforced where genuine violence is committed. It’s a time to ponder the words of the late Cardinal O’Connor of New York: “If anyone is thinking about shooting an abortionist, let him shoot me first…I too would be willing to call for a moratorium on clinic protests, as soon as the clinics impose a moratorium on abortions.” It’s time to reject vigilante (in)justice, as Mark Shea has done in the best post-Colorado writing I have seen. It’s time to teach, practice, and reinforce nonviolent affirmation of the right to life even in the face of smear campaigns from people who are financially dependent on the abortion industry.

Anything else would be sending the wrong message.

See LifeSiteNews.com for a post about ongoing pro-life witness at the Colorado facility that was the site of last week’s shootings.