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The Bomb That Wasn't

[Religion News Service, February 4, 1997]

This year Jan. 22, the date of the March for Life, dawned chilly and gray in the nation’s capital. There was no snow, but ugly rumors troubled the crowd.

It was said that there had been an explosion at an abortion clinic in town earlier that morning. A couple of days before there had been a firebombing at a clinic in Tulsa, Okla. Before that, a pair of bombs exploded at an Atlanta building that housed an abortion clinic along with other businesses.

Many of the marchers had doubts about the Atlanta bombing. The technique of using a second bomb to injure rescuers hasn’t been seen much in America but is common in the Middle East, which suggested anti‑government terrorism. The target was law enforcement and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Attacks on clinics usually occur after dark when the business is closed; no one wants to hurt a pregnant woman. The Atlanta attack failed to follow that pattern. Moreover, the bomb was constructed with dynamite, which rarely comes into private hands. Yet some publicly blamed pro‑lifers for the incident.

Some speakers at this year’s march used galvanizing rhetoric that had people cheering. Others spoke gently, calling the faithful to act in support of pregnant women and to hew a peaceful path. When one speaker began to quote pro‑choice leader Kate Michelman, a low murmur of boos ran through the crowd. The speaker paused, looked up, and quite seriously said, "Let us love our enemies." The booing died away.

This theme of peaceful, respectful witness has been growing over the last few years. One element that has contributed to it is surely the dismaying incidence of violence outside abortion clinics. (Of course, what goes on inside the clinics every day is violence as well, but that is not under pro‑lifers’ control; we can only refuse to retaliate in bloody kind).

Ordinary pro‑lifers have been distressed by these episodes. Major pro‑life organizations have consistently condemned violence, and many of these statements are displayed on a web site established by the National Coalition for Life and Peace (www.prolife.org/nclp).

But these statements have little effect on the people who would do such things. They are not members of the pro‑life movement; they don’t honor life.

For example, I get a newsletter put out by a man who terms himself "pro‑choice" on bombing clinics and shooting abortionists. His contempt for peaceful pro‑lifers is explicit: adjectives like "Judas‑like," "disgusting," "fools," and "vassals" are applied to those who opposes his views. Operation Rescue and other groups merit his disdain. A recent newsletter gives a gloating account of being a mocking presence at a national pro‑life conference. This person is accountable to no one.

The lack of connection between advocates of violence and established groups was proved by a federal grand jury a year ago. After a 16‑month investigation, it was determined that there is no conspiracy of violence against abortion clinics. In fact, disgruntled investigators confessed that they knew within months that the charge of conspiracy was empty.

"The national conspiracy only exists in the minds of people who have a political interest in keeping this thing going," said one official.

Those interested in keeping it going have less fuel to use; the incidence of violence has abruptly decreased. According to the National Abortion Federation, there were four shootings of clinic personnel in 1994, zero in 1995, zero in 1996. There were fifteen to twenty arson or bombing incidents in each recent year, but only four in 1996. A combined overall count of incidents of threats or action against clinics totaled 434 in 1993; in 1996, it was down to 110, a 75 percent drop.

All through the day rumors of the Planned Parenthood explosion built up steam. Pro‑choicers demanded apologies from pro‑lifers and called for more security at clinics. At the march we walked and prayed peacefully, as we have for 24 years, and wondered where the truth lay. The next day’s newspaper revealed the truth: There was no bomb. A passerby had found a fuse from a dummy hand grenade on the sidewalk, a block away from the clinic. When he picked it up it popped in his hand with the force of a firecracker.

I’ve been waiting to see the pro‑choice community come forward to admit they spread rumors and false accusations. I’m waiting to see them praise the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters, who so vastly outnumber the theoretical mad bomber ‑‑ particularly since he didn’t exist. I’d like to see truth served, rather than lies ignite more passion ‑‑ because I know from the pro‑violence newsletter I receive that ignitable passion is out there.

I think I’ll be waiting a long time.

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