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Rabid Anti-Abortionist Tries to Use Sotomayor Hearings for Comeback

Infamous Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry employs his gory protest tactics in Washington to assail Sotomayor's record on reproductive rights.
 
 
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WASHINGTON -- "What about the unborn?" That was the shout, made repeatedly, from the floor as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., attempted to read her opening statement at the hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The shouting man was removed, prompting a stern admonition from committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., but the heckler's point was made.

Outside the Hart Senate Office Building, where the hearing was taking place, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry took press calls on his cell phone amid a handful of the followers of his new organization, Operation Rescue/Insurrecta Nex. I found him escorting Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, who now crusades against legalized abortion, to her place on the line for those ticketed to view the hearings.

"I see you have blood on your dress," I observed. "It's fake blood," Terry interjected.

"The guy who was removed from the hearing -- is he one of yours?" I asked. "Yes," Terry replied. "And we'll have another one later." He declined to offer the name of the offenders. (Sure enough, in the afternoon session, as Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., read his statement in his first appearance on the Judicial Committee, he was disrupted by a group of Terry's followers.) 

Say what you will about Randall Terry, but the man knows how to get attention for his cause. And this week, his cause -- the end to legal abortion in America -- is hitched to Sotomayor nomination. While even Sotomayor's supporters are unclear about her position on abortion, Terry is certain he knows: to him, she stands for "the murder of innocent children," just as the slain gynecologist, Dr. George Tiller, was, in Terry's words, "a mass murderer."

In 1991, Terry made national headlines with the Operation Rescue "Summer of Mercy" protests he led outside Tiller's Women's Health Services clinic, blockading the entrance to the building.

He was known for his brutal rhetoric and signage: enormous posters of bloody, late-term fetuses became his organization's calling card. A power struggle led to his loss of the Operation Rescue organization and name; hence, on the heels of Terry's 2005 conversion to Catholicism, the Insurrecta Nex incarnation of his original organization. 

Terry's nascent comeback as a radical anti-choice activist found its legs in the controversy around the commencement addressed delivered by President Barack Obama at Notre Dame University two months ago. Terry, McCorvey, former U.N. Ambassador Alan Keyes and several other Insurrecta Nex members pushed baby strollers containing baby dolls smeared with fake blood; one wore an Obama mask, his hands smeared with theatrical blood. They were eventually arrested for civil disobedience.

You'll recall that Obama's speech was interrupted by a heckler: a Terry follower who gave his name only as Joseph. At a recent training for anti-abortion activists convened by Terry at a hotel in suburban Washington, Joseph, a rather affable young man wearing a "Palin for President" T-shirt, testified about his performance at Notre Dame. 

"My heart was pounding in my chest," he said, breathlessly. He explained that, in preparation for his interruption, he told himself, "Get worked up now. Get afraid now." Then, when his moment came, he said, he shouted, "You're a baby-killer! Abortion is murder!" 

Blood -- fake and real -- is a major theme for Terry. At a demonstration he convened yesterday on the steps of the Supreme Court, I watched as he instructed one demonstrator to smear his sign with fake blood. The demonstrator wore the organization's red-smeared Obama mask; he stood next to a tan-skinned young woman with side-parted black hair, dressed in a judicial robe, holding the grim reaper's scythe. The fake-blood-smeared sign held by the fake Obama read, "She's my girl." 

Terry's Supreme Court demo, held on a sleepy Washington Sunday, drew about 20 of his devoted followers (including McCorvey), one pro-choice counterprotester (who put a sandwich sign on her dog that read "Huskies for Choice"), and about five television cameras. Hence, a great success.

The staging was theatrical: the woman in the judicial robe shouted through a mike, "I'll do your bidding, president. Those babies have no rights. Let's kill them early; let's kill them often." A man presented her with a tiny white coffin, and she smiled and thanked him.

In addition to their homemade signs, some protesters carried printed posters of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with a photograph of an aborted late-term fetus printed in the right corner. Two held a large, professionally printed banner that bore Sotomayor's photo on one side, and one of an aborted fetus on the other, flanking the words: "Senators, Stop the Slaughter! Filibuster Sotomayor!" (You can order a copy of the banner here.)

Terry handed me a glossy flyer, saying, "We paid a lot of money for a photo of the judge before the makeup artist got to her." The photo on the flyer features Sotomayor's face morphing into that of a skull.

As he faced the cameras, Terry spelled his name and gave his title, lest any reporter get that wrong. "We're here because Sonia Sotomayor will kill the slaughter of innocent babies; that is why we're here." He turned to his followers. "Could one of you please give out the literature?" he asked. He then turned to Gerri Santoro of Norwich, Conn., who held a sign that read, "Randall Terry doesn't speak for God."

"I'm just really close to him," Terry said of God. "I only speak for him when I quote him."

"He's been telling me some things about you, sir," she retorted.

Terry made the camera operators move forward and adjust their mikes. "Pro-life senators have a moral obligation to filibuster Sotomayor," he began. "Pro-life Republicans, pro-life Democrats seduce us with their words. They use our money, they take our man-hours, they take our votes, and then throw us away like a used-up mistress after an election. It's disgusting! If Sen. [Sam] Brownback and Sen. [John] McCain and Sen. [Knute] Nelson and Sen. [Bob] Casey believe that Roe v. Wade must be overturned, then they must filibuster Sotomayor. You can't say you want to overturn Roe on the one hand, and then vote for somebody who will uphold Roe on the other. It is treachery, hypocrisy, laziness and betrayal…" 

Terry introduced McCorvey, who explained that after renouncing abortion in 1995, she became a Catholic in 1998. She had just come back from Ireland, she said, where she participated in protests against the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, which opponents say would legalize abortion in Ireland, despite side agreements negotiated last month that protect Ireland's current family law.

"We had 7,000 people marching in the streets of Dublin," she said, with Insurrecta Nex's 20 Washington protesters standing behind her. 

After she spoke, Terry called for questions. None came. He closed with a rundown of Insurrecta Nex's planned activities outside the hearings. On Tuesday, he said, he and McCorvey would burn a copy of Roe v. Wade. And there would be street theater today, he said, "including bloody baby dolls."

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Acting Washington Bureau Chief, and the author of the weblog, AddieStan.com, and the book, Debating Sexual Correctness.
 
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