Federal Marshals Abandon Doctor Targeted by Anti-Abortion Extremists

Despite mounting threats to the clinic--and potentially to the life--of Nebraska Dr. Leroy Carhart, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has removed the federal marshals earlier charged with protecting him.

Dr. Carhart lost his federal marshal protection two weeks ago, much to the alarm of pro-choice leaders, leaving him vulnerable at a time when anti-choice violence has been escalating across the country, and when Carhart himself has been openly targeted by groups such as Operation Rescue, which is calling for protests at his clinic later this month.  In addition, members of the Army of God, an organization that promotes the use of violence against providers of abortion care, and glorifies those who commit acts of murder, are also targetting Dr. Carhart. 

Women's rights and health groups are now working strenuously to get the DOJ to restore protection by federal marshals for Dr. Carhart and to urge the DOJ and the FBI to investigate Tiller's murder and other strategies used by these groups as part of a pattern of domestic terrorism.

Officials at the Department of Justice could not be reached for comment this weekend.  RH Reality Check will be following up with them on Monday, August 10th.

Dr. Carhart is a medical doctor who provides, among other services, late abortion care to women whose lives and health are endangered by their pregnancies, or whose fetuses have been determined to have catastrophic anomalies incompatible with life.  He was a colleague of Dr. Tiller's, who was assassinated by Roeder in the lobby of his church on May 31st, 2009. 

Roeder was in touch with an Operation Rescue staffer, Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue Senior Policy Advisor, whose number was found in his car, and who provided him with information on the whereabouts of Dr. Tiller on various occasions.  The Army of God called Roeder an "American Hero," stating George Tiller "reaped what he sowed and is now in eternal hell." The Army of God website lauds other such "heroes" as Paul Hill (who killed reproductive health physician Dr. John Britton and his volunteer escort in Florida in 1994, and who was executed by lethal injection in 2003), and Eric Rudolph, who attributed his attacks on women's clinics in Georgia and Alabama in 1997 and 1998, and on an Atlanta nightclub in 1997 serving a lesbian clientele to "the legalization of abortion and 'aberrant sexual behavior.'" Rudolph, who claimed the bombings in the name of the Army of God, has said he feels "no regret or remorse" for the killing of one person and the wounding of at least 11 others. Feminist Majority Foundation has documented terrorist attacks against providers in a comprehensive document.

Alarm at Lack of Protection and Lack of Action by Gov't Agencies

Reproductive health groups are "deeply alarmed" by the removal of U.S. Marshals from Dr. Carhart and several other providers across the country over the past several weeks, especially so soon after the murder of Dr. Tiller and during a time when violence against medical professionals and staffs of women's health clinics is on the rise.  "We are working to restore marshal protection to Dr. Carhart right away," according to Kathy Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF). 

Indeed, shortly after being arrested, Roeder himself told the AP that he anticipated further violence:

"I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal," Roeder said. When asked by the AP what he meant and if he was referring to another shooting, he refused to elaborate further

A number of groups, including FMF, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the National Abortion Federation (NAF), are also deeply concerned that the DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have previously failed to take a comprehensive approach to investigating crimes like that committed by Roeder and others as part of a pattern of domestic terrorism. They are urging the FBI and the DOJ to broaden their investigations into the networks of extremist individuals and groups that may have been involved in the murder and other acts of violence against providers of abortion care.

"Make no mistake, these are domestic terrorists," says Spillar.  "And we feel the DOJ and the FBI must treat them as such.  The extremists' activities go well beyond the actions of the lone individual and can be linked to networks that show a clear pattern of illegal activity leading to violence, murders, and deadly bombings, all of which is tied to a political agenda. They have manuals, manifestos, and monikers similar to those used by terrorist groups.  And they have been linked to shootings, murders and deadly bombings.  If this is not the definition of 'terrorist network,' I don't know what is."

Both violent rhetoric and violent threats are increasing.  For example, in her article for RH Reality Check, Come Together to Prevent My Murder, Jen Boulanger, Executive Director of the Allentown Women's Clinic, wrote:

while the news crews that covered the Tiller murder have now packed up and moved on, aggressive protesting in the weeks since the murder of Dr. Tiller has escalated. My abortion provider colleagues from across the country have noticed this alarming trend.  Since Dr. Tiller’s murder, the threats and violent rhetoric have gotten much worse. On the day of Dr. Tiller’s funeral, one of our volunteers was asked, “How do you prefer to die, by knife or by bullet?” A week later, a protester told me, “Abortionists were executed after World War II by the Nuremburg Trials” and posed this rhetorical question, “You know what Von Brunn did at the Holocaust Museum?”  This protester’s son, who has picketed the clinic since he was a small child (he is now in his early twenties), has made a point of mentioning ammonium nitrate, which is used in making bombs, to us while protesting on several occasions.  

Carhart Targeted by Anti-Choice Radicals

The withdrawal of federal marshal protection from Dr. Carhart is particularly perplexing in light of the direct targeting of Carhart by Operation Rescue (OR), which is calling for protests outside Dr. Carhart's Nebraska clinic at the end of August.  Carhart, one of a relatively small number of physicians who provide late abortions, recently stated plans to open another clinic in Wichita, Kansas to provide services no longer available to women due to the murder of Dr. Tiller, whose clinic was subsequently closed by his family.

"Operation Rescue is launching a campaign to keep the Wichita clinic closed, and to close down Dr. Carhart's clinic in Nebraska," said Marla Patrick of Kansas NOW. 

The campaign includes several strategies, not all of which have been made fully public.

The most "benign" part of OR's strategy is based on re-hashing old lawsuits brought against Drs. Tiller and Carhart by anti-choice groups, each of resulted in both physicians being found innocent of any wrongdoing.  An OR press release states:

Last month...three pro-life groups sent a letter along with a documentation packet to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Buning asking for a comprehensive investigation in to Carhart’s abortion business. 

"This is the same tactic of legal harassment used against Tiller," said Spillar, "to tie Carhart up in court/administrative hearings, costing substantial amounts of money and time for him and his staff.  And if the AG is anything like [former Kansas Attorney General Phil] Kline--a zealot with a substantial state budget to engage in the harassment--it will be even worse." 

Spillar continues:

The OR leadership is quite adept at this harassment - even filing administrative complaints against Tiller on the same issues within days after he was aquitted in a court of law. The two grand juries OR worked to convene through citizen petition  to investigate Dr. Tiller cost substantial state funds and again were concluded with no findings of wrong doing.  So the OR strategy is persistence ...but with no basis for legal actions.

"Again," states Spillar," this is a pattern."

Operation Rescue is also planning an "invitation-only" training session for anti-choice advocates interested in blockading Dr. Carhart's clinic and has called on anti-choice advocates around the country to converge on the Nebraska clinic at the end of August. 

"This is the first of two ambitious projects to be launched by Operation Rescue this month," states the OR website. "The second project promises to be the most ambitious endeavor ever embarked upon by Operation Rescue."

According to Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue:

We have vast experience gained over years of legally and peacefully closing abortion clinics around the nation and will be putting that experience into practice in new and creative ways in the coming weeks and months.

"I read this language as being ominous," said Patrick of Kansas Now.  She continues:

It is clear they are planning some serious antics.  And given how close these people are to Roeder, I am deeply concerned that neither local nor federal law enforcement officials appear to be doing what they need to do.

Existing Laws Not Well Enforced

The "legality" of OR's efforts is questionable at best.  There are both federal and local laws on the books that make it illegal to interfere with or block access to clinics or to engage in any form of threat, harassment, or violence against clinic workers or clients.  Yet, pro-choice leaders at the state and national level underscore that these laws are constantly breached and according to many, are weakly enforced, if at all.

We have publicly made it very clear we don’t think they are doing enough at the local or federal level," stated Kansas NOW's Patrick.  "It is not a matter of passing new laws.  We have the laws we need.  We just need to use them.  Law enforcement needs to use them."

"We have let these people boldly harass doctors and clinics unchallenged for so long, it appears that police have gotten use to it," said Patrick.  "But they have to use the tools we already have to put a stop to it."

In her article for RH Reality Check on this issue, Lindsay Beyerstein wrote that "The Justice Department announced on June 5 that it was investigating whether Tiller's shooting violated any federal laws, including the Free Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), a bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994 that makes it a federal crime to harm or threaten an abortion provider, vandalize a facility that provides abortions, or obstruct access to a reproductive health clinic."

But according to some civil libertarians, some of these efforts are too little too late; they argue that more effective implementation of existing laws could have saved Dr. Tiller's life.  

Before FACE, blockading a clinic was a minor offense under local laws, but FACE made interference with clinics or providers punishable by up to a year in jail for a first offense.

In the week before the shooting of Dr. Tiller, Roeder attempted to obstruct access to a clinic by gluing its locks. Clinic vandalism is also illegal and considered a federal crime under FACE. The manager of a Kansas City abortion clinic told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! that he called the FBI a week before the shooting to report that Roeder had been caught on tape vandalizing the clinic. According to the manager, an FBI agent didn't act, saying that the video was probably too blurry to get a conviction and that the manger had contaminated the DNA evidence by touching the lock. The manager said he went out and bought a brand new color video camera. The day before the shooting he called the FBI again to say that a nurse had caught Roeder in the act, even copying down his license plate number: 225 BAB. The FBI still didn't act. The next day, Roeder drove to the Reformation Lutheran Church and shot George Tiller in the face.

Now, as OR and other such groups gear up for what they claim will be dramatic actions aimed at Dr. Carhart's clinic, state and national reproductive health and rights groups are calling on law enforcement officials to be proactive, and on advocates from across the country to help out at Carhart's clinic in August.

"We are calling on pro-choice advocates to join us in providing peaceful clinic defense," said Patrick.  "But we also want them there as witnesses, as legal observers, to make sure that if laws are broken, this is documented, that local and federal law enforcement is made aware of what is going on, that they do their jobs, and that the word gets out because people need to understand this is domestic terrorism.  We want the world to see what is going on here."

Spillar agrees: "Law enforcement must be very proactive in ensuring that demonstrators are not blocking clinics or stalking clinic workers, not interfering with their work or women's access to care, and certainly not promoting or engaging in violence."

"We are putting the word out," continued Patrick, "to neighboring state partners in Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska and also to women and men in the pro-choice community across the country, on Facebook, Twitter, and through other means."

A Facebook page can be found here and Kansan NOW's website can be found here.

"After 8 long years in which violence plummeted because Bush was in the White House and anti-choice forces felt they had a friend in government, the political landscape has changed and the extreme wing of the anti-choice community has gone back into action."

"At the same time," Spillar continues, "the Department of Justice and the FBI did not have to do as much on this front and so lost momentum.  It was not a priority.  Now it has to be."

"This effort is organized, it is orchestrated, it is a pattern, and it is escalating," said Spillar, "and both the Administration and the relevant agencies need to do more and to pay attention....right now.  Unless these extremists are brought to justice we are just waiting for another doctor to be murdered."

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