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Tilting at Windmills

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June 1, 2009
By: Hilzoy


Here's an article on the kinds of things other than assassination attempts, vandalism, and break-ins that Dr. Tiller and his staff have had to endure for years. It's about Troy Newman, the head of Operation Rescue (once Operation Rescue West; the group split), who moved to Wichita in order to shut George Tiller's clinic down:

"There's only one problem: Tiller is a hard man to find, let alone intimidate. After more than a decade as one of the anti-abortion movement's favorite targets, he keeps a low profile, drives an armored car and lives in a gated community in a house with a state-of-the-art security system. More pointedly, he has made it clear that he's not susceptible to scare tactics. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms by an anti-abortion protester. He returned to work the next day.

Newman is well aware of Tiller's resilience. That's why Operation Rescue is going after clinic workers like Sara Phares. The employees have no guards posted at their homes, no cameras monitoring their yards. If Newman can provoke enough of them to quit, his job will be done. He'll effectively shut Tiller down."

Here's how he tries to get them to quit. Sarah Phares is an administrative assistant at the clinic:

"A week later, hundreds of Phares' neighbors received an anonymous postcard of a mangled fetus. This is abortion! read the big block letters. "Your neighbor Sara Phares participates in killing babies like these." The postcard implored them to call Phares, whose phone number and address were provided, and voice their opposition to her work at the clinic. Another card soon followed. It referred to Phares as "Miss I Help to Kill Little Babies" and suggested, in an erratic typeface that recalled a kidnapper's ransom note, that neighbors "beg her to quit, pretty please." The third postcard dispensed entirely with pleasantries: "Sara Phares is not to be trusted! Tell her to get a life!" (...)

Before long, protesters from Operation Rescue showed up at her house. They parked a tractor-trailer across the street, plastered with twenty-foot-long images of dismembered fetuses. From its speakers came the kind of sweet, tinkling music that lures children from their back yards in pursuit of Dreamsicles. One protester, a somber man in a tan windbreaker with a three-foot crucifix thrust before him, performed an exorcism on Phares' front lawn, sprinkling holy water on the grass to cast demons from the property. Phares, a small-boned woman with an irreverent sense of humor, joked about the exorcism. "Wish he'd held off on that holy water till after we'd put the fertilizer down," she said. But her husband wasn't amused. Since 1994, there have been five assassination attempts on abortion providers at their homes. A few days after the protest, Phares' husband got out his revolver, loaded it and taught Sara how to use it. (...)

After a brief prayer asking that Phares hear their message of "gentle rebuke," everyone caravans over to her neighborhood, five cars plastered with bumper stickers condemning abortion and extolling the Ten Commandments. Bringing up the rear is the Truth Truck. For maximum exposure, they stop on a busy street that funnels traffic toward the cul-de-sac where Phares lives. It's a treeless neighborhood, its fresh brick apartment complexes christened with optimistic names such as Cedar Lakes. The protesters display their signs for passing cars. "Phares' Choice," one proclaims, over a picture of tiny, bloody body parts. Another reads, "Sarah Phares, Abortion Profiteer," misspelling her name and giving her address. The image on Jeff Herzog's sign is particularly disturbing: a fetus being grabbed by forceps, its mouth open in a Munchian scream."

And:

"Newman and his small staff of zealous pro-lifers are buzzing with the news that the clinic's office manager has quit -- a result, they believe, of their name-and-shame campaign. The manager had been accosted by a neighbor in a grocery store who recognized her from an Operation Rescue flier that featured her photo. "You're that baby killer!" the neighbor screamed at her. Then Newman, through investigative methods he'd rather not reveal, discovered where the woman's husband works. "We think that's what clinched it," he says. "He probably realized we were going to picket his workplace. I imagine he's the major breadwinner in the family, and he didn't want to risk his job.""

If you read the whole story, you can find out how Newman threatened the Tillers' dry cleaner and a cab company that sometimes took patients to and from the clinic:

"Newman then tells him, in the most courteous tone imaginable, that he might see a few people outside the company holding signs. Just to let everybody know what he's participating in. "It's not personal," Newman says gently."

They also go through employees' trash, and offer rewards for incriminating information. They stop children on sidewalks and tell them their neighbors kill little babies.

Scott Roeder, who seems to be the suspect in Tiller's murder, posted on Operation Rescue's website. Operation Rescue has denounced the murder. They write:

"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down. Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning. We pray for Mr. Tiller's family that they will find comfort and healing that can only be found in Jesus Christ."

I just thought it would be useful to clarify exactly which "peaceful, legal means" they had used, and what Dr. Tiller and his staff had had to live with.

I am strongly pro-choice, but I think it is perfectly possible to be opposed to abortion on principled grounds, and I think that it would be an enormous mistake to conflate all people who are opposed to abortions with either Dr. Tiller's killer or the likes of Operation Rescue. That said, large elements of the anti-abortion movement have never done nearly enough to distance themselves from the violent and/or crazy parts of their movement. I hope they start to now.

Hilzoy 1:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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Comments

I can't believe that this kind of behavior can't be prosecuted. Isn't it clearly harassment? Conspiracy to harass? Clearly they're infringing on people's basic freedoms by such intimidation campaigns. Hopefully Holder will be looking some ways to get at this angle rather than just passive "protection" around the clinics. I went to the Army of God site today (about 20 seconds was all I could take). They're not even claiming to denounce this. They're basically advocating terrorism. There has to be a way for the law to deal with this, beyond just the individual who did this. He was clearly acting "in the name of" others (actual organizations, not just Jesus).

Posted by: ulrich on June 1, 2009 at 2:27 AM | PERMALINK

This story makes me sick because it makes it clear that the worst in humans is easier to access than the best.

Let's end this era of using peasant stories and ancient mythology to manipulate emotion for the political and financial ambitions of a few.

Religion is a poison on our society.

Don't believe me? Then try being a good person without it. Try it. Just for a little while. You'll find it's easier than you think. Plus you can save a bunch of money.


Posted by: Badass4Peace on June 1, 2009 at 2:36 AM | PERMALINK

Oh well, Dr. Tiller is dead and gone... so I guess this jackass can leave Wichita and go back to wherever he came from now.

Posted by: MillionthMonkey on June 1, 2009 at 2:44 AM | PERMALINK

Just want to remind everyone that Sotomayor sided with anti-abortion protesters in Amnesty America v. Town of West Hartford, which has not gone unnoticed by anti-abortionists.

You may now go back to pretending that Obama's SCOTUS pick represents progress.

Posted by: Disputo on June 1, 2009 at 3:40 AM | PERMALINK

we've had a week of race-baiting and misogyny with the sotomayor "debate."

this week will be full of how very terrible it is that "unhinged abortion supporters" are blaming "pro-life advocates," who, after all, are innocent victims facing inexplicable, misplaced anger.

Posted by: karen marie on June 1, 2009 at 3:43 AM | PERMALINK

According to a very brief description at Scotusblog of the Amnesty America case that, according to Disputo so damns Sotomayor, she ruled to reinstate a suit bought by the AA protesters alleging excessive force by police. That is an issue of fact to be decided by a jury. Not many to the left of the median would be comfortable with restricting the right of any protesters to bring suit on those grounds.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on June 1, 2009 at 4:51 AM | PERMALINK

Being Dutch gives freedom. Not being religeous isn't a sin. Abortions are not a problem & euthanasia (thank heaven) is allowed by law.

Leave people alone. Let them decide what to do with their life / unborn child.

Posted by: The Dutch Guy on June 1, 2009 at 5:48 AM | PERMALINK

Michael, you need to read the decision in Amnesty America v. Town of West Hartford.

First, although I've never been arrested, I have been at peace demonstrations where I've witnessed brutal arrests, and what the anti-abortion demonstrators describe is pretty tame, and suits asserting much worse brutality (I've seen a person get her arm broken) than that typically get dismissed. That is nothing unusual. You have to ask yourself why was an exception was made by the appeals court in this case.

Second, and more importantly, the appellate court bends over backwards to reinstate the suit, even though the briefs prepared by the plaintiffs are, as Sotomayor puts it, "so haphazardly prepared that they contain almost no legal argument" and so full of errors "sufficiently serious to convince us that we would be within our discretion to summarily dismiss this appeal." In short, the plaintiffs are presenting "almost no legal argument", but for some reason the appeals court choses to suspend the rules ("suspend the operation of the Rules of Appellate Procedure") to perform the work of the plaintiffs' counsel for them and come up with their own legal arguments. Again, you have to ask yourself *why* an exception was made in this case.

What I see here is an extraordinary effort made by Sotomayor on behalf of these anti-abortion protesters which you don't see for other plaintiffs in general, much less other protesters who aren't anti-abortion.

Posted by: Disputo on June 1, 2009 at 5:51 AM | PERMALINK

RICO.

Posted by: theAmericanist on June 1, 2009 at 7:24 AM | PERMALINK

Even outside Operation Rescue, it should be noted that it is NOT reasonable to be opposed to abortion on principle if you are also opposed to contraception and sex ed. Because, like it or not, that is how you create demand for abortion services.

Posted by: gex on June 1, 2009 at 7:54 AM | PERMALINK

OK, Disputo, I read it. Of course, I would concur that the plaintiff's case probably is not an honest appraisal of what happened, but as the decision says credibility is an issue for a jury. The plaintiff's lawyer is such a clown that one wonders how he has the balls to show his face in court after the way he is excoriated in the decision.

The decision cites precedence for it's decision to clean up the lawyer's mess given the serious nature of the allegation and to overturn summary judgment. As to the extraordinary nature of that action, I am in no position to even hazard a guess.

I suspect it is not uncommon for a court's decision to appear as though the court was doing a lawyer's job for him/her. In this case, the lawyer was such a buffoon, that the court decided based on their own evaluation that there sufficient meat to the case, based on standards that favor the plaintiff, to let a jury decide and not punish the plaintiff's for the idiocy of their lawyer.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on June 1, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

I hope that the descriptions of the harrassment and intimidation suffered by the medical professionals and their ancillary staff who provide legal, compassionate care to women will inspire not just a day of outrage, but a sustained committment to offer protection and support to these courageous people. It is pretty obvious that local law enforcement is not doing its job in these cases-one hopes an Obama justice dept. will offer real enforcement of the law. Dr. Tiller was that rarity, a doctor driven by real love for and respect of his patients. I mourn his assassination and the indifference to the right-wingterrrorists among us that made it possible.

Posted by: rn on June 1, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

I disagree that all who oppose abortion are not responsible for this act of terrorism. I actually believe that everyone, whether they oppose a woman's right to make a choice for her own body or not but has voted for any politician who stands as anti-choice is responsible. The only reason these acts of terrorism have been allowed to flourish and continue is because we, as country allow them and in fact encourage this. Every time a moderate or independent or even democrat votes for an anti-choice politician, they send a clear message. Woman are not fully human, women's health choices are not individual choices, and any means to stop women from exercising their legal rights will be allowed. The anti-abortion movement is not nor can it be a principled debate or a principled stand to take. Anti-abortion movements strips women, individual real complex and live women, of autonomy and legal standing. It is a form of intimidation and abuse of women everywhere. One's individual belief regarding abortion or conception or when life begins is exactly that, one's individual belief. Once a movement is formed, there is no principled debate, it is just a tool to force others into accepting that stand.

Posted by: poly Veitzer on June 1, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

The last comment reminds me of the CW that "moderate, peace loving Muslims" must more publicly and forcefully denounce terrorism by Islamic fanatics. Is it the same line of thinking?

Posted by: Rolla, MO on June 1, 2009 at 9:32 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting insight into some very coercive tactics. There are two behaviors associated with the "mark of the beast"; worship (Rev. 14:9) and restrictive commerce (Rev. 13:17). I think we have a winner.

Posted by: Chopin on June 1, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

I think having an abortion is probably a horrific experience and do not condone it for birth control. There are many reasons an abortion MUST BE DONE.

As an American I also believe in the rule of law. Dr. Tiller did nothing illegal and he adhered to all the laws of the USA and Kansas in regards to abortion. A viable baby WILL NEVER be aborted.That is the law. A late term abortion is permitted only if the life of the mother is at risk.

The harassers of Dr. Tiller, and now the murderer are the ones breaking the law of the land. For anyone to profess being a Christian or even just a believer in God are the Murderers. And they do it the name of God. They should all be punished.

Posted by: JE P on June 1, 2009 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

Rolla, I wasn't thinking of Islam-moderate or otherwise. In fact, not really my point. I was speaking about anti-choice activists and all of us who have quietly supported their brand of intimidation for over 30 years. Whether it is because of short term gains (lower tax rates) or for longer term compromises (want to stay a member of a community/church); very few people are willing to stand against these bullies.

If I had to make a comparison, its more in line with those who are Shocked about the recent torture admissions but were very pro-war. What did the pro-invasion people think was going to happen in a war? Now, all of a sudden, they are aghast at the atrocities. One's actions, even just a vote, have consequences.

That would be my comparison...CW or not

Posted by: poly on June 1, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Time for a RICO prosecution and a hefty civil suit, a la the old Tom Metzger case. Bankrupt these assholes and throw their leaders in prison.

Posted by: tb on June 1, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

The same revolting tactics are used against an employee of a clinic in Bellevue, Nebraska--trucks circle the neighborhood where she lives. The medical director of that clinic will be working in Wichita to try to keep Dr. Tiller's clinic open.

Posted by: Sad on June 1, 2009 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

I think that it would be an enormous mistake to conflate all people who are opposed to abortions with either Dr. Tiller's killer or the likes of Operation Rescue.

Perhaps that's exactly what we need to do. For years, they have quite successfully painted everyone who is pro-choice (read that as: pro-Constitution) as being a baby killer.

Posted by: DrGail on June 1, 2009 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

poly - sorry, I was speaking to Hilzoy's closing.

Posted by: RollaMO on June 1, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

Disputo:

Please learn something about the law before attacking Sotomayor's decisions in particular cases. The case you're describing appears to have been a civil rights action against police officers for using excessive force against abortion protesters. The lower court held that the protesters had failed to plead their case sufficiently, and threw the case out without even letting them offer supporting evidence; Judge Sotomayor held that if the protesters' allegations of excessive force were assumed to be true (which they had to be, under the correct legal standard, because there hadn't even been any factual investigation yet), then their rights may have been violated, so they should be allowed a chance to offer evidence for their claims. The case wasn't about whether abortion is a constitutional right -- that wasn't even an issue in the case. The case was about whether the plaintiffs should have a chance to prove that the cops used excessive force against them.

If we fail to protect the constitutional rights of the people who advocate taking away ours, then we're no better than they are.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on June 1, 2009 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

"I am strongly pro-choice, but I think it is perfectly possible to be opposed to abortion on principled grounds, and I think that it would be an enormous mistake to conflate all people who are opposed to abortions with either Dr. Tiller's killer or the likes of Operation Rescue. That said, large elements of the anti-abortion movement have never done nearly enough to distance themselves from the violent and/or crazy parts of their movement. I hope they start to now."


How naive can you be?

The anti-abortion movement is based on fear and ignorance much more than it is on "pro-life" principles. Right-wingers of all stripes are happy to let the wack-job side of their group set the agenda.

Posted by: Chup on June 1, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

Badass4Peace is exactly right -- I recently had a churchgoing friend tell me that I'm a lot more likable since I gave up on the religion thing a few years back.

I may be weird, but it's a lot more satisfying to be a good person just for the sake of being a good person -- not because I think I'll be rewarded for all eternity.

Posted by: Chup on June 1, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

"I hope they start to now."

Good luck with that.

Posted by: Henk on June 1, 2009 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Please learn something about the law before attacking Sotomayor's decisions in particular cases. The case you're describing appears....

I suggest you read the decision before attacking my criticism. And while you're at it, read my criticism again, since none of *your* attack addresses anything I wrote -- I never said the case had anything to do with the constitutionality of abortion.

Posted by: Disputo on June 1, 2009 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, I would concur that the plaintiff's case probably is not an honest appraisal of what happened, but as the decision says credibility is an issue for a jury.

I'm not even suggesting that they are lying. What I'm saying is that even accepting that what they say is true, what they *are* reporting is SOP for any arrest, and does not (unfortunately) rise to the level of what is commonly considered abusive police tactics.

The decision cites precedence for it's decision to clean up the lawyer's mess given the serious nature of the allegation and to overturn summary judgment. As to the extraordinary nature of that action, I am in no position to even hazard a guess.

I saw a cite to the Rules of Appellate Procedure, but no cite of a previous case where they played the role of the plaintiff's atty. Sotomayor does, however, cite previous cases involving the atty that the Appellate court refused to consider because "[p]erhaps counsel for Appellant intends that we form an argument for him ... [b]ut that is simply not our job."

I just wonder why on this case they thought it was their job.

Posted by: Disputo on June 1, 2009 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

Disputo,

OK, my bad, you obviously have a better grasp of the case than I thought from your first post. That said, I think that from a progressive perspective it's a good thing, not a bad thing, for a judge to do a little extra work to let civil rights plaintiffs stay in court. And it doesn't matter to me at all whether the civil rights plaintiffs were demonstrating for Operation Rescue or NARAL. There are few things less worthy of a federal judge than to decide a First Amendment or other protest-based civil rights case based on the judge's personal bias for or against the views the plaintiff was trying to express. All I'm saying is that you should look beyond that one case, as I'm sure Judge Sotomayor was doing, and realize that cases like this make it possible for progressive judges to go out of their way in another case where the protesting group is Greenpeace or La Raza instead of an anti-abortion group. If your point is that Sotomayor was tougher on progressive civil rights plaintiffs than she was on reactionary civil rights plaintiffs, you can't prove that by just discussing one opinion.

Posted by: The Fabulous Mr. Toad on June 1, 2009 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

So sonce Opertation Rescue is now officilly a terrorist organization can I look forward to seing their members sent to Guantanamo? I think that it would be spectacular if Operation Rescue President Troy Newman were to be grabbed at gun point, have a black bag stuck on his head, and sprited away in the middle of the night. Maybe after water boarding, rape, beatings, and various other "legal" torture we could then dump him in Syria or some other shit hole where the government will dispose of him for us, in exchange for some tid-bits of intellignece from the CIA!

Posted by: Gord123 on June 1, 2009 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

gex:

"Even outside Operation Rescue, it should be noted that it is NOT reasonable to be opposed to abortion on principle if you are also opposed to contraception and sex ed. Because, like it or not, that is how you create demand for abortion services."

This is simply untrue. Better access to birth control and better understanding of how one can get pregnant both lead to a REDUCTION in the demand for abortions. Don't take my word for it. The Alan Guttmacher Institute has plenty of info on this subject.

There are young women and men who believe that if it's their first time to have sex, they can't get pregnant. Comprehensive birth control info would let them know that this isn't true.

And think about birth control...if you are having sex and using birth control, your chances of an unwanted pregnancy are orders of magnitude less than if you use no protection. Your reply would probably be that if no birth control is available, people would be afraid to have sex. All too often, especially when teenagers driven by hormones and little judgment, people DO have sex with no protection.

You have it exactly backwards.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on June 1, 2009 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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