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Home About the League CLOSED Chapter 81

Chapter 81: Violence: Why It Won't Work


By violence here we mean a direct, physical attack on some type of facility or the personnel who work there.

There is a small faction within the pro-life movement—just as there is within any movement—who, from time to time, talk about the advisability of stopping abortion by force. We have even heard some who discuss the possibility of the abortion conflict escalating into a "shooting war."

Most of this is just talk. The fact remains, however, that there have been incidents of violence against both pro-life facilities and abortion clinics and offices. Generally, this violence has taken the form of damage to property, although there was also a kidnapping of an abortionist and his wife, and in 1993, the shooting death of an itinerant abortionist in Pensacola, Florida, Dr. David Gunn.

This author has been struck, spit on, pushed, and received innumerable death threats, warnings, insults, and crank calls; he has had his sight damaged, tires slashed, office windows cut with glasscutters and broken with rocks, his office painted with roofing tar and his home vandalized. Nearly all pro-life activist leaders can cite a similar list of malicious acts. Some pro-life offices have been fire-bombed. Pro-life pickets and counselors have had buckets of water thrown on them, have had cars driven toward them at high speeds, have been struck by these cars and with clubs by clinic guards. We have almost all been subject to a variety of insults and injuries. Few of these incidents ever get reported, since many police departments are reluctant to acknowledge that they happened. There have been very few arrests of abortionists made, and even fewer guilty verdicts handed down.

On the other hand, there are a growing number of highly publicized instances of what appear to be pro-life violence against abortionists and their clinics. The kidnapping of abortionist Hector Zevallos in August, 1982 by the so-called "Army of God" was an isolated and unusual incident, allegedly the responsibility of a few zealous anti-abortionists acting independently of any larger group. Zevallos and his wife were released unharmed after eight days, and one of the men implicated in the "conspiracy and attempt to interfere with interstate commerce" was sentenced to thirty years in jail, with twelve more years added to the sentence later.

Another anti—abortionist, admittedly acting alone, was jostled after he entered a New York abortion clinic, spilled gasoline on the property, and set the clinic ablaze. The only one who suffered injury was the anti-abortionist. The building housing the clinic was damaged. In 1984 there was a rash of attacks on abortion clinics, mostly on the East Coast, in Texas, and in Washington state. In these and other cases, the aim seems to have been to curtail abortion by putting the facility out of commission, at least temporarily.

It should be pointed out that the abortionists, in presenting what they believe to be cases of pro-life violence, often lack evidence that the attack was made by pro-life people. And they lump together all kinds of "terrorist tactics" such as telephone calls, pickets, and peaceful sit-ins, in an effort to present a sinister picture of what is in fact non-violent pro-life activism.

All of the activist pro-lifers the Pro-Life Action League works with concur with the League's position against violence and its program of non-violent direct action. We take our commitment to non-violence seriously, believing that violence on our part would be counter-productive. It is the abortionists who are engaged in routine violence against unborn children (dismemberment, salt poisoning, strangulation) and their mothers (hemorrhage, scarring, infection, sterility). The use of violence could damage the reputation of pro-life activists, while undermining traditional non-violent methods. The use of violence might reinforce the erroneous belief that the end justifies the means, and that evil can be overcome by evil.

Besides, the use of violence probably would not work in the long run. The destruction of an abortion clinic is a temporary solution. New quarters can be found. Putting an abortionist out of commission for a while, as in the 1982 Zevallos kidnapping, did not stop abortions. While we might respect the zeal that would prompt such activities, we do not condone or recommend them.

We have corresponded with Peter Burkin who was implicated in an abortion clinic firebombings in New York. Several of us have visited Don Benny Anderson, who has been sentenced to a federal penitentiary in connection with the 1982 Zevallos kidnapping. We have are also in touch with Joseph Grace, implicated in a case of damage to an abortion clinic in Norfolk, Virginia and have visited with Curtis Beseda, implicated in a clinic fire Everett, Washington. All four men are dedicated to the belief that unborn children's most basic right—the right to life—is being violated by abortion and that daring actions are needed to awaken Americans to the terrible reality of abortion. But most pro-lifers would say that all four, if guilty, went too far.

What lasting advantage is there to show for the actions they were accused of? Zevallos went back to Hope Clinic to do more abortions; the damaged clinics have reopened or have sent their clients elsewhere. Was the effect these actions had on the image of a movement that condemns violence helpful? While we understand the feelings of anger, outrage, and frustration that likely prompted these and similar actions, we advise pro-lifers not to resort to violent tactics, but to save lives and stop abortions through non-violent, direct action.

Direct action, and even civil disobedience, have an important part to play in winning the pro-life battle. But violence, we believe, does not.

We must point out for the sake of proper perspective, however, that no amount of damage to real estate can equal the violence of taking a single human life. Civilized societies rate the loss of life as far more serious than property damage. But today, in our society, punishment is meted out to those who damage property—while those who destroy life are rewarded. It is a sign of the deterioration of our values that much of the national media concentrates on damaged buildings, with pictures of charred real estate, while refusing to present pictures of the human victims who are heartlessly and systematically dismembered and painfully killed inside that real estate.

Pro-lifers are rarely allowed to show on network television the victims of abortion—the real violence of the abortion debate. Yet we have had to watch adnauseam pictures of damaged buildings carefully panned on America's TV screens, while being directly or indirectly accused of causing the damage.

But we will not play the abortionists' violent game. We plan to win without resorting to violence.

The shooting death of Dr. Gunn, while allegedly committed by a man new to the movement, only served to bring on a rash of restrictive bills, speed up legislation aimed at curtailing totally non-violent pro-life activity, and give the pro-abortionists a "martyr". It made it momentarily more difficult to convince the man-on-the-street that pro-lifers had an undisputed claim to high moral ground.

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