Megan McArdle claims, based entirely on personal anecdotes: “[I]nstilling fear for a woman’s physical safety–the definition of terrorism–did not seem to me to be one of [Operation Rescue’s] goals.” Whatever McArdle personally experienced, however, there was a significant threat of violence against abortion clinics:
“Violence was extensive at the clinics at the time of the Bray decision. An estimated 50% of clinics were experiencing severe forms of violence including death threats, stalking, chemical attacks,arsonss, bomb threats, invasions, and blockades,” said Smeal.
Â”Violence continued at clinics until the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act was enacted in 1994, which provided clinics with a federal tool to combat violent perpetrators who were crossing state lines and local jurisdictions,” Smeal continued.
You can see data from 1991 in my post below; sometime this weekend I’ll add up the data for a mutli-year period. But violence against abortion clinics was not just a rare “isolated incident,” and threats of violence were widespread until the federal government finally intervened. To argue that the threat of violence played no signifcant role in the widespread attacks on abortion clinics in this time period is absurd. Which makes the superb Mark Kleiman post McArdle was responding to incontrovertibly accurate (and important):
But that brief had political as well as legal meanings. Operation Rescue was then engaged in a violent, and largely successful, attempt to deny access to abortion to as many women as possible by closing down the clinics. The attorneys general of Virginia and New York both filed amici arguing that their states lacked the capacity to fight off Operation Rescue’s efforts.
The Solicitor General’s office was under no obligation to file an amicus in a civil lawsuit. Ask yourself whether the SG’s office would have intervened similarly in a case involving violent protesters against U.S. support of the Contras, or Earth First, or the Animal Liberation Front, or Al Sharpton’s shake-down crew, whatever the legal merits. No, I don’t think so either.
If the Bush I Administration had in fact opposed anti-abortion violence and merely doubted that the anti-Klan law could properly be made to apply, it could have offered legislation making interference with the clinics a federal matter; such legislation was in fact passed under the Clinton Administration. But of course the administration did no such thing.
By arguing that the most successful terrorist campaign waged in this country since the days of the Klan was a matter for state and local jurisdiction (an echo, of course, of the argument offered against federal anti-lynching legislation in the 1930s and 1940s), Roberts and the rest of the Bush I crew was in effect backing the terrorists against their victims. That’s not “excusing” violence, but it’s not exactly opposing, either.
This is exactly right. And it’s this context that the NARAL ad–whatever the problems in the execution–was quite properly trying to make clear. And it’s not as if Roberts was arguing for a narrow interpretation of the 1871 CRA out of some sort of principled civil libertarianism. If this were about Earth First!, Roberts wouldn’t have submitted a brief on their behalf, and nobody at Instapundit would be desperately making excuses for him if he did. (Indidentally, Kleiman is also right that NARAL was mistaken to say that Roberts was “excusing” violence. That’s too strong.) And state governments were submitting briefs saying that they needed federal intervention to deal with the problem.
McArdle also believes that comparing OR to the Klan is “grotesque.” But while they are different in degree, they aren’t different in kind. The Klan and groups like OR are both groups dedicated to using illegal methods, including violence, to deprive people of their constitutional rights. A group needn’t be as powerful as the Klan, or use violence as often, to fall in the same category.
(See more links about clinic violence at Bitch, Ph.D.)