Magazine article The Christian Century

Discord over Clinic Slayings

Magazine article The Christian Century

Discord over Clinic Slayings

Article excerpt

RELIGIOUS leaders who back abortion rights urged the nation's Roman Catholic bishops to follow the lead of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law and support a moratorium on demonstrations outside abortion clinics to cool passions and head off further violence. While defending the bishops' right to speak out against abortion, members of the Religious Coalition for Reporductive Choice said at a January 9 news conference that easing tensions after the December 30 killing of two abortion-clinic workers in Brookline, Massachusetts, should take priority.

In a Brookline court January 9 John C. Salvi III, a 22-year-old Roman Catholic from Hampton, New Hampshire, pleaded innocent to murder charges in connection with the December killings. He also pleaded innocent to five counts of armed assault with intent to murder--charges stemming from the wounding of five others at two clinics in Brookline.

"The silence of religious people is complicity with violence," Ann Thompson Cook, the coalition's executive director, declared in urging bishops to support a moratorium. "Today, to be silent is itself an act of violence." The coalition represents 38 Christian, Jewish and other religious groups that support abortion rights. In a letter to the bishops, coalition members called for dialogue between religious leaders who support abortion rights and those who oppose them. The dialogue would aim to create a "new climate of respect and freedom from fear," the letter said.

Those signing the letter included Thom White Wolf Fasset of the United Methodist Church's General Board of Church and Society; Paul Sherry, president of the United Church of Christ; Elenora Giddings Ivory, Washington director of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; John Buehrens, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association; and Edmond L. Browning, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

"The clinic protests have gone too far," said Ivory at the press conference. "As long as the right to abortion and reproductive services is legal in this country, we must support the right of men and women to seek such services without fear of being killed." Saperstein urged the bishops to "exercise their moral leadership" and to "call to task those whose dehumanizing rhetoric has encouraged violence and unstable individuals" to attack workers at family-planning clinics.

In the days following the slayings, antiabortion extremists have embraced Salvi's actions. Protester Donald Spitz, a pastor and director of Pro-Life Virginia, thanked Salvi "for what you did in the name of Jesus." Over the weekend of January 7-8 signs were taped to four abortion clinics on New York's Long Island that declared, "Danger. This is a war zone. People are being killed here--like Boston. You risk injury or death if you are caught near these premises." Police say they believe the signs were intended to frighten patients and workers at the clinics.

After the Brookline killings, Cardinal Law called on abortion foes to cease their protests outside clinics and turn instead to church prayer vigils for the immediate future. Writing in the January 6 issue of the Pilot, the Boston archdiocesan newspaper, Law, who is staunchly antiabortion, said "the prolife message cannot be heard in the midst of violence, whether that violence be in thought, word or deed." But Law's call for a moratorium has gained little direct backing within the church. …

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