Letters & Op-Eds 1999

Ireland’s Newest Import


By Frances Kissling
Winter 1999 – 2000

Emily Lyons is the face of abortion violence in America. A nurse, she was maimed and blinded in one eye by a bomb blast that shattered an Alabama abortion clinic in 1998, killing a policeman moonlighting as a security guard. Emily’s face, pockmarked by the nails in the bomb, is further evidence of the ugly violence we face in America. Michael Bray, who served nearly four years in prison for the bombing of ten abortion clinics in Washington, DC, and a frequent spokesperson for the violent antiabortion movement, called the maiming of Lyons “an unfortunate consequence of her activity.” He believes that any action undertaken in opposition to abortion is justified and condones the murder of doctors and nurses who provide abortions.

He is the face of abortion violence in America.

In September, a group of militant American antiabortion leaders, among them Joe Scheidler and Patrick Mahoney, visited Northern and Southern Ireland to share their protest tactics with colleagues. While these men spoke of saving lives, make no mistake they did not come in peace, but to sow the same divisiveness and to foster the same climate of hate they have helped create in the United States. It is ironic that these men arrived as Northern Ireland was emerging from the shadow of violence, for in the wake of the supposedly nonviolent movement they champion lie slain doctors, bombed and torched clinics, and cowed patients and providers. A tour of Ireland by Emily Lyons would give a more honest picture of what these men are really about.

Last year alone in America there were two abortion-related murders, one attempted murder, four cases of serious arson, one bombing and nineteen butyric acid attacks. And nearly one-quarter of all clinics reported violence and harassment.

Joe Scheidler is often called the father of the American antiabortion movement because he pioneered many of the tactics used by American abortion protestors. He is the author of Closed! 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, an abortion protest handbook that advises, among forms of nonviolent direct action,” using “inflammatory, rhetoric” and tracking down doctors’ home addresses from their license plates so they can be picketed where they live. While he is careful to disavow violence, he has ties to many of the violent members of the movement, including Michael Bray. And it is only one step from Scheidler’s tactics to those of the infamous Nuremberg Trials web site. That site posted the names, home addresses, and license-plate numbers of doctors who provide abortions, along with the names and birth dates of their spouses and children, “wanted” posters of abortion providers, and a gruesome score card of slain providers, all framed in graphics dripping blood.

Like other antiabortion activists, the proprietor of the site claimed his actions were not intended to incite violence. But a jury in the United States disagreed. It found that site constituted a real threat to those who perform abortions and awarded $107 million to the abortion providers who brought suit. Scheidler was also found guilty in 1988, along with two other prominent antiabortion leaders’ of conspiring to use violence and threats to terrorize abortion clinic patients and workers. In a letter submitted as evidence in the trial, Scheidler said that he was “indifferent” to the means used to shut an abortion clinic—as long as it was shut—but said he personally didn’t bomb clinics because he had found more effective means of shutting clinics—intimidating providers.

Patrick Mahoney, head of the Christian Defense Coalition, is also a long-time antiabortion activist. He led the American contingent of the mob that invaded the Dublin offices of the Irish Family Planning Association last spring. Scheidler and Mahoney compare themselves to civil rights activists, protecting the rights of the fetus. But in fact they are the antithesis, for their aim is to take away a woman’s right to function as a competent moral agent respon­sible for her own choices and health, and fear is their primary weapon

The release of the Republic of Ireland’s long-awaited Green Paper will provide a unique opportunity for reflection, conscientious debate, and genuine dialogue on the abortion issue. But this chance will be squandered if the poisonous atmosphere that characterizes the abortion debate in America is replicated in Ireland. Last year alone in America there were two abortion-related murders, one attempted murder, four cases of serious arson, one bombing and nineteen butyric acid attacks. And nearly one-quarter of all clinics reported violence and harassment. Since 1993, seven people have been killed and six wounded in abortion-elated violence—most recently a doctor who was shot in his kitchen while his family was home. Already, Precious Life, the Northern Ireland—based antiabortion group, has shown itself adept at adopting the tactics of their American brethren. They collected personal information on counselors at the Ulster Pregnancy Advisory Association and harassed them in their own neighborhoods. The intimidation tactics continued until the service was permanently shut down by a mysterious arson attack in July.

Citizens northern and southern should be concerned about the presence of Mahoney and Schiedler in their countries. These men have nothing to offer. They are bullies who thrive in situations where courage and strong expressions of community condemnation are lacking. Political and religious leaders—especially the Irish Catholic bishops—from both the Republic and Northern Ireland should provide this condemnation in the strongest possible terms immediately. They need to make it clear that Ireland will not look to America for solutions to the abortion question, but to other societies throughout Western Europe where reason and tolerance have prevailed.

Catholics for Choice