Vicki Saporta

(WOMENSENEWS)–An advertising and poster campaign attacking pro-choice Catholic senators alarms those who see it as a dangerous echo of the notorious “The Deadly Dozen” anti-choice campaign of 1995.

The earlier campaign, launched by the anti-choice group American Coalition of Life Activists, put out posters in an old-West format that called 12 physicians and health care providers the “The Deadly Dozen” and listed their names, addresses and telephone numbers. The posters were released after a wave of shootings of abortion providers who had been featured in other campaigns, prompting those who appeared on “The Deadly Dozen” posters to view them as hit lists. The information on the anti-choice group’s posters also appeared on the “The Nuremberg Files” Web site, run by anti-choice activist Neal Horsley. In 1998, when abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered in Buffalo, his name was crossed out on the Nuremberg site.

Some pro-choice advocates say the new ad campaign, put out by the American Life League, Stafford, Va., is dangerously similar in language to the previous “The Deadly Dozen” posters.

The new campaign has posters that also resemble old-West style “Wanted” signs. Under the announcement “Wanted For Fradulently Claiming Catholic Faith,” the posters list the photographs of 12 U.S. senators, branded as “The Deadly Dozen.” All the sentators who appear in the posters are Catholic who have expressed pro-choice views.

Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, Washington, D.C., says she is appalled that the American Life League would recycle the “The Deadly Dozen” phrase. “This type of language is associated with violence,” says Saporta. “Seven people lost their lives as a result of this type of verbiage. What is the American Life League thinking?”

After “The Deadly Dozen” campaign in 1995, a handful of doctors and abortion providers eventually sued. The case of Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists went through a series of legal battles, before a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, ruled that the posters constituted a “true threat” of violence and that “the posters were prepared and disseminated to intimidate doctors from providing abortions.” The court also ordered American Coalition of Life Activists leaders to pay $109 million in damages.

New Campaign Running in Newspapers

Launched this past January, the American Life League’s posters, which call for bishops to refuse communion to the senators, ran as advertisements this winter in The Washington Times, The Washington Times National Weekly Edition, and The Wanderer, a weekly, Catholic newspaper in southeastern Massachusetts.

Another round of “The Deadly Dozen” posters is planned in the coming months, this time targeting Governor Gray Davis, as well as other prominent California politicians. The American Life League has committed thousands of dollars to the campaign, which will feature prominent Catholic politicians who are anti-choice, according to Joseph Giganti, director of media and government relations.

For their part, the American Life League is adamant that their campaign has no similarities to the “The Deadly Dozen” campaign, nor do they believe that their campaign will be misinterpreted.

“It’s reckless and careless to make comparisons between the two campaigns,” says Giganti. “Our campaign was not based on any previous efforts. We opposed the American Coalition of Life Activists campaign, which promoted violence. We want all life to be protected.”

“Our ads don’t refer to being wanted dead or alive; it is referencing the fact abortion kills,” says Giganti. “We are simply saying, if you are in fact Catholic, how can you continue to support abortion?”

Additionally, Giganti believes the only groups that would misinterpret the campaign would be anti-choice groups who “purposely want to misinterpret it and use it as a stepping stone to voice their own opinions.”

Some Opposition from Catholics

The American Life League has found some opposition from Catholics concerning the ad campaign. When they approached 11 diocesan newspapers, each published in the vicinity of one of the targeted senators’ hometowns, they were turned down.

Deadly Dozen ad

When the original “The Deadly Dozen” ads were released, many prominent anti-choice groups criticized it and distanced themselves from the league. Some anti-choice groups are defending the American Life League and the campaign, however, even if the name gives them pause.

“Does it say ‘deadly dozen?'” asks Joe Scheidler, national director of the Pro-Life Action League, a anti-choice group, when told the name of the campaign. “I don’t see that anyone would shoot someone over the ad. I think that it would be a stretch of the imagination.”

The pro-choice group, Catholics for a Free Choice, believes that the campaign will backfire. “The kind of advertising they are doing is inflammatory,” says Francis Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. “It could incite someone, set someone off. But the more dominant issue is that they will disgust people. This ad will only reinforce pro-choice. People who have mixed feelings about abortion, people who are moderates will be turned off by the advertisements.”

Giganti disagrees, saying that his group has received widespread support from Catholics, as well as other Christian groups.

“We’ve gotten phone calls, e-mails from people happy to see that someone is finally standing up to these politicians,” says Giganti. “Protestant groups are asking us if they can start using our campaign.”

Meanwhile, the senators listed on the poster are saying relatively little publicly about the campaign. Shortly after the advertisements appeared in The Washington Times, a spokesperson for Christopher Dodd, the Connecticut senator and one of those attacked by the campaign, released a statement, which read in part: “There is no place in America for personal attacks on those with whom one disagrees. Ultimately, Senator Dodd’s religious views are a personal matter between him and God.”

Dakota Smith is a freelance writer in New York.

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