(WOMENSENEWS)–The recent arrest of suspected serial bomber Eric Rudolph might make 2003 a banner year for federal criminal and civil court cases involving anti-abortion violence. There has never been so many, and such dramatic and consequential cases moving through the courts.
Rudolph will face his first federal criminal trial later this year, in Birmingham, Ala., where he is accused of a 1998 pipe bombing of the New Woman, All Women Health Care Clinic. An off-duty policeman was killed in the blast and a clinic nurse was maimed by shrapnel. Rudolph will also face trials for the bombings of an abortion clinic in Sandy Springs, Ga., and a gay and lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, as well as the 1996 Olympic Park bombing, also in Atlanta.
In addition to the high-profile Rudolph case, a remarkable group of civil and criminal cases involving anti-abortion violence are moving through the court system this year. These cases provide a snapshot of the range and complexity of the legal issues at stake, the profound impact of the war of attrition against abortion providers and the ripple effects across society.
The major criminal trials and civil court cases that have already occurred this year, and those yet to come, are at the heart of the story of anti-abortion violence over the past two decades. This year has seen the dramatic conclusion of the trial of an internationally notorious James C. Kopp, convicted of second-degree murder for the 1998 assassination of Amherst, N.Y., abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian. Kopp also faces a federal trial on charges of violation of a clinic protection law.
Two associates of Kopp, Dennis Malvasi and Loretta Marra, are scheduled to be sentenced next month in New York for their roles in aiding Kopp while he was a fugitive.
Meanwhile, Clayton Waagner of Kennerdell, Pa., is scheduled for two trials later this year, one for charges related to anthrax threats made against abortion rights organizations and clinics in the fall of 2001 and another for a bank hold up in Morgantown, W. Va., that helped to finance his life on the lam after breaking out of prison. Also David Wayne Hull of Amwell, Pa., goes on trial later this year for allegedly plotting to attack Pittsburgh area abortion clinics with hand grenades and pipe bombs. Finally, convicted clinic arsonist, James Tyler Williams of Redding, Calif., was sentenced in April to a long prison term for the 1999 murders of two gay men.
The most famous civil case was a 17-year federal antiracketeering civil suit, NOW v. Scheidler, which was filed in the wake of massive campaign of clinic blockades and related crimes such as criminal trespass, burglary and assault. At the time there was also a wave of bombings and arsons against clinics that were praised by the defendants.
The National Organization for Women charged that Joseph Scheidler and his Chicago-based Pro-Life Action Network had orchestrated a campaign of threats, violence and intimidation against abortion providers and, that taken together, amounted to criminal conspiracy based on extortion. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is also considering whether to accept an appeal of Planned Parenthood vs. American Coalition of Life Activists for the term beginning next fall.
So far, federal courts have found that American Coalition of Life Activists had engaged in illegal threats against abortion providers with a 1995 poster campaign called “The Deadly Dozen,” which had followed the murders of three abortion providers who had been the subjects of similar poster campaigns.
There are a number of significant cases moving through the courts and each case attracts plenty of media attention. Rudolph, Kopp and Waagner were simultaneously on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in 2001 and were favorite subjects of journalists while on the lam and since their captures. While the verdict in NOW vs. Scheildler and the trial of James Kopp were the highlights of the first half of the year, there will be important and dramatic trials this year that may very well spill over into next year as well.
Slepian’s Assassin Gets Maximum
On May 9, Kopp was sentenced by a New York state court judge to 25 years to life. He had pled innocent even as he admitted that he was the sniper whose bullet killed Slepian. Kopp said that he had merely tried to wound Slepian and plans to appeal.
In connection with that event, two Americans recently pled guilty to reduced charges for aiding Kopp in his international flight from justice. Dennis Malvasi, of Brooklyn, New York admitted that he knew Kopp was a fugitive when he offered to let him stay at his house, and Malvasi’s spouse, Loretta Marra, acknowledged that she tried to wire money to him. Kopp was nabbed when he went to pick up the cash in Dinan, France. The pair will be sentenced on July 11 and each face up to five years in prison.
Kopp will be separately tried later this year in New York on charges filed in the Slepian case under the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which prohibits obstruction, force and the threat of force in preventing receiving or providing abortion services. Kopp has also been charged in the nonfatal shooting of a Canadian abortion provider, Dr. Hugh Short, and is a suspect in the shootings of three other abortion-providing physicians in the United States and Canada. These shootings occurred between 1994 and 1997.
Supreme Court Dismisses Injunction Protecting Clinics
On February 26, an 8-1 majority of the Supreme Court reversed lower court judgments against leaders of the Pro-Life Action Network. In NOW v. Scheidler, the National Organization for Women charged that Joseph Scheidler had, through the Pro-Life Action Network, orchestrated a nationwide criminal campaign against abortion clinics in an effort to drive them out of business and thereby violated federal antiracketeering laws. The Court noted the crimes, but the question before them was not whether crimes had been committed against abortion providers, but whether taken together, they constituted extortion.
In his ruling Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote that even the Pro-Life Action Network’s attorney “acknowledged that aspects of his clients’ conduct were criminal. But even when their acts of interference and disruption achieved their ultimate goal of shutting down an abortion clinic, such acts did not constitute extortion because petitioners did not ‘obtain’ respondents’ property.”
Absent the obtaining of property, the court ruled that the Pro-Life Action Network’s activities did not constitute extortion. Since this was the linchpin of NOW’s case, the claim against Scheidler and the network under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act fell apart. The Court also vacated a nationwide injunction against the network committing further crimes against clinics, staff and patients, imposed by the trial judge. Many believe had helped deter crimes against abortion clinics.
Meanwhile, the Court will decide before the end of its term in June if it will hear an appeal in another significant case, Planned Parenthood vs. American Coalition of Life Activists. At issue is a 1995 campaign against abortion providers, called “The Deadly Dozen,” which featured crude, Old West style criminal-wanted posters that included such personal information as doctors’ home addresses and phone numbers. The doctors viewed the posters as a potential “hit list,” since they followed the murders of three abortion providers who had been the subjects of similar poster campaigns. Additionally chilling was the American Coalition of Life Activists’ widely publicized claim that the murder of abortion providers is “justifiable homicide.” The federal courts have so far held that the poster campaign, and a variation posted on the Nuremberg Files Web site, constituted a “true threat,” and have awarded the plaintiffs monetary damages.
The Bush administration has requested that the Court allow the lower court verdict to stand by not hearing the case.
Alleged Anti-Abortion Terrorist Indicted in Bank Heist
Waagner was indicted in May for robbing a Morgantown, W. Va., bank of $18,000. Waagner escaped federal custody in 2001 while awaiting sentencing on federal charges of possession of weapons by a felon, as well as vehicle theft, and went on a 10-month nationwide crime spree–allegedly posting on the Internet threats to kill abortion providers and clinic staff and robbing banks to finance the purchase of weapons and supplies for his planned war on abortion. He has pleaded innocent to federal charges that he sent over 550 anthrax threats to clinics and abortion-rights organizations during the national panic that followed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the actual anthrax attacks on Congress and news outlets in the fall of 2001.
Waagner’s trials are expected to be held later this year. Meanwhile, he has posted a manifesto on the anti-abortion Army of God Web site, in which he outlines his plans to use the “necessity defense” and turn his federal trial in Philadelphia into an international media event. The necessity defense–that it is necessary to commit a crime to prevent a greater harm–has not been used successfully in a court case involving anti-abortion violence.
White Supremacists Target Abortion Clinics
By now, the white-supremacist and anti-Semitic views of Eric Rudolph have been widely reported. Less well known is that such leading white-supremacist organizations as the Aryan Nations and the Posse Comitatus include abortion clinics on their list of targets in addition to Jews and homosexuals. The latter group, on its Web site, describes Rudolph as “A True American Hero.”
Two white supremacists with anti-abortion backgrounds have recently been in the news–and in court.
David Wayne Hull, Imperial Wizard of the Amwell, Pa.,-based White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan will stand trial this year on 10 counts of federal firearms violations including demonstrating and teaching the manufacturing of pipe bombs. Prosecutors charge that he planned to use grenades, pipe bombs and other weapons against Pittsburgh-area abortion clinics. His group’s Web site features a photo of Hull in a Klan outfit, wielding a rifle in front of a Confederate flag.
White supremacist James Tyler Williams was sentenced in April to 28-years-to-life in prison for his role in the 1999 murders of two gay men near Redding, Calif. Williams and his brother Matthew were previously convicted for their roles in arson attacks on three synagogues and an abortion clinic. Matthew Williams committed suicide in jail last November.
While generally extreme violence against abortion providers is down, serious acts of violence–arsons and attempted arsons; shooting through windows of clinics; anthrax threats–still occur.
Frederick Clarkson is the author of “Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between theocracy and Democracy” and of the forthcoming “Profiles in Terrorism: Twenty Years of Anti-abortion Violence.”
For more information:
Women’s eNews, April 21, 2003:
“‘The Deadly Dozen’ Echo in Anti-Choice Campaign”:
Women’s eNews, January 21, 2003:
“Radical Abortion Opponents Said to Be Laying Low”:
Women’s eNews, September 28, 2001:
“Anti-Abortion Escapee Joins bin Laden on FBI List”: