1. Archive

Abortion factions take stock

In killing a doctor at an abortion clinic, Michael Griffin escalated the abortion battle to a frenzy.

Upon his murder conviction Saturday, activists on both sides of the abortion debate began reflecting on what effect the trial _ as well as death of Dr. David Gunn _ may have on their movements.

"This verdict is very important to send a message that violence won't be tolerated," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority and former president of the National Organization for Women. "But it doesn't change the fact that there has been and still is a situation of escalating violence at clinics all over the country and especially here in Pensacola. Doctors are being stalked and threatened. It has to be taken seriously."

The Feminist Majority trains people in clinic defense and lobbies for clinic protection.

This week they will sponsor clinic defense training in Pensacola and will mark Gunn's death with a memorial service across the street from the clinic where he was shot. They are also taking part in a sold-out Rock For Choice concert and in a conference for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers in Pensacola this week.

John Burt, regional director of Rescue America, says he has called for abortion opponents to protest both the conference and the concert. He expects a large crowd.

"I don't know why they would have all those abortionists under one roof," Burt said. "That's very dangerous."

Hearing remarks such as that one, Smeal's group has requested extra security.

Abortion rights groups are now focusing their energy on passing legislation to protect clinics. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act is currently before Congress and would prohibit the threat or use of force to interfere with a woman seeking treatment.

Advocates recently won the right to sue protesters under federal racketeering laws _ sparked by a case that began in Pensacola involving Burt, who was arrested for trespassing and assaulting a clinic worker.

Now abortion rights advocates hope to get safety buffer zones around clinics upheld by the Supreme Court.

"If we had these laws last year, my father might still be alive," said David Gunn Jr., who, at 23, has become a national spokesman for abortion rights.

Many in the anti-abortion movement say that these restrictions, put in place since Gunn's murder, violate their rights to free speech and assembly.

"The pro-abortion movement is using the possible acts of a few to use Draconian measures against the rest of us," said Ann Marie Booth of the Legal Center for Defense of Life in New York. "Yes, there are people who believe any sort of force is justified, but the mainstream movement distances themselves from any kind of killing. Many even oppose the death penalty."

During the trial, abortion supporters were nervous about what the jury would do.

"An acquittal would have meant open season on doctors," said Susan Hill, president of the National Women's Health Organization. "Maybe now doctors can take off their bullet-proof vests and go back to providing medical services."

That's not likely. Many doctors who still perform abortions carry weapons and wear protective vests. Dr. Bayard Britton, who replaced Gunn, has been followed across the state by Burt and other members of Rescue America. He has also seen his picture on the same kind of "Wanted" poster that was circulated about Gunn before the shooting.

Yet, those tactics only make him more determined to do his job. He said he won't back down, but he also won't stop wearing a bullet-proof vest.

Vicki Conroy, director of Legal Action for Women, a Pensacola-based group that seeks women nationwide to sue abortion doctors and clinics, says she thinks activists can shut down clinics through legal avenues.

Conroy said the shooting and trial hurt the anti-abortion movement by inspiring stricter laws against protesters.

It has also been bad for the movement, she said, because "we're all painted with the same broad brush."

"The pro-aborts have used this situation to beat, tar and feather the entire pro-life movement," she said. "To say the pro-life movement is terroristic and violent is unfair."

John Burt says Gunn's murder and Griffin's trial accomplished more for the abortion rights movement than it did for stopping abortion.

"All these laws are because of Mike," said Burt, warning that increased law enforcement may only serve to encourage violence.

"Moderates are scared. Doctors have guns, protesters have guns. They're scared to get involved," Burt said. "All you're going to have left out there are the shooters and the bombers."

And although he has been linked directly or indirectly with violence at clinics in Pensacola, Burt said even he may be driven away, only to be replaced by those who advocate killing abortion doctors.

The atmosphere at clinics had become so tense, that abortion rights groups had predicted a death months before Gunn was shot. Gunn also predicted it. That it happened in Pensacola surprised no one.

"This was something that was inevitable," said Pamela Rich with the Florida Abortion Rights Action League.

Theresa Hunter, executive vice president of Escambia County NOW, said that Gunn's shooting opened a wound in Pensacola that she hopes can now begin to heal.

"The effect this murder has had on this community has been tremendous," she said. "All of us, as a nation, are changed by this murder, and hopefully we have turned the corner on the violence.

"We got a strong verdict here in Pensacola, here in the Bible Belt, and if that doesn't send a message of what this nation is willing to tolerate or not tolerate, I don't know what does."

Griffin will appeal conviction

PENSACOLA _ Michael F. Griffin will appeal his conviction of murdering an abortion doctor in part because the judge refused to allow abortion-related material into evidence, a defense lawyer said Sunday.

Circuit Judge John Parnham waited until just before closing arguments Saturday to rule that jurors would not be allowed to see graphic videos and anti-abortion literature.

The prosecution had objected to the items found in Griffin's possession as being irrelevant and inflammatory.

The defense wanted the material introduced as evidence to support defense claims that it disturbed Griffin's state of mind to the extent he confessed to a crime he did not commit.

"We'll have to appeal because all of the abortion information _ literature, brochures, everything seized from his possession; his locker was full of it, his house, his car _ none of that went to the jury," Defense attorney Robert Kerrigan said.

Griffin also will appeal the use of a standard jury instruction that the opinions of expert witnesses are presumed to be reliable and Parnham's refusal to permit an insanity defense, Kerrigan said. The case would go to Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.