BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Numerous groups on both sides of the abortion issue decried the deadly bombing of an abortion clinic Jan. 29 in Birmingham, Ala.
Killed was a policeman who worked off-duty hours at the clinic and had helped carry the Olympic torch in 1996. A nurse employed by the clinic, meanwhile, remains in critical condition.
Although doctors and workers have been shot to death in other instances of abortion-related violence, it was the nation’s first fatal bombing of an abortion clinic.
“The National Right to Life Committee unequivocally condemns any such acts of violence used by individuals regardless of their motivation,” said David N. O’Steen, executive director of the nation’s largest pro-life group, after the 7:30 a.m. bombing at the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic in Birmingham.
“No person who is truly pro-life could commit such an act of violence in the name of protecting unborn children,” he said. “The pro- life movement works to protect the right to life and to restore respect for human life. Violence opposes that goal.”
David Lackey, Alabama director of the Operation Rescue anti-abortion group, also condemned the bombing and denied any connection to it, according to The Birmingham News.
“I was very angry somebody did this,” Lackey was quoted as saying. “This definitely puts us in a negative light.”
Several anti-abortion protesters were at the clinic when the bomb exploded, described by authorities as a home-made device packed with nails meant more to kill or injure than destroy property. Authorities, however, were combing the state for a man who was spotted pulling off a brown wig as he fled the scene.
The slain police officer, Robert “Sandy” Sanderson, 35, was killed as he bent over to inspect a container near the clinic’s front door that had aroused the suspicion of Emily Lyons, 41, the head nurse who was opening the clinic. Lyons was in surgery from about 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. at University Hospital for extensive injuries to her abdomen and legs.
Alabama Gov. Fob James called the bombing “a heinous and horrible act … an act of cold-blooded murder. And the murderers need to be tracked down and indicted and convicted and executed,” while President Clinton called it “an unforgivable act that strikes at the heart of the constitutional freedoms and liberties all Americans hold dear.”
Police blocked off an area a mile around the site, with agents of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and other agencies investigating the site.
Michele Wilson, coordinator for Alabamians for Choice and a leader of the Birmingham Clinic Defense Team, which escorts patients past protesters and into the clinics, told The Birmingham News the abortion protest movement “provides the context” for such bombings.
“They provide all the excuses for a bomber,” Wilson was quoted as saying. “They define abortion as murder.”
The statement by O’Steen of the NRLC, however, noted: “It is false and offensive to suggest, as some pro-abortion groups have in the past, that speaking in favor of the right to life somehow causes violence. Such a suggestion is equal to blaming the civil rights movement — and all those who courageously spoke in favor of the rights of African Americans — for the riots and deaths that were a part of that era.”
Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, noted in a statement, “Such homicidal acts (as the Jan. 29 bombing) serve only to harden the hearts of those engaged in the cruel and unjust practice of abortion.
“The pro-life movement has been enriched and strengthened by the conversion of famous practitioners and supporters of abortion like Dr. Bernard Nathanson, Carol Everett and Norma (‘Jane Roe’) McCorvey. Hearts cannot be turned to the plight of mothers and their children if they have been torn apart by a terrorist’s bomb,” Bauer said. “No pro-life goal can ever be achieved through bloody acts like these.”
Cardinal Bernard Law, chairman of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Pro-Life Activities, said in a statement, “… we condemn, in the strongest possible terms, such murderous violence.”
Serrin Foster, executive director of Feminists for Life, said the organization was offering a reward for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the bombing. Foster did not specify the amount of the reward.
The Birmingham News, meanwhile, quoted one of the an anti-abortion protesters at the scene, Jeff Dykes, as saying, “I don’t like to see anybody die, but they’re in a business of death. You live by the sword, you die by the sword.”
Dykes, acknowledging the death of the police officer is sad, was quoted as pointing out, “There are 200 to 300 people killed a week in those clinics. That’s a much more tragic loss of life.”
The New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic had been open more than a decade — in the same facility where Birmingham’s first abortion clinic opened in 1974 — and was a site of protest march marking the recent 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Although no Birmingham clinic has been bombed before, clinics in Mobile and Tuscaloosa have been burned by arsonists, The News said.
Sanderson, an eight-year police veteran, was married and had one stepson. In addition to his regular job, to support his family he worked the second job at the abortion clinic and a third job on the weekends at a nightclub, The News reported.
Among various community activities that prompted his selection as an Olympic Torch bearer, Sanderson worked with youth in the Boy Scout police Explorer program and with the Special Olympics, The News reported.
“Anytime he could do something to help, he would. He was just that kind of officer,” Sgt. Robert Smith was quoted as saying. “He was a fine and a caring officer.”
Sanderson also was an active member of the Fraternal Order of Police, having served as treasurer, secretary and a member of its board of directors and board of trustees, The News reported.
Lyons, meanwhile, a wife and mother of two teenage daughters, was described by fellow employees at the abortion clinic as the calming influence whenever the clinic received threats or suspicious packages, The News reported.
“We would get these packages in the mail and she would say, ‘OK everybody, let’s just take this thing outside and call the police,”‘ co- worker Kim McGowan told The News. “She really believes in what she does for a living. It’s more than just a job to her,” McGowan said.
The News quoted her husband, Jeff, as saying of his wife’s work at the clinic, “If a woman was not absolutely sure of her decision, Emily would ask that they leave and rethink their decision. As such, she has saved more unborn children than the protesters who have picketed the clinic. Yes, she is a firm believer in a woman’s right to make a choice.”
David Gunn Jr. of Birmingham, whose father was killed outside a Pensacola abortion clinic in 1993, was among those who told The News that abortion opponents’ rhetoric encourages attacks. “As long as they continue to portray the clinic workers as monsters and murderers, you can’t be surprised,” Gunn said.
Jim Pinto, president of Pastors for Life and a longtime abortion protester in Birmingham, told The News, however, “We’re grief-stricken and prayerful. … We are pledged to non-violence in thought, word and deed. Every form of violence is condemned. We are as interested as anyone to find out what happened here. It’s a day of grief and sadness.”
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