WASHINGTON (BP)–On a day when tens of thousands of Americans again peacefully took part in the annual March for Life, a minor explosion ignited what proved to be unfounded media reports of a possible attack on an abortion clinic, while Vice President Al Gore brought a cheering crowd of abortion rights advocates to its feet with a blistering attack on anti-abortion “terrorists.”
Gore’s speech to a Jan. 22 luncheon of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and the resultant reports on the television network news, provided the country with possibly its most vivid image to date of the vice president as a defender of abortion.
“America’s women have the right to choose, and no one will ever steal that right away,” Gore said, according to The Washington Times. “The anti-choice cause did not win in the nation’s courts; they did not win in the court of public opinion; they did not win in the nation’s elections; and its advocates will not prevail by trampling our traditions or trafficking in terror.”
Speaking less than a week after bombings at abortion clinic sites in Atlanta and Tulsa, Okla., Gore said rhetorically to those guilty of the bombings, “The American people will not tolerate your cowardly crusade,” The Washington Post reported.
“We Americans resolve our differences with civilized discussion and spirited debate and elections and constitutional processes, not with pipe bombs, hand grenades and instruments of hate.
“Let there be no doubt we will find the terrorists who committed these horrible acts of the last week and we will punish you to the fullest extent of the law,” he said, the audience of several hundred standing to applaud, The Post reported. “We will not let you terrorize America’s women. We will not let you debase our Constitution.”
Gore’s passionate speech at the NARAL celebration of the 24th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion seemed a long journey from his mostly pro-life days in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a Tennessee congressman for eight years in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Gore had an 84 percent pro-life voting record, according to the National Right to Life Committee. He veered away from his pro-life votes after he was elected to the U.S. Senate and when he began campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988.
Gore and his family are members of a Southern Baptist church in Alexandria, Va.
First lady Hillary Clinton also spoke at the luncheon, promoting “family planning” and calling for abortion to be “legal, safe and rare,” a formula often expressed by her husband, President Clinton.
Both the vice president and the first lady said they would like to work with pro-lifers to reduce the number of abortions. He had tried after the 1992 elections, Gore said, but was told it was impossible because the Roman Catholic Church opposes birth control, The Times reported.
“If they were willing to abandon that aspect of their common front,” Gore said, according to The Times, “there’d be much we could do together to make abortions rare.”
Neither Gore nor the first lady, however, mentioned Congress’ ban on partial-birth abortions, according to both papers. The president vetoed the ban, which would have prohibited a particularly gruesome form of abortion normally performed in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Nor was there any mention of a new poll by The Wirthlin Group which found only 7 percent of Americans support abortion for any reason at any time during pregnancy, which is the current state of the law.
Rep. Charles Canady, R.-Fla., the chief sponsor of the
Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act in the last Congress, announced Jan. 22 he would reintroduce the legislation this year. The day before, Majority Leader Trent Lott, R.-Miss., said the bill was one of the top 10 items on the Republicans’ agenda in the Senate.
The anniversary of Roe v. Wade began with a minor explosion in northwest Washington in the same block as a clinic of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. News reports soon connected it to the abortion clinic, even though the incident occurred closer to the offices of the National Education Association, American Chemical Society and National Geographic Society, as well as the Russian Embassy, than to Planned Parenthood. Abortion advocates quickly accepted the incident as an attack on the clinic and condemned violence by pro-lifers. At least one national pro-life organization, as it had in earlier incidents, faxed to reporters a denouncement of such violence in the name of opposing abortion.
By late morning, law enforcement officials had determined it was a device no stronger than some firecrackers that had been found and accidentally detonated by a young man who had just left his overnight job at a nearby hotel, according to news reports.
While the vice president and the media were making news, a crowd estimated at anywhere between 20,000 and 125,000 gathered between the White House and Washington Monument and marched to the Supreme Court to protest abortion. The March for Life has been held every year since 1974, the first anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
The responses to the incident by the news media and abortion advocates angered at least some pro-lifers.
“This rush to judgment is demonizing a movement before any information has been found,” said pro-life activist Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, The Post reported. “The pro-life movement is the only movement that is guilty first and has to prove itself innocent later.
“I don’t know one mainstream pro-life leader that condones violence. This was on the Planned Parenthood block, but it was in front of the American Chemical Society. This could have been an environmental issue. It could have been a prank. It could have been anything.”
Brent Bozell, director of the Media Research Center, said a “retraction and an apology should be made for inferring that the pro-lifers were behind the attack,” The Times reported.
Though bombings at two clinics have occurred this month, a new report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms shows such incidents have decreased dramatically, according to The Times.
Three arsons and one bombing were reported at abortion clinics in 1996, the ATF reported. This compares to 15 arsons in 1995, 12 arsons and one bombing in ’94, 14 arsons and two bombings in ’93 and 21 arsons in ’92, according to The Times.
Earlier in January, the National Abortion Federation announced violence at clinics had dropped 21 percent in 1996 as compared to 1995, The Times reported.