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Week of 6.12.09

Transcript: Are Some Anti-Abortion Attacks Domestic Terrorism?

BRANCACCIO: A rare moment of agreement this week between groups that oppose abortion and those that support it —both sides condemned the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller, the doctor who performed late abortions in Wichita, Kansas. One anti-abortion leader said the killer "did more to damage the pro-life movement than you can imagine". But consider this: if terrorism uses violence to change behavior, was Tiller's killing an act of domestic terrorism? And viewed through that gruesome prism, did it succeed? Here's NOW Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa.

HINOJOSA: We came here to Boulder, Colorado, to talk with one of just a few doctors who publicly acknowledges performing late abortions.

We wanted to know what it's to like to live your life as a "target" on the frontlines of the abortion battle. And we wanted to find out what the violence directed at abortion providers means for medical doctors, for free speech and for our society. It's part of our series: Life NOW.

HERN: All of this is bulletproof.

HINOJOSA: To get into Dr. Warren Hern's abortion clinic you have to go through four sets of bullet proof doors. After three decades here, his office has become a fortress. For 36 years, since abortion was made legal nationwide, Dr. Hern has been performing the procedure...but there has always been fear... two weeks ago he got the call he'd been dreading.

HERN: They said Dr. Tiller's been shot. I was shocked. And I was

tremendously sad. And I was horrified. And I was not surprised.

HINOJOSA: Dr. Leroy Carhart, who worked with Dr. Tiller, got the same call.

CARHART: It was—just I don't know, not unbelievable, because it certainly was believable. It was just such horrific news, I don't know.

HINOJOSA: The death of Dr. George Tiller has upended the lives of his colleagues. After the murder, Dr. Carhart was assigned Federal Marshals but we weren't allowed to show them. And Dr. Hern is now under round the clock federal protection. If you look closely in this shot, you can see the marshal just outside the door.

HERN: When I go someplace, I have to be in a separate secure vehicle from my family. I can't go with my family.

HINOJOSA: And you can't even show us that vehicle.


HINOJOSA: You don't want it identified.

HERN: No. No. It's too dangerous for me. It's too dangerous for the Marshals.

HINOJOSA: What's that like to have Federal Marshals telling you...

HERN: Well, it's not prison, but it's a step away from it, okay? And—this is not to say that I'm not grateful. I'm very grateful for the protection. My family is grateful for the protection. Why should we have to live that way?

HINOJOSA: Leroy Carhart trained as a surgeon and served in the Air Force for 21 years. He's run a family planning and abortion clinic in Nebraska for the past two decades. His wife Mary, a former schoolteacher, now works with him. Ten years ago he joined the Kansas clinic of Dr. Tiller, who ran one of the few facilities in the country specializing in the more complex surgery of abortions later in pregnancy.

Dr. Carhart, are you scared?



CARHART: Do I think that I could be shot tonight, talking, that—I know that's a possibility. But am I scared? I don't—I don't allow myself that feeling. I think that this is my mission, and this is what I have to do.

HINOJOSA: His mission, he says, is to keep abortion legal.

CARHART: It's about women, and it's about a very underserved medical need in women's lives in this country.

HINOJOSA: Most Americans don't live their lives thinking that they could be a victim of political violence on a daily basis.

CARHART: I hope they don't have to.

HINOJOSA: But you do.

CARHART: I do. I just, again, feel you know, I joined the Air Force during Vietnam voluntarily because I felt I had a duty to my country. And I'm continuing in this practice because I feel I have a duty to the patients that I take care of.

HINOJOSA: We spoke to Dr. Carhart on Monday in Washington, D.C., the day he was to deliver a eulogy for the man he calls his friend, colleague and mentor, George Tiller.

What are you feeling?

CARHART: I just—you know, I deeply miss George. I feel so much for his family that he had just spent the week before his death at Disneyland with his—his children—his grandchildren and his wife and his children. And I'm glad that he had that opportunity to do that.

HINOJOSA: During the memorial service on Monday night, Carhart spoke of Tiller's fearlessness in the face of violent opposition and of his devotion to his patients.

CARHART: I have been with Dr. Tiller while he talked with his patients, and I have been with him while we prayed with his patients and I have been with him while we cried with his patients....

HINOJOSA: It was a peaceful memorial but undercover security was everywhere.

CARHART: That's the one thing I will not talk about, I'm sorry, about security. I think that each of us do everything every day that we can think of to remain secure. But I just—I don't feel that I can—I do believe this is a war. I don't wan—want to go into that territory.

HINOJOSA: So, for you, when I ask you that question, it's as if revealing war plans to the enemy.

CARHART: Exactly.

HINOJOSA: That's how you feel about this.

CARHART: Yes, ma'am.

HINOJOSA: And I'm sure some people listening to this are gonna say, "Come on, this is the United States of America. Dr. Tiller was shot. It was a lone, crazy gunman. This is not, you know, a whole movement to take down American society and doctors."

CARHART: This is a whole movement to make abortion unavailable to women.

HINOJOSA: That's what this is about.


HINOJOSA: And the murder of Dr. Tiller was—

CARHART: Just one step.

HERN: It makes me angry. I'm grieving for the loss of my friend. This is unconscionable that he was shot for helping women. And—and I think that—you know, it—it—it is simply staggering that not only he was shot. But that he was shot in church.

HINOJOSA: It's not the first time a doctor who performs abortions has been attacked. In 1993, Dr. David Gunn was shot three times in the back when he arrived for work at his Florida clinic. There were six more murders of abortion providers over the next few years ending with the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian outside of Buffalo, New York, shot by a sniper through his kitchen window in front of his wife and a son.

Eleven clinics were also bombed during this time.

Doctors like Warren Hern say they live and work under siege every day, never knowing what to expect. In 2005, Hern found the city of boulder plastered with his photo saying "a baby killer lives in your neighborhood."

He responded with his own ads thanking those who came out to support him.

What does it do to you when you find out that there's a poster that basically says you're a wanted man. And it's—posted in your city where you live?

HERN: It's terrifying. And it's infuriating. There's no excuse for this. This is hate speech. It's—it's designed to kill. It's part of the message that it's okay to kill a doctor who does abortions. That's the message. "That's what we want to happen." That's what happened to Dr. Tiller.

HINOJOSA: Even today, there's a website that calls Dr. Hern a butcher and includes the name and address of his clinic. Most terrifying, he says, was the time his name ended up on the top of an anti-abortion hit list.

HERN: January 22nd, 1995, the American Coalition of Life Activists, so called, had a press conference in Virginia and announced their hit list of the first 13 doctors they wanted eliminated. I was on the list. Dr. Tiller was on the list.

HINOJOSA: Back in 1988 five bullets were fired into Dr. Hern's waiting room.

HERN: Barely missed a member of my staff who came to see after the first two shots. Whoever fired the shots wanted somebody killed.

HINOJOSA: That's when he bought the four sets of bullet proof doors. But he hasn't walked away from the job.

So, when people say, "Dr. Hern, maybe you wouldn't be such a target if you just did this, but quieter."

HERN: Yeah, being a target is not my fault. I am doing—I am a physician. I'm practicing medicine. I'm offering an important service for women who need it. This is what we do. And—and the—there's no reason in the world why I should have to fear for my life, or that women should have to be subject to the harassment and intimidation of the anti-abortion protestors in front of my office, just for walking in the door.

HINOJOSA: Even getting inside the door has been a challenge over the years. During months of protests at Dr. Tiller's clinic back in 1991, women had to be escorted inside by law enforcement with jackets draped over their heads.

HERN: The women who come in are at one of the worst times of their lives. No matter what the circumstances are. It's bad. They—they—they're not pleased to be here.

HINOJOSA: What keeps him going, Hern says, are the women. He pulled out the letters he's received just in the past week.

HERN: "Dear Dr. Hern, first let me express our condolences to you over the tragic death of your friend and colleague, Dr. Tiller. This tragedy has had me and my daughter reflect on our visit to your clinic four years ago. Your and your staff's courage is beyond words. Best wishes."

HINOJOSA: And his work has taken a toll on his personal life.

Can you tell us why it is that you have basically decided not to talk about your family to the media?

HERN: I don't want them to get hurt. I mean, the—the anti-abortion people have no decency. They will stop at nothing. They—they'll hurt people that you love in order to hurt you. And they do not believe that other people have the right to be left alone.

HINOJOSA: In fact, their opponents have been posting personal information about the doctors on the internet for years. When we did a Google search for the name Leroy Carhart, this is one of the first websites that popped up.

All kinds of information about you, the office where you work, your home, your children—your wife. What goes on for you when you see this?

CARHART: I wasn't aware of it but I'm not surprised. This site, I'm sure if you Googled Dr. Hern or perhaps Dr. Tiller or many of the other abortion providers in the United States, this same information is out there. It's not unusual for them to have pictures of all our vehicles and have pictures of all our license plates just so I think preying on the fact that somebody somewhere that's a little bit off will take this information and use it to hurt someone.

HINOJOSA: And that same website had information about Dr. Tiller's clinic.

This is Dr. Tiller's?



HINOJOSA: This is an aerial shot here.


HINOJOSA: They actually had drawings, sketchings. They have photographs of entrances and exits—security cameras, the placement of security cameras.



HINOJOSA: On this website. Why?

MARY CARHART: Invitation.

CARHART: It's an invitation for somebody to go do harm.

HINOJOSA: There's one part of this website that I think is the most disturbing—for us when we read it. "Do you have information about the Carhart's? Do you have better pictures of Mary, Leroy, or Janine Carhart? If so, let me know." When you see that, that there are people who are actively trying to get information about you—

CARHART: It's just, you know, it's—it's stalking to the nth degree.

HINOJOSA: Stalking—

CARHART: It's terrorism. There's no information there that they're giving anybody except how to become a terrorist.

HINOJOSA: And then there was the suspicious fire at their clinic in January of this year. That wasn't the first fire. Another one, back in 1991, destroyed the family farm. Harassment and intimidation simply come with the territory, they say.

MARY CARHART: We pull in to the clinic and there'll be people yelling—that we're a murderer.

CARHART: They go through the neighborhoods. They've picketed most of our employee's homes. They've gone to the churches of our staff members.

HINOJOSA: Last week, their daughter got a call on her cell phone after midnight. The caller sounded like a friend of her parents, calling them by their first names, Lee and Mary.

JANINE CARHART: I answered it and it—they just—crying. And it sounded like a male, and just said Lee had been—Mary had been shot and they were dead. And I was like what? And they said it again and I was just like 'who is this?' and they hung up.

HINOJOSA: Janine immediately called her parents and found them safe in their bed.

So essentially, your daughter was getting a call from somebody saying that you had been murdered?

MARY CARHART: And using our first names like that was to make it scarier, basically.

JANINE CARHART: If it would have been a few days earlier, I would have thought it was a prank. But being that it was two days after Dr. Tiller had been shot, my initial reaction was it was true—I mean, it was all a tactic of intimidation. But it definitely—I mean, it scared me to death at the moment.

HINOJOSA: The family reported the incident to the FBI and the Federal Marshals.

HERN: This is domestic terrorism, absolutely. This is—this is a terrorist movement. And they—they—they instill fear in people. My family's terrified. All those who are around doctors who do abortion are terrified. And Dr. Tiller's—family was—was terrified for years. I think that ultimately—why is this—this is not—an abortion debate. There's no debate. You—this is a civil war. The anti-abortion people are using bombs and bullets. And they've been doing this for 30 years.

HINOJOSA: The American public is still deeply divided over the issue of abortion. A Gallup poll last month found that 42% of Americans call themselves "pro-choice", and 51% "pro-life". Maureen Britell was once on the pro-life side. Raised a Catholic, she was anti-abortion, even demonstrating outside abortion clinics. But when Britell was five months pregnant with her second child, a sonogram revealed a fetal anomaly called anencephaly. Her child would have no brain and never survive outside the womb. She consulted with her family...and with her priest.

BRITELL: We decided to end the pregnancy because it was condemning me to a death watch, which made no sense to me as a mom for Samantha, to me as a wife, to me as a mom of the baby I was carrying. It just sounded so cruel.

HINOJOSA: Britell says the loss of George Tiller makes her scared for women just like her who could need an abortion later in pregnancy.

BRITELL: And if it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody's neighbor or sister, or cousin.

HINOJOSA: Under the law, abortion later in pregnancy is legal when continuing the pregnancy would endanger the woman's life or health. And in fact, abortions after 20 weeks make up only 1% of all abortions performed each year. But many in the anti-abortion movement characterize these "late abortions" as a frivolous choice.

How many of the women who you know essentially in their third trimester have a change of heart and decide that they no longer want to be pregnant?

CARHART: I haven't seen that woman yet.



HINOJOSA: Still...anti-abortion groups portray doctors who perform late abortions, as murderers and there are lots of examples in the media.

O'REILLY: "In the state of Kansas, there is a doctor, George Tiller who will execute babies for $5,000", "Dr. Tiller has blood on his hands", "You want to kill a baby you hire Tiller, you gotta pay him $5,000 up front and he'll kill the baby", "I wanted George Tiller, Tiller the baby killer going ehhh, I can make more money killing babies now", "Tiller the baby killer, as some call him", "Dr. George Tiller, known as Tiller the baby killer", "Tiller the baby killer", "I wouldn't want to be these people if there is a judgment day".

HINOJOSA: From 2005 up until his death, George Tiller's name was brought up on 27 episodes of the O'Reilly factor

HERN: As far as I'm concerned, Bill O'Reilly calling Dr. Tiller "Tiller the Killer" is hate speech. It's offensive, it's vulgar, it's grotesque, its a Fascist speech that's designed to get Dr. Tiller killed, and it worked.

HINOJOSA: And when people say, "Dr. Hern, we have free speech in this country."

HERN: Yeah, there's a limit to free speech, and it stops when it hurts other people.

HINOJOSA: O'Reilly went on the air the day after Tiller's murder to respond to that sort of criticism.

O'REILLY: Now, when I heard about Tiller's murder I knew pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters would attempt to blame us for the crime and that is exactly what has happened. Every single thing we said about Tiller was true and my analysis was based on those facts.

HINOJOSA: Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, held a news conference at the National Press Club the day after Tiller was killed.

TERRY: Pro-life leaders and the pro-life movement are not responsible for George Tiller's death. George Tiller was a mass-murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.

HINOJOSA: The Army of God, an extremist anti-abortion group, called the suspect in Tiller's killing an "American hero." But leaders of the pro-life movement have denounced the murder of Dr. Tiller. The National Right to Life Committee has "condemned" the killing. Operation Rescue has "denounced" the killing and says they are "shocked" at the disturbing news that Tiller was gunned down. The group says Scott Roeder has never been a member, contributor, or volunteer with Operation Rescue.

CARHART: They may claim innocence and they may technically, under the law, be innocent, but their heart was certainly with Scott Roeder on the day that he shot Dr. Tiller.

HERN: The anti-abortion organizations, you know, making these statements of distress and disapproval. No, no, no, no, no. This is what they wanted to happen. And it happened.

HINOJOSA: Scott Roeder, 51, has been charged in the murder of George Tiller. He's had a long history of being on the fringe of the anti-abortion movement. In the year 2000, he was suspected of repeatedly gluing shut the doors of an abortion clinic in Kansas City. Then in 2007, someone calling himself Scott Roeder posted this message which appeared on the Operation Rescue website: "Sometime soon, would it be feasible to organize as many people as possible to attend Tiller's church—inside not just outside—to have much more of a presence".

Twice in the week—before Dr. Tiller's murder, Scott Roeder was spotted at another clinic, pouring superglue in—into the locks.

HERN: Right.

HINOJOSA: The clinic reported the incident to the F.B.I., and even provided his license plate number—the day before Dr. Tiller was shot. Do you think that if this same tampering, super glues on locks and doors, had happened at a nuclear facility. That this person—

HERN: Off to the slammer.

HINOJOSA: You believe he would have been arrested immediately?

HERN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

HINOJOSA: And so, what happened here?

HERN: People don't care. People don't care. It's just an abortion clinic.

HINOJOSA: Attention is now focusing on law enforcement and whether Scott Roeder should have been arrested sooner. Critics say he could have been detained under a law that makes it a federal crime to disrupt access to an abortion clinic. Five days after the murder, the Department of Justice announced a federal investigation to determine whether Roeder acted alone. We asked the FBI and the Justice Department to answer questions about why Roeder had not been detained but both agencies declined our request for an interview.

HINOJOSA: Do you believe that what you call domestic terrorism, is it working?

CARHART: I think it—I think absolutely, it's working. Since I started doing abortions, you know, there were 2600 providers in 1988. There are now maybe 1700 providers.

HINOJOSA: In fact, the number of abortion providers has dropped by fully one third in recent years, from 2600 in 1985 to 1700 in 2005. According to Planned Parenthood, 87 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider. For Dr. Carhart, that's a call to action. He points out that since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, 46 million American women have had abortions.

CARHART: The vast majority of Americans want this service for themselves. But they've been unwilling to come forward and demand that it be available for their children. And—and I think that's—that's how we have to fight back right now. Convince women that if they don't speak out, women are gonna go back in time to where they have no control of their destiny.

HINOJOSA: Just this week, the Tiller family announced that they will not be reopening the Kansas clinic. Now the nearest abortion clinic will be three hours away.

HERN: You don't have to make abortion illegal if you make it impossible. And the—the point is, if you kill enough doctors, then—then nobody's gonna be doing the abortions. And so this is—this is a part of the anti-abortion terrorism is to kill the doctors and to terrorize them. And to make them afraid to do this.

HINOJOSA: Now that Dr. Tiller's clinic is not gonna be reopened in Kansas—

HERN: Right.

HINOJOSA: Do you say they've won? They've been successful?

HERN: Of course, they won. But this is the consequence of this kind of violence and terrorism. Terrorism works. There—they have made—they have made their message very clear. The message from the anti-abortion movement is, "Do what we tell you to do or we will kill you?" And they do.

BRANCACCIO: Given both the murder of Dr. Tiller and this week's fatal shooting of a guard at the National Holocaust Museum, it's worth noting that earlier this spring, The Department of Homeland Security issued a report that predicted a rise in violent right wing hate crimes.

Our online team has been investigating how the campaign against abortion doctors is playing out on the web and have collected some alarming images and postings from those sites. You can find a link to the gallery from our homepage.

And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.

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