Shortly after Rev. John Earl, pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Rochelle,
Illinois, learned the Food and Drug Administration had approved the abortion
pill RU-486, he paid an up-close- and-personal visit to a nearby health
clinic. Rev. Earl crashed his four-door Saturn into a garage behind the
Northern Illinois Women’s Health Clinic, got out, and began hacking away
at the building with a pickax. Only after firing several shotgun blasts
in the air was the building’s owner able to stop Rev. Earl, who was arrested
and charged with burglary and felony criminal damage to the property. He
was released on $10,000 bond. The following day, over 1,000 anti-abortion
protesters rallied at Rockford, Illinois in support of Rev. Earl.

If you think the FDA’s approval of RU-486, which ended the bitter 12-year
battle over the pill, means the abortion wars are over, think again. If
anti-abortion and religious right organizations, as well as congressional
“pro-life” stalwarts such as Representative Tom Coburn, (R-OK), have their
way, the use of RU-486 will continue to be contested until it’s taken off
the market.

In early October, Rep. Coburn introduced the RU-486 Patient Health and
Safety Protection Act that, according to an Associated Press report, would
“pass into law many of the health and safety guidelines that the FDA had
considered,” but rejected. Immediately after the FDA’s announcement Rep.
Coburn voiced support for a national registry of physicians prescribing
the pill. Though dropping the registry from the bill, he left the issue
open, saying that a national registry should be left to the Department
of Health and Human Services’ discretion.

The comments of the Rev. Flip Benham, former leader of Operation Rescue
and now the National Director of Operation Serve America, underscore the
potential for violence from the anti-abortion movement. Admitting that
“we may not be able to win this battle in Washington, DC,” Benham said,
“we will win it on the streets in cities across our nation. No doctor will
be able to kill children in the privacy of his [sic] own practice without
it being made known to the community at large.”

Operation Serve America’s belligerent street tactics and the creation of
a national registry—originally proposed by the FDA but withdrawn after
protests from doctors’ groups—raises the specter of another wave of anti-abortion
violence. The current situation is also eerily reminiscent of the anti-
abortion Nuremberg Files Project and the equally infamous Nurem- berg Files
website. These two operations, while on the fringe of the anti-abortion
activities, succeeded in creating a climate of drastically increased anti-abortion

Skipp Porteous, of the Institute for First Amendment Studies, in a 1998
report explained that the leadership of the anti-abortion American Coalition
of Life Activists (ACLA) launched the Nurem- berg Files Project “in preparation
for the day when they hope abortion rights will be outlawed.” Porteous
pointed out that David Crane, ACLA’s national director, intended to “gather
all available information on abortionists and their accomplices for the
day when they may be formally charged and tried at Nurem- berg-type trials
for their crimes.” Information gathered was specifically geared towards
evidence admissible in a court of law. The Project’s secret archives were
kept “safe from seizure by those who would allow criminal child-killers
to go free.”

Paul deParrie, an assistant with the Nuremberg project, said: “We don’t
want to make the mistakes that allowed so many Nazis to escape justice
after World War II. We intend to have extensive files on each of them [abortion
providers], which will permit prosecutors to easily identify the criminal
perpetrators and bring the appropriate judgment against them.”

The Nuremberg Files website, created by Georgia computer programmer Neal
Horsley, was an over-the-top anti-abortion website featuring pictures of
bloody and mangled fetuses. It provided names, and whenever possible, home
addresses of physicians and health workers involved in performing abortions.
Murdered physicians and abortion providers had a line struck through their
names. Those who were wounded were listed in gray. This reminder to doctors
and other health care providers that they and their families were being
watched by violent anti-abortion terrorists created a climate of terror.

In February 1999, after a series of unfavorable court rulings, MindSpring,
the Internet service provider for the site, shut The Nuremberg Files down,
citing breach of contract, including “harassing materials and network unfriendly
activity.” Almost immediately, similar sites appeared including ones in
the Netherlands and Australia.

The workers at Danco Laboratories are another potential target of violence.
Danco, the so-called “secretive seller” of RU-486, while pleased with the
FDA’s ruling, expressed concern over the possibility of anti-abortion violence.
Spokesperson Heather O’Neill denied Danco was secretive, but when interviewed
by “,” refused to disclose the firm’s New York address or the new
drug’s manufacturer. The threat of boycotts from religious right organizations
and fear of violence from anti-abortion zealots have been major factors
in the refusal of several large drug companies to manufacture or market

George W. Bush reacted to the FDA’s approval of the drug calling its ruling
“wrong,” saying he feared the availability of RU-486 would “make abortions
more and more common.” Although Bush threatened to reverse the ruling should
he become president, a campaign spokesperson later clarified that “a president
cannot order drugs off the market.” However, if elected, the spokesperson
said, Bush would appoint an FDA commissioner to make sure the FDA considered
the risks to women and that it had not taken its action as a result of
political pressure from the White House. Bush also indicated that he would
support a congressional move to limit the use of RU-486. (In 1989, the Adminis- tration of then-president George Bush banned RU-486 from the country).

Anti-abortion congressional representatives and activists quickly responded
to the FDA’s ruling. Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-ID) told Pat Robertson’s Christian
Broadcasting Network, “I think, in short, it has to be termed that this
is an Administration of death and destruction.” In a “News Advisory,” Troy
Newman, director, Operation Rescue West (ORW), promised ORW would use “the
same peaceful yet confrontational tactics that have been effective against
surgical abortions to isolate and expose the promoters of this ‘death pill’.”
He added, “to think that the introduction of RU-486 will make it more acceptable
to kill a child you would have to think that the introduction of Cyclon-B
[sic] nerve gas to Auschwitz made it more acceptable to kill Jews.”

Cathy Brown, director of the anti-abortion group Why Life?, accused Planned
Parenthood’s website for teenagers (www.Teen- of marketing RU-486
to teens. “There are no parental-consent restrictions attached to it,”
Brown told “Family News in Focus,” a website of the Rev. James Dobson’s
Focus on the Family, “Parents will have no clue what their daughters are
going through—why they are writhing in pain on the bathroom floor.” Teresa
Wagner, legal analyst for sanctity of life issues for the Family Research
Council, claimed “the FDA’s approval of RU-486 could result in more abortions
and therefore more dead babies and injured women.” Judie Brown of the American
Life League vowed: “We will not tolerate the FDA’s decision to approve
the destruction of innocent human persons through chemical abortion.” Wendy
Wright, director of communications for Concerned Women for America, the
countries largest women’s political organization suggested there are too
“many sordid figures involved, from a manufacturer in China, to the people
who conducted the trials in the U.S. covering up negative results.”

Several weeks after the ruling, Chinese officials at the Shanghai-based
Hua Lian Pharmaceutical Company confirmed they would be making the raw
compound for RU-486. Long-time anti-abortion foe, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ),
who branded the drug “baby poison,” told “CBS News” the Chinese government
was making money “on the killing of unborn children in America.” Douglas
Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee,
questioned potential health hazards of importing the drug from China, calling
that nation “a major source of impure drugs.” The FDA, which previously
refused to disclose the manufacturer’s name for the safety of workers,
said the plant had been thoroughly inspected before approval was granted. (Hua Lian received help from the U.S.-based Rockefeller Foundation in obtaining
the production license for RU-486).

If threats of violence don’t shake-up abortion providers, pro-lifers hope
legal action will. To this effect “Covenant News,” a Christian Internet
News service (, announced the launch of an advertising
campaign aimed at reaching women “who have experienced pain and suffering
because they took” RU-486. Three “top-post abortion counseling and referral
organizations,” the American Rights Coalition, Legal Action for Women and
Life Dynamics, Inc., will provide women with medical attention, emotional
counseling, and medical malpractice attorneys. Through the combined resources
of these organizations Jim Rudd, editor of “The Covenant News,” emphasized,
“we will see huge lawsuits brought against these pill-pushing abortion
doctors. Also, there should be enough information compiled to bring multi-million
dollar class action lawsuits against the FDA and the pharmaceuticals that
manufacture and market both mifepristone and misoprostol,” the drugs necessary
to complete a chemical abortion.

For years, activists on both sides argued the availability of RU-486 would
dramatically change the debate forever. By allowing doctors to dispense
the pill abortion would become a much more private affair. However, the
hyperbole coming from religious right groups, Bush’s fuzziness on the issue,
and Rep. Coburn’s proposed legislation suggests for some time in the foreseeable
future it won’t be smooth sailing for those who manufacture, prescribe,
and receive RU-486. The stakes are high for everyone involved. For health-care
workers it could be déjà vu terrorism all over again.

Research assistance by Greg Paroff. Bill Berkowitz is a freelance journalist
covering the religious right and related conservative movements.