Out of America: Right-to-life extremist insists on right to kill

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia - From the road you wouldn't give a second glance to the Commonwealth Woman's Clinic, a nondescript redbrick building on a nondescript highway cutting through this nondescript Washington suburb.

Round the back, however, things are rather less ordinary. The lower entrance is charred and partly blown out, after a petrol bomb exploded there late on Friday night. A black van bearing the legend 'US Marshal' is in the car-park to deter anyone contemplating a repeat performance. Lurking on one side are a couple of TV crews, just in case anyone does try. Welcome to one of the abortion battlefields of the USA, 1994.

The Commowealth Woman's clinic here was lucky. The damage was only dollars 10,000 ( pounds 6,500) worth. No one was inside the building when the device went off. A policeman alerted by a passer-by put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher. Not so the Ladies Centre for Abortion clinic 800 miles away in Pensacola, Florida, a retirement town whose sole claim to fame until recently was miles of gorgeous beaches on the Gulf of Mexico and, it is said, more churches per capita than anywhere else in America.

A few hours earlier that day, a gunman had coolly shot dead John Britton, a Ladies Centre doctor, and a bodyguard, and wounded the bodyguard's wife. Paul Hill, anti-abortion activist and defrocked Presbyterian minister, has been charged on two counts of premeditated murder. No one has yet established whether the Pensacola and Falls Church incidents were directly connected. It scarcely matters. Running an abortion clinic anywhere in this country is a dangerous business.

Since 1982, roughly the moment opposition to abortion turned into a latter-day holy war, police have recorded over 150 arson attacks at clinics, half-a-dozen shooting incidents, and three murders, all of them in Pensacola. With its deep conservatism, supercharged religiosity and gun-happy culture, Pensacola is a rich breeding ground for such deadly fanaticism. But those ingredients (albeit in lesser measure) are to be found in Virginia too - which makes the calm and amiability of Wayne Codding, director of Commonwealth Women's Clinic since 1984, all the more remarkable.

Like President Clinton, he describes what happened in Pensacola as 'domestic terrorism'. 'You find fringe elements everywhere, in every walk of life. Murder, though, is another matter. The only way to stop this kind of terrorism is rigorous pursuit and punishment.' Years of hate mail and phone calls and graffiti reading 'Killers' on the clinic's walls have made Mr Codding a hard man to scare. 'Why should I be frightened? What's the point? If someone wants to do this sort of thing, you can't stop them. They'll do it.'

Britton was protected by a vest and by a bodyguard, but much good they did him. Mr Hill's performance at his committal hearing the day after the killings helped explain why. The New York Times wrote of his 'cheerful insouciance' upon being charged. This, plainly, was a man convinced he had done the right thing. Long before his day in court, Mr Hill's opinions were well known. At countless pro-life demonstrations he had carried placards urging 'Execute abortionists'.

On Monday, the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, ordered US marshals to protect dozens of clinics across the country, and said the Justice Department will investigate whether an 'organised criminal element' is behind the attacks. Mainstream anti-abortion groups have condemned the double murder in Florida. But condemnation never stopped the fanatics these groups unwittingly breed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power