Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
Not enough is done to practically ensure the safety of and clinic accessibility for women seeking an abortion. Women and their doctors remain under siege, whether its the seemingly unmitigated access afforded anti-choice activists that enables them to accost women as they enter a clinic, the refusal of law enforcement to take radical protesters seriously, to say nothing of the bomb threats, clinic shootings and murders.
We have the FACE act, which is being applied by the Obama administration at over triple the rate of the Bush administration, but it has limitations and can only be filed after an illegal act has taken place. In Colorado a judge ruled a man blocking the driveway of a clinic was okay, apparently not seeing that it made it “unreasonably difficult” for patients and employees to get to the clinic. In Florida, it was determined that the behavior of a woman engaged in strenuous “sidewalk counseling” of other women entering a reproductive health care center was “not intimidating.” Also in Florida, a man burned down the American Family Planning clinic in Pensacola.
And those are just a few examples of what patients and clinicians can face on a daily basis at reproductive health clinics around the country. So why is it when Scott Roeder brutally murdered Dr. George Tiller in his church the public was left scratching its collective head as to how such a thing could happen?
Although Operation Rescue immediately distanced itself from Roeder, the trail he left repeatedly connected Roeder to the radical anti-abortion group. Another organization similar in mission to Operation Rescue is Vigil for Life (VFL). VFL is a religious organization based in Wisconsin that sets up daily “vigils” in front of Planned Parenthood to harass and “sidewalk counsel” women who enter. VFL is also an affiliate of Pro-Choice Wisconsin, the group behind “personhood” efforts in the state and participant in the annual “40 Days for Life” campaign set to begin next week.
It is at one of these vigils coordinated by VFL where Ralph Lang was arrested in 2007. He frequented Vigil for Life protests and was familiar to Planned Parenthood employees. Upon his arrest he told officers of a God-given mandate to execute abortion providers. Just a few years later in 2011 Lang gained national attention having shot a hole through his hotel room door in Madison Wisconsin. This was a lucky break for workers at the Planned Parenthood as Lang hoped to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies” at the clinic the following day.
In 2008 Ralph Lang gave testimony at a Wisconsin Senate committee hearing on overturning an archaic Wisconsin abortion law. Lang appeared disheveled with his grey hair sticking up in tufts about his head. He sat in front of a panel of Wisconsin lawmakers and spoke with the certainty of a religious zealot that the Bible calls for the murder of abortion providers, judges and the imprisonment of nurses who aid in providing abortion services. (In a stroke of gender neutrality, Lang also calls for the killing of the men who get women in trouble.)
This is a clip from the very end of his testimony. You will hear Wisconsin State Senator Jon Erpenbach off camera requesting that Lang wrap it up. Here is Lang’s summation:
[Full hearing video available here at bottom of the page, Lang is the very last speaker.]
In Lang’s motel room, Madison police officers found a U.S. map with dots in each state. Lang had hand-written atop the map “some abortion centers,” according to the official complaint, possibly telegraphing his next targets. Also written on the map were the words “Blessed Virgin Mary says Hell awaits any woman having an abortion. Nurse or doctor who helps will one (sic).” (Reuters) This religious refrain is heard over and over during his public testimony.
I couldn’t find a public statement from Vigil for Life on their relationship with Lang, nor did they return my request for comment.
Last year VFL founders, Laura and Steve Karlen, issued an APB via email blast to locate the pregnant woman they had “counseled” outside a Madison Planned Parenthood.
Excerpted from Karlen email:
“Have you seen the pregnant mom? The young pregnant woman, probably in her 20s, had a darker complexion with dyed red hair and tattoos on her neck and right shoulder. She also had some facial piercings. The woman looked obviously pregnant. We pray that she will never decide to come back to Planned Parenthood. Please let us know immediately if you have seen a woman with this description.”
Lisa Subek of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin shared VFL’s email with Madison Police Chief, Nobel Wray. Subek told me via email, “According to [Wray], it is legal to send such an email but could be considered harassment if the individual who is the subject of the email told the so-called “sidewalk counselors” she didn’t want further contact from them. She could have filed a complaint regarding the email.”
Subek said Wray did understand concerns about emails like these, but continued:
“I’m not surprised by this answer, but it certainly makes me think about our legal definition of harassment and how we do not do enough to prevent it or to protect victims.”
VFL is building out a storefront CPC right across the street from Planned Parenthood. It is reasonable to believe we will see more of these APBs as Vigil for Life expresses its “First Amendment rights” all over an unsuspecting woman.
Why don’t we look at ‘pro-life’ groups with the same wrenching disgust as we do with Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church? Why do we allow groups like Operation Rescue and Vigil for Life to have dangerously unfettered access to women seeking reproductive health care? But the more important question, one that must be answered with a sense of urgency, is why don’t we do more to pass pro-active legislation seeking to protect women and doctors both locally and nationally before an actual crime is committed.
Next week, another “40 Days for Life” kicks off in over 200 locations around the US and we can bet there will be extremists akin to Roeder and Lang among them.
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