by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Let’s talk about terrorism.

Not the kind that puts bombs under car hoods; that is terrorism we associate with foreign countries. No. Let’s talk about a terrorism that is taking place right here, right now, in the heartland of America.


Wichita, to be exact.

In the past four weeks, Wichita has become a battleground. The jails are stuffed. A judge requires 24-hour police protection. And workers inside an abortion clinic stay days at a time, sleeping on cots, afraid if they leave they will not be allowed back in.

All this thanks to a religious, pro-life group called Operation Rescue, which swooped into Wichita like an old-west cowboy, aiming to take the law into its own hands. This was not a capricious decision; the Operation Rescue folks wanted a place where they could make some noise. They knew the mayor of Wichita was anti-abortion. So was the governor of Kansas. If ever there was fertile soil for their “Babies Killed Here” signs, Wichita was it.

So one day last month, a busload of protesters unloaded at the Women’s Health Care Services clinic and began to terrorize. Moral terrorism. When a woman drove up, they would fling themselves in front of the car. When a woman tried to enter, they would encircle her, holding hands, chanting scripture, like something out of “The Omen.”

This went on for some time. The clinic was effectively shut down. Finally, a federal judge said enough. He ordered the protesters arrested for trespassing. As of last week, nearly 2,000 people had been put in jail. Meanwhile, the judge and his wife received horrible threats, including a phone call that said, “Don’t worry about being excommunicated. You’re dead.”

This, remember, was a pro-life caller.

Remember the Constitution?

Obviously, it is time for a history lesson.

America — a place Operation Rescue folks claim to love — was created by people trying to escape religious persecution. People sick of others telling them “this is what God wants.”

They wrote a Constitution. It separates church from state. And it ensures that personal freedoms — such as the right to enter a medical facility — shall not be violated.

Now. I have my own opinions on abortion. I will keep them to myself here because 1) Being a man, with no prospect of ever being raped, dangerously pregnant or carrying a deformed fetus, my opinion is only so valid, and, 2) It’s irrelevant.

This is not about abortion; it’s about the law.

As the judge, Patrick Kelly, pointed out, like it or not, the Wichita clinic is perfectly legal. So is, as of this moment, a woman’s right to an abortion. The Supreme Court decided that in 1973. No matter how fervently the Operation Rescue people thump their Bibles, they are still not allowed to trespass, or harass a private citizen. Not because they are being picked on; because it is illegal.

It also can be downright cruel. Contrary to some religious leaders’ beliefs, this country is not yet a place where sexed- up harlots jump in the sack, get pregnant, zip down to the abortion clinic, then call up a new boyfriend.

For most women, choosing an abortion is an agonizing decision, one they wrestle with day and night. The last thing they deserve, once that personal decision has been made, is a circle of psalm-chanting zealots, smothering them, screaming at them, locking them out.

Moral terrorism.

Bottom line: You have no right

The leader of Operation Rescue, Randall Terry, has been using Wichita as a national spotlight. He urges people to elect only anti-abortion leaders. “We don’t even want a dog catcher who’s pro-choice!” he says.

He also has accused Judge Kelly, who was only trying to keep law and order in what used to be a pretty quiet town, of being the equivalent of “a Nazi judge in Germany.”

Now. I don’t believe in throwing Nazi comparisons around lightly. But when it comes to Nazi-like practices — harassment, threats, enforcing their will upon others — hey, Randall, you’re a lot closer than the judge.

Let’s face it. Abortion will always be a matter of opinion. But at the moment, it’s legal. You want to protest? Fine. But you don’t touch people, you don’t terrorize them. You have no right.

Personally, I find this surge of people trying to dictate morality in America absolutely frightening. A legislator recently introduced a bill to make sex illegal for teens under 18. A Tennessee firm fired people for not having “the right heterosexual attitude.”

Moral terrorism. It should scare you. Freedom to protest and freedom of choice are fingers of the same hand, lose one, you lose the other. And then you lose America. How ironic that Terry chose Kansas, where Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz,” once gushed: “There’s no place like home.”

Keep it up, Randall. There won’t be.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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