WASHINGTON - Priests for Life, the Staten Island-based national anti-abortion group, is offering $50,000 to anyone providing authorities with information leading to the capture of fugitives wanted for abortion clinic shootings.
"We have the money," said the Rev. Frank Pavone, the director of Priests for Life, yesterday. "It's in a special account."
The offer came as Erie County, N.Y. officials announced French police had arrested James Kopp, 46, a suspect in the 1998 sniper killing of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a Buffalo obstetrician and an abortion provider. Kopp, one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives, was tracked down in Dinan, a small town in Brittany, according to prosecutors.
National Organization for Women (NOW) President Patricia Ireland applauded the reward offer, but questioned its timing. "I think it's great that they are putting up a reward, but I think it's awfully interesting that they put it up the day that [Kopp] was already actually apprehended," she said.
"Still, I think it's a good gesture and I hope he is sincere," she said of Father Pavone. "I have my doubts."
At least one other suspect in an abortion clinic shooting could still be at large. The fugitive, Eric Rudolph, disappeared into the Appalachian Mountain wilderness when police sought to question him about the June 1998 attack on a Birmingham, Ala., clinic, which left a security guard dead and a nurse severely wounded.
Father Pavone, of St. Charles R.C. Church, Oakwood, was here yesterday to brief the media on the $12 million, two-year advertising campaign directed at women who have had abortions. He said the reward offer decision was made after a number of Priests for Life's financial supporters suggested the idea and pledged to provide the needed money. The purpose of the reward is not only to help authorities catch abortion clinic shooting suspects but "to actively discourage" this kind of violence, Father Pavone said.
Extreme violence is a hallmark of the pro-choice movement, not his own, Father Pavone said. He argued that people like Kopp were really "pro-choice" because they acted in the belief that "sometimes it is okay to take a life to solve a problem."
"We reject that philosophy," Father Pavone declared at a press conference here. "It is not okay to take a life, whether it is that of an unborn child or an abortion doctor."
Ms. Ireland branded Father Pavone's charge as an "Alice-in-Wonderland distortion" of language and a "terrible insult" to, women who have had abortions "I think it is a most telling example of this man's tunnel vision," she said. "I am appalled that he would say such a thing,"
Father Pavone said the three-phase ad initiative would start with a coast-to-coast billboard campaign featuring a sign saying "Hurting from Abortion? The doors of the Church are open."
The billboard sign, which includes a depiction of Father Pavone will appear in the New York area in the next few weeks.
He said the door theme will be continued in the second phase series of "very aggressive" television ads to air in major urban markets later this spring. One spot, previewed yesterday for reporters, shows a young woman who hears the message of help from the church after being trapped inside a house full of slamming doors.
"We are proclaiming that ... the role of the church is not simply to stand up and say, 'Abortion is wrong - don't do it,' but rather to say to the women of our day, "We are with you,'" Father Pavone said.
The campaign will also include a 26-part series on pro-life issues to be broadcast later this year on the Catholic cable channel, Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), according to Father Pavone. He said the program could be later shown on secular channels. EWTN provides part of the programming carried on Staten Island Cable Channel 82.
"We realize that we will be under tremendous criticism from pro-abortion groups and others who believe we shall remain silent behind the walls of the church sanctuary," Father Pavone said "But we have never been intimidated by such rhetoric."
He said that although the pro-life message had long been overshadowed in the media by that of the pro-choice cause, "Starting with this campaign, we intend to definitively change that."
The advertising campaign is expected to cost $5 million this year and $12 million overall. Father Pavone said Priests for Life has already raised much of the money, and predicted more contributions would roll in as the campaign progressed.
"The sky is the limit," he said, suggesting the campaign could generate $24 million in contributions eventually.
Ms. Ireland said she was concerned that Priests for Life was becoming a "bridge" between mainstream pro-life organizations and the radical segments of the movement, and that the Island-based group would, eventually adopt the aggressive tactics pioneered by these elements to disrupt abortion clinics and intimidate their employees.
Such tactics as blockades are "morally acceptable" because their intent was to preserve human life, but Father Pavone said his group was not considering such an action.