August 11, 1994 WASHINGTON, D.C. "We cannot trade evil for evil," Fr. Matthew Habiger, O.S.B., president of Human Life International, declared in response to the July 19th shooting outside an abortion mill in Pensacola, Fla., which left two dead and one injured.
"Just as those people had no right to kill any of the millions of unborn children who are executed in their mothers' wombs every year, the person who shot them had no right to take their lives away. Adding to the body count won't make it go away."
Fr. Habiger's comments typified the reactions of pro-life leaders to Paul Hill's shooting of an abortionist and two escorts outside the Ladies Center in Pensacola. Dr. John Bayard Britton, 69, an abortionist, James Herman Barrett, 74, an escort, and Barrett's wife June, 68, also an escort, were all sitting inside a pickup when Hill opened fire with a 12 gauge shotgun. Both men were hit in the head and died; Mrs. Barrett was wounded in the arm.
While pro-life organizations universally condemned the slayings, many were critical of the media's coverage.
"These acts of violence were allegedly perpetrated by a man known as Paul Hill, who has been described by some in the media as a 'prominent' pro-life leader," noted Judie Brown, president of the American Life League. "Let the record show that this man came to prominence only because of TV coverage and that he has not been identified with the pro-life movement in any way, other than the identity attributed to him by talkshow hosts and others."
"Unfortunately, over the past year, many in the media including USA Today, The New York Times, and the NBC Nightly News have given Hill a national spotlight, providing him undeserved attention and likely increasing delusions of self-importance," the National Right Life Committee similarly observed.
"The media have also created the illusion that he represents a constituency within the pro-life movement. Hill does not represent the millions of pro-life Americans who believe that the best way to express opposition to abortion and restore protection for unborn children is through legal, peaceful means."
Last year, Hill started a group called Defensive Action after Dr. David Gunn was killed outside another abortion mill in Pensacola. "It is false and offensive to suggest, as some pro-abortion groups have done, that speaking in favor of the right to life somehow causes violence. Such a suggestion is like blaming the civil rights movement and all those who courageously spoke in favor of the rights of African Americans for the riots or deaths that were a part of that era," stated the NRLC and its affiliates .
NRLC will continue to work in educational, legislative, and political activities to ensure the right to life for unborn children, people with disabilities, and older people, " said the NRLC's statement. Many right-to-life groups pledged to keep up their peaceful activism against abortion.
Jim Sedlak, president of STOPP International, stated that "we will continue to encourage all forms of nonviolent protest against abortionists and abortion centers."
Jeff White, director of Operation Rescue of California, noted that recent Supreme Court rulings and the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) legislation have misted people into believing that it is illegal to peacefully protest in front of abortion facilities.
Stressing that this is not true, White declared: "While we still have the right to peacefully protest, I call on all Americans to stand for life in front of the killing centers. Only peaceful proclamation of the truth of the horror of abortion will penetrate the heart of America. We will only achieve peace as a nation when all violence both inside and outside the abortion clinics is stopped." White also quoted John F. Kennedy: "If you make peaceful protest impossible, you make violent protest inevitable."
Reacting to the use of federal marshals at abortion facilities, Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, affirmed that "the response to the July 29th tragedy should not be to further protect the abortion industry, but to stop all violence, including abortion itself.... We do not eliminate evil by eliminating people, but rather by calling them to conversion."
A New York Times report said that Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, had repeatedly expressed the theory that killing an abortionist would be biblically justified homicide. That same report, however, pointed to questionable aspects in abortionist John Britton's background. According to that article, Britton stepped up his performance of abortions after he experienced financial trouble due to a failed investment in a pet store chain.
Two disciplinary actions from state medical authorities against Britton also preceded the increase in his abortion practice. One action was for "unprofessional conduct" and the other was for inappropriately prescribing large quantities of a drug for a patient.
The Times story called Britton's attitude toward abortion "ambivalent."
For example, citing a profile of Britton in GQ magazine he told a woman about to undergo an abortion that the baby was about as big as a softball, a nice, round softball. " Also, said the Times, he "almost taunted her for looking away 'so you won't know how dreadful it is'. "