Antiabortion Leader Randall Terry Returns, Using Same Old Incendiary Tactics

Outside the Sotomayor confirmation hearing, people take sides on the Supreme Court nominee's qualifications and record. Video by Alexandra Garcia/The Washington Post
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Randall Terry has a thing for fake blood. He buys it by the jug ($31.95 a gallon from a costume store in South Bend, Ind.) and splatters it over baby dolls to represent aborted fetuses or smears it on copies of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.

Not exactly subtle symbolism. But then Randall Terry, the once and future shock jock of the antiabortion movement, has never been one for subtlety.

"Don't get blood on the pavement," the former head of Operation Rescue warned his fervent band of followers yesterday as they prepared for a second day of protests at the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. He didn't want to give the police a reason to haul them away -- at least not yet. Terry's supporters carefully poured the stage blood on their hands and then ran their fingers across copies of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling that legalized abortion.

Terry seemed delighted with his latest prop, which he said came to him in a vision as he contemplated how to disrupt the Sotomayor hearings. Actually, he liked blood-splattered baby dolls, too. They were wheeled in strollers across the campus of the University of Notre Dame back in May to condemn the commencement speech given by President Obama. On Monday, the dolls were back in action, laid out in child-size coffins and then paraded by Terry and company past the clutch of TV cameras outside the Senate hearings for Sotomayor. The coffins were accompanied by a demonstrator dressed in judge's robes brandishing the sickle of the Grim Reaper.

"You gotta admit, the Grim Reaper sickle is a good effect," Terry said, flashing a self-satisfied grin in his blue suit.

He's always had a theatrical bent, though it hasn't been in evidence much in recent years. Now, much to the consternation of people on both sides of the abortion debate, he's moved to the Washington area to try to reclaim the prominence he once enjoyed within the antiabortion movement. And he's using many of the same tactics that made him famous two decades ago.

Terry, 50, was in his 20s when he founded Operation Rescue -- the result, he said, of a vision from God that appeared before his eyes at a prayer meeting. The vision was, he said, a scroll with instructions to stop abortion. Along with the scroll, he saw thousands of people gathered in front of abortion clinics to save babies, and he saw himself being interviewed on "Donahue," the popular TV talk show hosted by Phil Donahue.

Growing up in Binghamton, N.Y., Terry, the son of schoolteachers, always had a flair for making himself the center of attention.

When he was just 3, he climbed the fire escape of his parents' apartment building, and as his childhood friend Eric Mickaloski recalled, the fire department had to be summoned to rescue him. In bible college, after a religious conversion to evangelical Christianity, he wrote and staged a musical based on the story of the prodigal son. The star of the show: Randall Terry.

During Operation Rescue's glory days in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Terry was arrested dozens of times for his calculated brand of street theater. Sometimes, he and others chained themselves to the actual medical equipment used to perform abortions. Other times, they shoved themselves into the faces of pregnant women on their way into the clinic, screaming "Mommy, Mommy, don't kill me!"

It was God, Terry said, who ordered him to go to such extremes -- to do everything he could to save the unborn. That included stunts such as displaying a dead fetus at a press conference and arranging to have one delivered to Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. (Terry did three months in federal prison for that one.)

For a few years, Terry's tactics transformed the antiabortion movement and earned him accolades from conservative Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

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