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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

It started to unravel when Congress passed a 1994 law that made it a federal crime to block clinics. Suddenly, Terry and Operation Rescue were being fined every time they violated that law. Planned Parenthood also went after Terry, filing lawsuits that he lost in state courts. He ended up owing the group $1.6 million and filed for bankruptcy in 1998 -- the same year he tried to capitalize on his Operation Rescue fame by running for Congress in Upstate New York. He was trounced.

Terry's personal life got messy, too. In 2000, he divorced his first wife, Cynthia, with whom he'd had a daughter, adopted two more children and taken in a foster child. The following year he married Andrea, a young campaign volunteer. His actions earned him a public reprimand from his longtime minister in Binghamton and condemnation from some in the evangelical community.

Then there were problems with his children. His adopted son Jamiel came out as gay in 2004, and Terry renounced him. (They've since reconciled.) His adopted daughter and his foster daughter got pregnant out of wedlock; the foster daughter converted to Islam.

Those were "rough years," said Terry, who resurfaced briefly when he served as the spokesman for the parents of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman in a persistent vegetative state whose husband sought to have her disconnected from her feeding tube. After Schiavo's parents lost their emotional battle to keep their daughter alive in 2005, Terry faded from public view. He was preoccupied by his financial troubles and preparing to convert to Catholicism.

Now he is trying to build a new antiabortion organization and mount a comeback.

He said he considers his noisy protests at Notre Dame a resounding success: He got to put the president on the spot and make it clear that Terry and his followers won't go along with Obama's efforts to lower the volume on abortion and other hot-button social issues. Just two weeks later, Terry commandeered the spotlight again after the slaying of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller, who had been the target of massive protests organized by Terry and Operation Rescue in 1991.

"George Tiller was a mass murderer," Terry told reporters after the 67-year-old doctor was shot in the lobby of his Wichita church. "Horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."

Leaders of the antiabortion movement are cringing at Terry's sudden return. They say his incendiary rhetoric and showy tactics turn off ordinary Americans and reflect Terry's struggle to regain his glory years.

"It's sad in a way," said Fredericksburg antiabortion activist Patrick Mahoney, who was close to Terry at one time but, like others in the movement, is now estranged from him. "It's almost like a heavyweight boxer who's past his prime. The movement has gone by him."

Today, most mainstream antiabortion activists focus more on action in the courts and state legislatures than on public spectacle and civil disobedience, said Cynthia Gorney, author of "Articles of Faith," about the abortion wars.

But not Terry.

"The pro-life movement is getting its hind end kicked," he said, "because we think that we can literally upend the social order as it is now with a few phone calls, letters and 'We're going to sell a rose once a year and march once a year on the Capitol.' It's ludicrous."

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