Doctor Killed During Abortion Protest
By William Booth
David Gunn, 47, was shot three times in the back after he got out of his car at the Pensacola Women's Medical Services clinic, according to Pensacola police. He died during surgery at a local hospital.
While abortion providers routinely are threatened with death, and their clinics have been bombed and vandalized, the killing here is believed to be the first in the nation's ongoing struggle over abortion.
This morning, police initially were called to simply squelch an antiabortion protest at the clinic. When they arrived, police said, Michael Frederick Griffin, 31, of Pensacola told them he had just shot Gunn.
Griffin, dressed in a gray suit, quietly surrendered to police, who said they took his .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver. Griffin was arrested and charged with murder and is being held in Escambia County jail.
Don Treshman, head of the antiabortion group Rescue America in Houston, told the Associated Press that Griffin yelled "Don't kill any more babies," just before the shooting this morning.
Treshman said several members of his group attended the protest and called him afterward to relate details of the incident.
Steve Powell, an employee at an office park where the clinic is located, told reporters that Griffin singled out the physician as his target, chased him and shot him at point-blank range.
Powell said the protesters acted strangely after the shooting. "It looked like they were just happy," he said.
On Sunday, at a service attended by protest organizers and participants, Griffin reportedly asked the congregation to pray for Gunn's soul.
"He asked that the congregation pray, and asked that we would agree with him that Dr. Gunn would give his life to Jesus Christ," said John Burt, an organizer of today's protest and a lay preacher at Whitfield Assembly of God Church.
"He wanted him to stop doing things the Bible says is wrong and start doing what the Bible says was right," Burt told reporters.
"There's talk of making protesting abortion clinics a felony. If you start talking about that, people are just going to find other ways of dealing with it," Burt said.
On Christmas Day 1984, two doctors' offices and a clinic in Pensacola were bombed by abortion foes who were convicted and imprisoned.
Burt emphasized that the protesters today had no intention of harming the doctor.
Gunn opened his clinic here about a month ago. He apparently commuted here from Eufaula, Ala., which is several hundred miles away. His new clinic, nestled among offices for lawyers, doctors and accountants, bore no signs and simply advised patients at Suite 46 to come upstairs and sign in.
Before Gunn arrived, there was only one clinic performing abortions in Pensacola, although there are at least three facilities that offer "abortion counseling" to women, in which antiabortion advocates try to persuade them to seek alternatives to terminating their pregnancies.
It is common for antiabortion activists to pray, chant, whistle and scream at abortion providers and women as they enter abortion clinics. The protesters may ask the women to consider alternatives to abortion, such as adoption, and often accompany their appeals with photos of aborted fetuses. At the Pensacola clinic today, protesters held up signs that said, "David Gunn Kills Babies."
The Supreme Court ruled in January that federal judges cannot stop protesters from trying to block access to clinics, although antiabortion protesters routinely are arrested for trespassing on private property. Congress is considering legislation that would outlaw the protests.
"We call on Congress to immediately enact the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances bill to combat antichoice terrorism and enact the Freedom of Choice Act to guarantee American women their legal right to choose," National Abortion Rights Action League President Kate Michelman said in a statement after the shooting.
Gunn had been receiving death threats for several years but they had recently become more blatant and vicious, Susan Hill, who employed the doctor at some of the National Women's Health Organization clinics she runs in the Southeast, told AP. The Pensacola facility was not one of hers.
Last summer in Montgomery, Ala., an old-fashioned "wanted" poster of Gunn was distributed at a rally for Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry, AP said. The poster included a picture of Gunn, his home phone number and other identifying information. The posters were designed to encourage abortion opponents to harass doctors working at clinics operated by Gunn in Alabama.
Margeaux Farrar, a spokeswoman for Operation Rescue, told AP the antiabortion organization knew nothing about the posters and had not printed them.
"Our commitment to the dignity of life stands for the born as well as the unborn," Keith Tucci, executive director of Operation Rescue, said in a news release expressing sorrow over Gunn's death.
The Rev. Joseph Foreman, an Operation Rescue founder, said the shooting could be the tip of the iceberg if the government silences abortion protesters.
"I've been saying for years that if the government insists on suppressing normal and time-honored dissent through injunctions, it turns the field over to the rock-throwers, the bombers and the assassins," AP quoted Foreman as saying.
© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post