The executive director of the national Pro-Life Action League yesterday told a congressional subcommittee that abortion opponents are launching an expanded 12-month campaign as part of a "new era of activism" to close down the abortion industry.
Joseph M. Scheidler also told the House civil and constitutional rights subcommittee that he would not condemn the recent bombings of abortion clinics, although he said he did not advocate violence.
"I'll condemn the damage to bricks and mortar when they condemn the destruction of human lives," Scheidler said, nodding to the large contingent of abortion rights advocates in the packed hearing room.
The congressional hearings follow a marked increase in attacks and threats against abortion clinics and related facilities around the country in the past year. About 30 attacks have been reported since January 1984, including eight in the Washington area.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) criticized federal law enforcement agencies for not pursuing these cases more vigorously, and he said that officials from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will appear before the subcommittee March 12.
Scheidler told the congressmen that he believes the antiabortion movement is above the law, because it answers to a higher law. And he said he believes that the groups should pursue some illegal acts, such as trespassing, which he compared to "the trespassing of a fireman into a burning building to save a life."
Scheidler's testimony provoked an angry response from Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), who said women who enter abortion clinics should not be subjected to harassment from antiabortion activists.
"I have had two children and I have lost two children, and I could be in a life-threatening position" if pregnant, said Schroeder. She said that antiabortion groups are insensitive to those kinds of problems.
"I resent the fact that you think women" view having an abortion "just like getting their hair done," said Schroeder. "You don't have the right to take the law into your own hands."
Scheidler responded that abortions are "immoral."
"That's your decision," said Schroeder.
"No, that's God's decision," replied Scheidler.
Scheidler said that a national activist convention would be held in April in Appleton, Wis., to plan strategy for the upcoming campaign, and said his group would soon distribute a book entitled "Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortions."
Chapter titles include: Infiltrate Abortion Groups; Picket Abortionists Homes; Use of Threats -- Pressure; Getting Info From License Plates; Night Telephone Messages; Use of Private Detective; and Cosmetic Use of Fetal Tissue.
Earlier in the day, owners of abortion clinics in Norfolk, New Haven, Conn., Philadelphia and Yakima, Wash., testified that they, their employes and clients have been subjected to verbal abuse by picketers, harassing phone calls, bomb threats and, in some cases, violence. The clinic operators said they are having problems getting insurance.
Kate Taylor, 20, and her mother, Joy, told the subcommittee that picketers yelled obscenities at them, as Kate and her family walked to an abortion clinic in Oregon where she was to have her operation.
Scheidler responded that his group has also been victimized by violence. He said his eye was damaged when he was hit by a guard at an abortion clinic and that his office has been splattered with paint.
"We just don't bellyache as much as they do, because we expect a battle of this magnitude to have some diversity," said Scheidler.