PRESIDENT REAGAN has issued a strong statement, his first, condemning the bombing of abortion clinics and pledging that he will do all in his power to bring the guilty to justice. This unequivocal commitment from the top has been much needed. In two years, 30 facilities in the country have been bombed, and the rate of the attacks has recently accelerated. Until yesterday, the political leadership of the administration had been silent at a time when forceful moral leadership was required to combat a vicious series of crimes.
Fortunately, federal law enforcement officials have not been sitting on the sidelines. From the time of the first bombing in 1982, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- an agency with expertise in crimes involving explosiveshas been on these cases. Twelve cases have already been closed, and the bombers sent to prison. Five individuals are serving terms -- some for as long as 20 years. Four arrests have been made already in the Christmas Day bombings in Florida. The kidnappers of an abortion clinic owner and his wife have been convicted and sent to prison.
Yet there has been confusion about the federal effort in the minds of many citizens. Would Washington's response have been stronger if the criminals had been called "terrorists" instead of "fanatics" or "crazies"? Would the investigations have been more thorough if the FBI, the federal law enforcement agency best known to the public, were running the show instead of the ATF?
At the heart of these semantic and organizational questions is a simple notion: The administration has a responsibility to take these bombings as an ominous threat to the exercise of citizens' constitutional rights, and to convey its seriousness to the public. Good investigative and speedy prosecutions are vital and surely will continue. But the president's own voice has been needed not only to reassure those whose rights are threatened but also to condemn and isolate the individuals who have been resorting to violence.
Most right-to-life groups already have spoken out against the bombings. They have a particularly strong interest in making the distinction between orderly and protected forms of protest against abortion and the activities of those on the fringes of the movement who think they are doing "God's work" and helping the right-to-life cause by blowing up buildings.
The ugly pattern of violence must be broken before more destruction and the inevitable loss of life occur. People, like the president, who oppose abortion and abhor the bombings have a special role to play in this effort.