Abortion clinic bombings prompt new call for FBI investigation
Atlanta — A series of bombings and other attacks on abortion clinics across the nation, including the Christmas-day bombing of three clinics in Pensacola, Fla. has brought:
* Strong condemnation of the violence by the leader of the National Right-to-Life Committee, the largest national anti-abortion organization - but a conspicuous lack of condemnation by the leader of another much smaller anti-abortion group.
* A renewed call by abortion-rights leaders for FBI involvement in helping solve the bombing and arson attacks. So far, the US Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) has been assigned to the cases. BATF agents are considered the federal experts on explosives.
* The convictions of five people in the 28 bombings and arson attacks on abortion clinics since 1982. All but five of the attacks occurred this year. There has been one conviction in 1984.
* Regrets by one abortion-rights leader here in Atlanta, Kay Bard, that President Reagan has not spoken out against the violence. White House spokesman Anson Franklin says he is not aware of any presidential statement on the attacks. He and another White House press office official ''have condemned it very strongly.''
According to BATF agents, none of the five persons convicted so far have been linked to any specific group and apparently were acting on their own.
This lack of evidence of a group connection to the attacks or a conspiracy means the attacks are not classified as terroristic, according to William Webster, FBI director. The FBI could assign agents to the cases if the incidents were identified as terroristic, says spokesman Lane Bonner. The FBI is sharing information with the BATF, he adds.
Barbara Radford, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, says: ''We're saying its terroristic activities despite what William Webster says.''
''We do belive there is some connection between incidents,'' she says. ''We think 29 incidents (her count was one higher than BATF figures) in a calendar year is suspicious.''
She wants FBI involvement. The BATF agents are munitions experts, but a federal probe across state lines of groups possibly involved is needed, she says.
Abortion clinic bombings and arson attacks in 1984 occurred in California, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Virginia, and Washington state, says the BATF.
In addition, there have been 30 ''invasions'' of abortion clinics, often involving abortion foes chaining themselves to clinic furniture, she says. And there have been 31 cases of vandalism, which have involved the use of spray paint, sledge hammers, and bullets fired into buildings. There have been 20 death threats, 33 bomb threats, and several minor assaults, she says, reading a tally from her 300 member organizations.
The three clinics in Pensacola were extensively damaged. The bombs exploded within minutes of each other early Christmas morning. For the first time in such cases, the BATF has sent in one of its four special teams to investigate.
Though some bombings have been preceded by picketing, it would be ''unfair'' to blame picketers, says BATF agent Joe Thurmond in Atlanta. ''People have a right to demonstrate. What we're looking at is someone who went off the deep end somewhere,'' he says.
''The thing that concerns all of us is safety for staff and clients,'' says Ms. Bard, executive director of Planned Parenthood Counseling Center of the Atlanta Area. One of the center's two offices was bombed in September. No one was hurt in either of the bombings.
So far no one has been injured in any of the bombings, according to the BATF. But the risk is high, officials say.
The fact that no one has been hurt yet is one reason cited by anti-abortion activist Joseph M. Scheidler of Chicago for his lack of condemnation of the violence. As executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, Mr. Scheidler has been more aggressive in his opposition to abortion. He has encouraged confrontation of abortion clinic patients, as they enter clinics to convince them not to have abortions.
''I don't condone it (the violence),'' he says. ''It's not the way to close clincs.'' But, he also adds: ''I don't condemn it.''
''When they (pro-abortion activists) condemn the violence to people (as a result of abortions), I'll condemn the damage to real estate (the clinics),'' he says. His own office, he says, has been vandalized a number of times.
John C. Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee, says of the abortion clinic attacks: ''First of all, we condemn them flat out. We feel it is unfortunate, tragic, and even unwise to our movement. I think it's hurting us.''
''We're nonviolent; we're nothing if not that,'' he added. But he cautions that the attacks are a case of ''violence (abortions) begetting violence.''