The Clinic Shootings

RESPONSIBLE parties on both sides of the abortion debate are shocked by the violence at clinics over the New Year's weekend. No depth of conviction that ``abortion is murder'' justifies further murders.

The shootings at two women's clinics in Brookline, Mass., which left two dead and five wounded, were followed by a subsequent attack in Norfolk, Va., at which no one was injured. The episodes represented the worst-ever attacks on abortion clinics.

They were also the first episode of random shoot-ing, unlike the targeted murders in Pensacola, Fla.

John C. Salvi III, who police say is responsible for the latest shootings, was not known to belong to any of the organized antiabortion groups.

But he can't have missed their rhetoric. ``The vilifying of the health-care workers by spiritual leaders and intellectual leaders of these movements has served to inflame the passions of the fringe elements,'' a Planned Parenthood official notes.

No one needs to be reminded what a deeply contentious issue abortion is. The vitriol that has been poured into public discourse of late, with no apparent thought that words can lead to deeds, has been of no help.

A line is crossed when outspoken opposition to abortion becomes incitement to what Massachusetts Gov. William Weld has rightly called ``domestic terrorism.'' Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston said, ``These wanton slayings must not be allowed to escalate hostility. An issue as divisive as abortion demands prayer, it demands civil discourse, and it demands mutual respect.''

Even a former spokesman for Operation Rescue acknowledges, ``There may be a link between advocating the use of force and people acting on it.''

What can be done? Federal and state officials have promised more security for clinics. The health-care community may want to reconsider whether vulnerable stand-alone clinics, rather than hospitals, are the best place for abortions to be performed. The antiabortion movement has a responsibility to restrain its rhetoric and rethink its tactics.

Along with the larger society, it needs to find ways to support individuals in deciding to remain within the law, however firmly held their views on a difficult issue such as this.

All of us have the opportunity to express in our own lives, and to support in others', the responsibility, restraint, and compassion to make abortions seem ever less necessary.

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