Anti-choice: The Next Generation

Magazine: the Body Politic
Issue: January, 1995
Title: Anti-choice: The Next Generation
Author: Will Offley

The following article was reprinted with permission from the Socialist Challenge, Post Office Box 4955 Main Post Office Vancouver, B.C. V6B 4A6. It was written by Mr. Offley September 6, 1994 and appeared in October. One month afterward, Dr. Garson Romalis was shot and seriously injured at his home in Vancouver.

Paul Hill may be the next generation. A mean little preacher, an expelled Presbyterian who believes in a punishing and vindictive God, a God with hair on his chest. Hill stalked the physicians at the two abortion clinics in Pensacola, Florida for over a year. On July 29, he assassinated Dr. John Bayard Britton and James Barrett, a retired U.S . Air Force colonel who was a volunteer security escort at the Ladies' Center, one of the clinics where Britton worked. Hill also wounded June Barrett with the same shotgun he used to kill her husband James and Dr. Britton.

Hill was no stranger to Britton or the Barretts. He was profiled in an article published in GQ magazine five months before the murders. "The clinic workers have no name for him yet. They just say he is 'scary' and that he'd better stay away from them and their children." Interviewed for the article, Hill made it clear that the next step for the anti-choice movement was terrorism. "'Coming out here in front of the clinic [the Pensacola Ladies' Center] used to be considered outrageous,' Hill says as the cars go in and out of the clinic's parking lot. 'Now it's old hat. Rescue [blockading clinics] used to be outrageous. Now it's old. The next thing will be the use of force. Right now it's the focus of a lot of attention, but pretty soon it will be old hat and we'll wonder why we didn't think of it sooner.'" [GQ, February 1994]

Five days later, Gordon Watson assaulted a clinic staff member at Everywoman's Health Centre in Vancouver. Several days later, a special prosecutor appointed by the provincial Attorney-General's office laid charges of assault and criminal contempt of court against Watson.

Gordon Watson is the darling of the B.C. anti-choice movement. He has conducted a one-man crusade against Everywoman's Health Centre for over four years. Last spring, he nearly succeeded in forcing Attorney-General Colin Gabelmann to resign when it was revealed Gabelmann had submitted an affidavit containing statements that were not true at one of Watson's many trials. Gabelmann was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing by another special prosecutor appointed to investigate the incident.

Since April of this year, Watson has been repeatedly calling for physicians who provide abortions to be killed. In an open letter to Gabelmann, Watson wrote:

"In case you are not aware, the people of British Columbia are gagging on the stench of death from babies killed by abortion. The blood of all these children calls out from the ground, and it does not cry out for mercy upon the killers: it cries out for vengeance. 'Vengeance is mine,' sayeth the Lord, 'I will repay.' God decrees, 'You shall not suffer a murderer to live amongst you.'

'Capital punishment for abortionists is an idea whose time has come.'"

Just to make sure he was not being misunderstood, Watson added,
"When this nation realizes what has gone on in abortuaries[sic], if the perpetrators of the child extermination policy are not then properly dealt with at a fair trial, the mob will surely lynch them.... If the ultimate sanction is not soon legally enforced, so as to deter violence against babies, the stage will be set for an enraged mob to rid our community of these serial child killers -- abortionists -- one way or another."
Watson is, of course, no stranger to fair trials. He was convicted of civil contempt of court last year for harassing clients outside of Everywoman's Health Centre. He's currently facing three separate charges before the courts in Vancouver due to his aggressive behaviour at Everywoman's and the Elizabeth Bagshaw Clinic.

He's no stranger to violence either. On at least two separate occasions in the past he has assaulted pro-choice activists without charges being laid. [This time it would have been a bit difficult, given the presence of three witnesses and the fact the entire incident was videotaped.] He also has a criminal record for aggravated assault stemming from an incident in 1988 where he attacked a man and fractured his skull.

Interviewed on CBC Radio some days after the assault, Watson stated that he was going to be applying for a Firearms Acquisition Certificate.


Paul Hill was well known to his victims. When someone stalks you publically for over a year, you get to know them.

Shelley Shannon, who shot and wounded Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas during an attempted assassination last year was also well-known, a veteran of Operation Rescue who had been arrested many times.

Michael Griffin murdered John Britton's partner, Dr. David Gunn, last year in Pensacola. Griffin was well known.

Gordon Watson is well known.

Watson says that while he's in favour of the death penalty for abortion providers [or lynch mobs until the death penalty is brought back], he himself would never dirty his hands.

But Sara Diamond, an American academic who has extensively researched the Christian Right, pointed out following Watson's interview on the CBC that,

"... regarding the remarks that he just made, that Paul Hill, who's now charged with the killings in Florida a year ago when he was attending the trial of Michael Griffin who assassinated Dr. David Gunn...was telling reporters that while he condoned the action and understood it, that he himself would never consider killing anybody. So I think that we need to take with a grain of salt what an anti-abortion activist says on the radio, in terms of what he's planning and what he's not planning."

Diamond observed very accurately that a major split has developed in the anti-choice movement in the U.S. since the murder of David Gunn in March, 1994.

"What I'm afraid of is that the anti-abortion movement itself is polarizing in two directions and the legislative and legal wing is becoming very alarmed at the public relations problems that they are having from this violence.... However, a small number of groups and individuals are becoming more extreme and more frustrated and it really only takes, you know, a small number of people to do quite a lot of damage, as we've now seen."

"So what I'm fearful of is (as) the [antichoice] movement becomes more polarized certain members of the movement will become convinced that the only way is to wage war, and we are now hearing this, this rhetoric about civil war, now constantly. This is now a constant theme, among not only the militant wing of the anti- abortion movement, but really within the entire Christian right."

This split has yet to develop in Canada. While Watson has clearly created difficulties for the established anti-choice organizations, not one has yet broken with him.

Watson has been closely linked to Campaign Life Coalition for over four years. He has figured prominently in their newspaper. He was arrested outside Everywoman's with a B.C. director of the group, Christine Hendrix. Watson has attended at least one annual membership meeting of Campaign Life, although he denies being a member.

Watson is also connected to the B.C. Pro-Life Society. In early July, B.C. Pro-Life's president Ted Gerk wrote a letter to the B.C. College of Physicians and Surgeons attempting to pressure them into disciplining Doctor Ellen Wiebe, who had announced she would be conducting research into two drugs that act together as an abortifacient. The very same day, Watson sent Wiebe a letter threatening to carry out a citizen's arrest.

A disturbing and frightening new chapter is opening. Unable to impose their views on women by other means, a minority of the anti-choice movement are now turning from civil disobedience to violence, from blockades to bullets. Clearly, the mainstream antichoice groups have to be put on the spot -- either repudiate the violence and break with those who call for it, or bear the moral and political responsibility for acts of terrorism. Campaign Life, the Pro-life groups and the Catholic hierarchy have to choose.

And us? The entire progressive community has to remobilize in defence of choice. There's a cold wind blowing from the South. We ignore it at our peril.

Will Offley is a member of Socialist Challenge. He has been a security coordinator at Everywoman's Health Centre since it opened in 1988. He can be reached at Everywoman's Health Centre, 2005 East 44th Avenue, Vancouver, B.C. V5P 1N1
Go Back to Shy David's Abortion Page.