“Maybe they cleaned up real quick in the wake of Gosnell,” reasoned another pro-life activist after the meeting.
Introduced next were a couple of local women and an out-of-towner named Cheryl Sullenger. “If [Cheryl] was put in charge of finding Osama Bin Laden, he would have been found within a week!” cracked the host.
It was meant as a joke, but the reference is frightening. In 1987 Sullenger pleaded guilty to conspiring to blow up San Diego’s Alvarado Medical Center with a gasoline bomb. Sullenger, who’s Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor, served two years in federal prison. Her name and phone number was found on Scott Roeder’s dashboard after Tiller’s murder.
James McElroy, a civil-rights attorney who won the judgment against Jeff White, says both Sullenger and Newman had restraining orders filed against them. “Suffice it to say they were in legal trouble most of the time they were in San Diego. They had very little respect for the law,” says McElroy. “Not laws protecting private property or against harassing people or disturbing the peace ... They are not the kind of people you want rolling into town.”
Operation Rescue has denied direct association with Roeder. In the Maddow documentary, footage shows Roeder sitting next to Troy Newman throughout the 2009 trial of Tiller, who was facing charges of performing illegal abortions assembled with the help of Operation Rescue. The jury quickly acquitted.
The women at the meeting discussed the importance of obtaining physicians’ names. They assured potential intelligence-gathering ops that they need not be nervous about lying during the phone calls.
“Once you start, the Holy Spirit will take over,” said a volunteer. “I just spew out words. I don’t even know where they come from!” There’s little logic in the idea that a movement rooted in religious conviction sees an alleged serial baby murderer and drug trafficker as a gift from God. There’s also little logic in attempting to kangaroo-court indict every abortion provider in the state based on one man’s crimes—especially in the face of contradictory empirical data.
But, like in the basement at St. Agnes, where a show of hands confirmed that not one attendee willing to play detective for the cause had begun their research by reading the public Grand Jury report on Gosnell, gross photographs trump information and rhetoric trumps reason.
Instead of remaining relatively quiet and trying to distance themselves from the Gosnell case, pro-choice advocates should be vocally refuting such rhetoric with reason, pictures with words, fear with information. Meanwhile, anti-choice is calling for bigger megaphones.
“[Young reporters] are not the old-school bra-burning feminists,” Newman assures. “The majority of them are pro-life. It’s just the old hardened producers now that we’ve got to just wait for them to fall off the apple cart.”
Aided by a convicted felon and the Holy Spirit, Operation Rescue’s foot soldiers are setting up shop in Philadelphia, methodologically targeting every local abortion clinic and practitioner and even offering financial awards: $25,000 for tips leading to an arrest.
“The squeaky wheel gets the oil,” Newman says. “Make a few phone calls! Smile and dial!”
Last year, in the wake of the arrest of Kermit Gosnell, Operation Rescue came to town. They met in the basement of St. Agnes Church in West Chester. As PW reported in March, the militant anti-abortion organization was there recruiting volunteers to gather doctors’ names and schedules by pretending to be mothers of daughters who were seeking abortions.
Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia physician charged with murdering babies for decades, worked uninterrupted in a wide-open darkness of institutional failure. And a year-long investigation reveals how he got away with it for so long.
A timeline of events in the case against Dr. Kermit Gosnell.
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