Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Martha Burk Headshot

Stronger White House Action Needed on Abortion Murder

Posted: Updated:

As the President of the National Organization for Women in Wichita, Kansas in the 1980s, I went toe to toe with the anti-abortion extremists outside the clinic of Dr. George Tiller every Saturday morning while trying to get female patients safely through the doors. And as the main pro-choice spokesperson in the state's largest media market, I got plenty of threats - enough to watch my back every time I walked out of my house at night.

But my situation was child's play compared to what Dr. Tiller endured in the service of women's rights. His clinic was bombed. His house was picketed. His family was harassed. He survived a shooting in both arms.

Despite all of his, he endured and continued to serve women in dire need of help. He was often the last hope for desperate women carrying fetuses that were severely deformed with no chance of survival, but still having the potential to take the woman's life if carried to term. And as we all know, Dr. Tiller's luck ran out last Sunday when he was murdered in church.

Women's rights advocates and persons of good will everywhere are shocked and outraged at this act of domestic terrorism. President Obama is also, according to his very brief statement denouncing "heinous acts of violence" such as that visited on Tiller.

Good start - but where's the rest? Where is the action plan? Where is the mobilization? I would have liked to see the President surrounded by his law enforcement team--leaders of the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and their component agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and the FBI--making a very high profile public statement with coverage on all the major media outlets stating unequivocally that this kind of domestic terrorism will not be tolerated. I want the president to stand up and say that EVERY avenue of law enforcement, from financial investigations to violation of gun laws, will be used against the extremist groups, including extremist Christian groups, who foment and support this kind of terrorism.

So far, we have only a statement from Attorney General Eric Holder that he has made the US Marshal Service available for greater security at clinics, but there is not so much as a press release on the DOJ website. We need more. The New York Times has called on Mr. Holder to consider taking the additional step of revitalizing the National Task Force on Violence against Health Care Providers that former Attorney General Janet Reno established during the Clinton years.

If the President had directed that that be done in conjunction with making a strong visible statement about beefed up law enforcement instead of merely issuing a sound bite, maybe we would have seen that played over and over in the media instead of hate-filled journalists denouncing women who seek abortions and those that help them as criminals worthy of hunting down. Nothing like giving the next nut-case some more fuel to go after the next abortion rights doctor.

Only a couple of months ago Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had to apologize for a report from her department that pointed out the very real likelihood of just the type of act that occurred on Sunday. Perhaps that report was issued because the president was trying to find common ground with the anti-abortionists. I'm all for dialogue, but only after the president strongly states that forging common ground with them means they must act to stamp out this kind of terrorism in their own ranks. We say it all the time about Islamic extremists. Why not the Christian extremists?

Mr. Obama knows the two ends will never meet on abortion itself, so he wants dialogue on reducing unwanted pregnancy. Having birth control freely available in all our schools would be a great first step, but - whoops -- we haven't yet zeroed out all the "abstinence only" funding in the President's budget for 2010. A LOT of that money goes to anti-abortion groups. Not a cent goes to groups advocating responsible birth control.

The majority of women and men in this country are pro choice. Nobody is against the efforts to make abortion less prevalent-- we're all for that too. Abortion is not a pleasant procedure. I've never spoken with a woman who wouldn't have preferred not to have one. But to preserve women's lives, we simply must keep it safe, legal and available. The campaign of domestic terrorism -- against abortion providers, abortion clinics, women who have abortions, foundations that fund research and advocacy on reproductive rights, and those who write and speak favorably about the right to abortion -- is designed to make it increasingly unsafe and unavailable.

Having watched several hours of the 'liberal' media over the last three days, both MSNBC and CNN, I have not heard the role of Christian extremism in fomenting tragedies such as the Tiller murder condemned even once. Our media are so fond of decrying and condemning Islamic extremism--why not condemn Christian extremism? Many of those who purvey hate against abortion providers and encourage violence against them do so in the name of Jesus Christ, a man whose teachings are generally regarded as the core of the Christian religion.

We cannot allow Christian extremists to drive our society toward a state of anarchy, in which civilians have no protection against the risk of bodily harm or even death at the hands of these religiously inspired terrorists. I say this as someone who has experienced these threats first hand. Those who work in the abortion rights movement feel increasingly isolated and vulnerable. We all have a moral obligation to stand with them against intimidation and terrorism.

The great majority of Christians are not terrorists. They are people of good will. The president himself should call on his fellow Christians to root out extremism in their ranks - a strong beginning point for any dialogue on common ground.