Growing Violence Against Pro-Lifers
I am troubled by what appears to be a growing trend of violent attacks on peaceful pro-life activists.
Perhaps the most famous recent instance was caught in a dramatic video last fall. The video shows a twenty-something-year-old man wearing a purple sweater, with a pentagram (a pagan symbol) on a necklace around his neck. He asks the pro-life woman behind the camera what should happen if a 16-year-old gets pregnant by rape. From his tone, it is clear that he doesn’t really want an answer. Still, the woman begins to explain that the child is still a child, and should not be murdered, regardless of how the baby is conceived. Before she can finish, however, the young man sticks out his tongue, winds up, and kicks her. The camera falls and clatters on the ground. A female voice is heard crying, “Someone call the cops!”
The woman who was assaulted, Marie-Claire Bissonnette, described in a written account the astonishing indifference of the Toronto police who arrived on the scene. Eventually, however, the attacker was identified, and charges were filed. As it turns out, the same man was responsible for another violent assault on a pro-life activist some months before.
As Bissonnette points out, the attack on her is far from an isolated incident. And while the video of the assault against her was viewed millions of times, most of these assaults receive little to no public attention. On the very same day that Bissonnette was attacked, for instance, a woman walked up to a pro-life man who was silently praying at a location just West of Toronto and poured paint down his back. This was mild in comparison to what happened just days before, also in Toronto, when Gabby Skwarko, a member of the Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective, walked up to pro-life activist Blaise Alleyne and proceeded to repeatedly punch her, attempted to grab her bag, and threw a metal dolly at her.
One elderly woman recently had her leg broken when she was assaulted outside Kentucky’s only abortion facility, in Louisville. Another elderly man, participating in the recent Lenten 40 Days for Life campaign, was thrown to the ground and viciously and repeatedly kicked. Then there’s the woman who was left bruised after being punched outside a clinic in Alabama. Or the young man who was repeatedly punched by a pro-abortion woman during a pro-life demonstration at the University of North Carolina.
As a life-long pro-lifer, Bissonnette has participated in pro-life demonstrations for years. She says she has repeatedly suffered physical and verbal assault. “Rocks have been thrown at me,” she writes. “I’ve been spat upon multiple times and pushed. Men have aggressively asked how I would like it if they raped me and forced me to have an abortion.”
Brian Sims’ Contemptible Attack
Thankfully the issue of aggression and violence against peaceful pro-life activists is receiving some (but still shockingly limited) media attention right now, thanks to the contemptible antics of Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Brian Sims. Earlier this month Sims posted a video of himself harassing a pro-life woman who was praying the rosary outside an abortion facility, calling her “shameful,” “disgusting,” “racist,” as well as “old white lady.”
Even worse, he also filmed himself approaching two young girls (aged 13 and 15), calling them “a bunch of pseudo-Christian protesters who’ve been out here shaming young girls for being here.” Sims then offers $100 to anybody who can identify the girls. This is called “doxing” – that is, publicly identifying ordinary citizens in order to subject them to systematic shame and harassment. It’s a terrible practice. Coming from an elected politician, aimed at young, minor girls, it’s downright evil.
Ironically, in posting the footage of his harassment of the girls, Sims accused the pro-life activists of “prey[ing] on young women.” People who protest Planned Parenthood” use white privilege, & shame,” he claimed. “They’re racist, classist, bigots who NEED & DESERVE our righteous opposition.”
Got that? According to Sims, young pro-life girls “need” to be harassed by grown men such as himself. Astonishingly, at the time of this writing, Sims has neither resigned, nor been dismissed from office, though he did record and release a video apology. If instead of a pro-abortion Democrat, it had been a pro-life Republican who berated and doxed young teen girls I think this story would have ended quite differently.
Both Discouraging and Hopeful
Obtaining reliable statistics on assaults against pro-life activists is difficult, and so I can’t say with certitude that there are more of these types of attacks than in the past. What is certain, however, is that reports of these attacks have been coming out with surprising frequency these past few months, and that many of them have been unusually brutal. I’m far from the only one to notice this.
What does this trend mean? On the one hand, it is clearly a discouraging sign of the spiritual sickness of our culture, the growth of a violent underbelly in our national discourse, a testament to the woundedness of so many men and women, and evidence in many cases that pro-abortion activists are held to a completely different standard than pro-lifers by the media, politicians, and the public.
Sims, for instance, clearly believed that pro-life activists were “fair game” for his vicious anger. Why else would he have proudly broadcast his harassment to the world? From his perspective, pro-life women had forfeited their rights to be treated with even a modicum of decency and respect.
This kind of dismissive attitude towards just about anyone who holds traditional moral values is becoming alarmingly common. Consider, for instance, the fact that, as far as I can find, no prominent liberal politicians, media figures or activists have publicly condemned Sim’s misbehavior. Truth be told, many so-called “progressives” now see almost no difference between ordinary social conservatives who believe such things as that marriage is between a man and a woman, and neo-Nazi skinheads.
On the other hand, one senses that the desperation that motivates these attacks stems in part from anger in the face of the fact that the pro-life movement is succeeding as never before. And this is cause for hope. One of the recent attacks, for instance, was in Alabama, which just last week passed the single-most restrictive abortion bill in the country, a bill that would ban almost all abortions in the state, and that was designed directly to challenge Roe v. Wade. This was only the latest of several strongly pro-life bills explicitly crafted as a test to overturn Roe v. Wade.
There are further reasons to think that the growing instances of assault on pro-lifers are a cause for hope. Consider, for example, the obvious fact that in order for pro-life activists to be assaulted in the first place, they need to be in a public space, proclaiming their pro-life beliefs, and trying to prevent abortions from taking place. As it turns out, on any day of the week, all across the country, in rain, shine, snow or hail, thousands of peaceful pro-life activists are gathering outside abortion clinics to pray. Others are holding signs on public streets, or demonstrating on college campuses. That so many are willing to sacrifice their time, and to take the risk of boldly defending human life, is a great sign of hope.
Another reason for hope is the response of the pro-life activists who are the victims of these assaults. Consider Donna Durning, the pro-life woman whose leg was broken after she was shoved to the ground. “I believe that the lady who caused this injury needs prayers,” Durning said after the attack, “and I’m forgiving her and I would hope that people would also pray for her.” Abby Johnson, who recently spoke at a public rally protesting Brian Sims’ harassment, had much the same message. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody that needs Jesus more than that man right there,” she said about Sims.
Indeed, it is very likely that many of those perpetrating these assaults are themselves deeply wounded by abortion. Perhaps they themselves had an abortion, or paid for an abortion; or perhaps some close loved one, perhaps even their own mothers, had abortions. Their anger and their violence against pro-lifers is evil, but I strongly suspect that in many cases they are the products of deep pain, pain that only love – above all the love of Christ – can heal. Clearly the pro-life message is Gospel-motivated. However, it is deeply encouraging to see how thoroughly the Gospel has penetrated into the pro-life movement, so that even those pro-lifers who have been violently assaulted by our ideological opponents can say, along with Christ, that most Christian of all prayers: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
I hope that you will join me today in praying both for the victims of these attacks, and for the perpetrators. Furthermore, I hope that these incidents, far from discouraging our efforts, will cause us to redouble them. Though more common than I should like, such violent attacks are still relatively rare in comparison to the number of pro-lifers participating in peaceful prayer vigils and the like. Certainly, these attacks should not frighten us away. We need more and more pro-lifers to listen to the call of Christ, and to physically place themselves where the killing of innocents is taking place, so that they can serve as a voice for the violence against pro-lifers///. Thanks to the many silent prayer warriors who participate in 40 Days for Life vigils, or other peaceful protests, untold numbers of babies have been saved, and mothers and fathers spared life-long regret. Will you respond to Christ’s call, and join their life-saving efforts?
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing email@example.com.