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Stalker case illuminates issue of naming abortion providers

After plastering one abortion provider’s face and name on “Wanted”-style posters all over Charlotte, N.C., anti-abortion rights activist Philip “Flip” Benham is not even allowed to repeat the doctor’s name thanks to a lawsuit brought on by the physician targeted on the posters, which reportedly read: “Wanted … By Christ, to Stop Killing Babies.” Benham, who directs the Concord, N.C.-based Operation Save America, was found guilty of misdemeanor stalking last week and sentenced to 18 months probation, according to The Charlotte Observer. News outlets have not reported the name of the abortion provider in question.

The Charlotte Observer reported that the Benham case is “likely to send a message nationally,” encouraging district attorneys to prosecute activists that single out abortion providers. Yet the anti-abortion rights tactic of publicizing abortion providers’ names and clinics has not wavered since Dr. George Tiller was murdered by an activist in 2009. And one of the anti-abortion rights groups leading this charge used to have Benham as its national director: Operation Rescue.

Though Benham refers to his current organization as Operation Save America/Operation Rescue, current Operation Rescue President Troy Newman told The American Independent that the two organizations severed ties about 10 years ago.

“He does not work for us,” Newman said, referring to Benham. “He’s certifiably crazy. He’s a loon.”

Benham, who could not be reached for comment, became the national director of Operation Rescue in 1994, according to his résumé. In 1997, he changed the name of the group to Operation Save America, but due to disagreements in leadership within the different Operation Rescue branches, eventually the organizations split.

Newman described Benham’s recent actions against the Charlotte abortion provider as “crazy” and said Operation Rescue does not condone violence against abortion providers or abortion-rights protesters. He told TAI that Operation Rescue members are required to take a pledge of nonviolence.

When asked if Operation Rescue takes into consideration the potential for violence against abortion providers when names are released, Newman said that the organization does. Names are frequently released on Operation Rescue’s website.

They are also frequently released on a Web project called Operation Conversion, which began appearing on anti-abortion rights advocate Abby Johnson‘s blog in August 2010. Every week since then Johnson has released the name of a new abortion provider for her readers and supporters to target — with prayer, she says. Along with each name, Johnson specifies what city they practice in and often specific details about their practices. Johnson says she came up with the idea and that her husband dreamed up the name. Newman told TAI that Operation Rescue supplies Johnson with names of abortion doctors to target.

In a blog post dated Aug. 2, 2010, Johnson described the impetus for Operation Conversion:

We will commit to pray for this one abortionist EVERY DAY for 7 days. This is not a call to contact the abortionist or their facility. This is simply a call to prayer. We CAN pray these men and women out of the abortion industry. Christ CAN get them out of there!!!!! We have to believe that!!!

While many anti-abortion rights groups say they advocate for peaceful protesting against abortion providers, not all activists embrace peace. In late May, a Marshfield, Wis., man was charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide for threatening to shoot abortion providers in Madison and Milwaukee.

Newman said he is tired of abortion rights groups blaming Operation Rescue for violence against abortion providers.

“I want to talk about the violence in the womb,” he said.

Abortion-rights activists are also guilty of violence, he said, noting that his office has been vandalized and that his staff has received threats. He also mentioned his friend and colleague Jim Pouillon, an anti-abortion rights activist who was murdered in front of an Owosso, Mich., high school on Sept. 11, 2009. (Harlan James Drake was first deemedunfit to stand trial for the murder of Pouillon and another man — unrelated to the anti-abortion rights movement — the same day. He later testified that he was the killer and isnow serving life in prison. )

Later this month, Operation Rescue, among other anti-abortion rights groups, is sponsoring a nine-day prayer event called Summer of Mercy 2.0, which specifically targets Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a former colleague of Tiller’s, who has gained a lot of media attention this year for his desire to open a late-term abortion clinic in Iowa. Summer of Mercy 2.0 is the sequel to the 1991 Summer of Mercy, during which Tiller was the focus of the protest. He was shot two years later at the same location — his clinic — where the protest took place.

“We act like Christians; we abide by laws,” Newman said in response to whether or not measures would be taken to prevent a similar occurrence during this Summer of Mercy. He also noted that Carhart rips arms and legs off of little babies.

Dr. Carhart has been on Abby Johnson’s list more than once.

For the week beginning Sept. 18, 2010, Johnson wrote:

Please pray for Dr. LeRoy Carhart. Dr. Carhart is one of the most experienced second and third trimester abortion providers. He performs abortions up to 32 weeks gestation. He currently works in the state of Nebraska.

Summer of Mercy 2.0 will be counter-protested by Summer Celebration of Choice, led by abortion-rights groups and sponsored by Carhart’s Abortion Access Fund, Inc.

Johnson is currently overseas touring with Right to Life Australia; thus Operation Conversion has been suspended until mid-July.

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