When Dr. Barnett Slepian was gunned down by an apparent anti-abortion extremist, the murderer was hailed as a hero by Donald Spitz, a founder of Pro-life Virginia. Thankfully, Spitz's reaction does not represent the mainstream pro-life movement. More people listened to Bob and Paul Schenck of the National Clergy Council, some of the organizers of the "Spring of Life" abortion protest in 1992 in Buffalo, who admonished "all people of conscience to defend life peacefully," and they called Slepian's murder "wrong, sinful and cowardly."
Media savants in high places (the New York Times, the CBS Evening News) were quick to blame the pro-life movement for fostering crazies who act out their opposition to abortion violently. But such scapegoating lacked credibility: most Americans recognize that pro-life forces have moderated their rhetoric and tactics. We no longer simply protest abortion; we also serve women with problem pregnancies and provide care and services to the babies who enter the world through them.
The situation was different in response to the killing of Matthew Shepard. The brutal murder of this gay university student was immediately politicized, despite his father's plea not to "use Matt as part of an agenda." On the one side, representatives of Fred Phelps's church in Topeka, Kansas, picketed Shepard's funeral brandishing signs that read, "No Fags in Heaven" and "No Tears for Queers."
On the other side, spokespersons for gay liberation were quick to accuse the so-called Religious Right of creating the hostile environment in which hate crimes against gays flourish. Their surreal thesis indicted anyone who publicly condemns homosexuality as playing a part in Matthew Shepherd's death. Gay activists cited as Exhibit A ...1
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