Yesterday Operation Rescue, the national anti-abortion group based in Wichita, announced that it wants to buy murdered abortion doctor George Tiller’s clinic and convert it into a “memorial to the unborn.” The national media dismissed the announcement as a stunt, but it most certainly isn’t.
In 2007 I reported a piece for this magazine about how anti-abortion groups have created similar memorials around the country. The story focused on Operation Rescue’s efforts to convert a different abortion clinic in Wichita into what is now its national headquarters. When I visited, Operation Rescue director Troy Newman explained that he’d purchased the building through a front group. That approach makes yesterday’s announcement a credible threat. If Tiller’s family puts the building on the market, they might have to sell to someone they know or closely investigate the buyer to keep the building out of Newman’s hands.
“What better way to show that we are winning and demoralize the enemy,” Newman told me in 2007, “than by shutting down an abortion mill, throwing out the tenants on their face, and taking it over as our headquarters? You lose, we win.”
Beyond the chest thumping, these kind of takeovers–which have also happened in Tennessee and Louisiana–are part of a long-term strategy of the anti-abortion movement. The approach ultimately enables a softer appeal to the millions of women who’ve already had an abortion. At the Wichita memorial, Newman told me in 2007, they’d be able to reflect, mourn, memorialize—even name their “babies”—and take action: “Not only can I see a plaque here with my baby’s name on it, and cry here because I killed my baby here,” he imagined visitors saying, “but these people in this building are dedicated to ending the holocaust, and I can join with them hand in hand.”
Some pro-choice advocates admit their movement has been slow to tackle the question of healing. Only in the past several years have hot lines such as Exhale and Backline begun providing women with postabortion counseling services. Owning Tiller’s clinic–and thus the right to tell its story–would be a powerful way for Operation Rescue to redefine what healing means in this case. If his past clinic takeover is any indication, it will probably involve grisly “tours” in which he will point out supposed blood stains.