I met Paul Hill about a week after Doctor David Gunn was killed in Pensacola, Florida. We were about to take the stage of The Donohue Show and we were munching vegetables in the “green room.” I introduced myself, not knowing who he was, but we didn’t have time to talk. Minutes later, he was telling a national television audience that it was “justifiable homicide” to kill a doctor who performed abortions. Three other pro-choice spokespeople were on the stage with us and I sat next to Paul.
When he started talking, I thought the audience was going to lynch him. No one had ever heard this kind of talk. More interestingly, it was coming from a pleasant looking man with a sheepish grin, not your typical rabble-rousing, screaming zealot. He seemed like an Iowa farm boy who had gotten lost in the Big Apple. During the commercial breaks, I chatted with him a bit as I was always interested in knowing how “the other side” thinks.
Over the next few months, I would see Paul at various pro-life demonstrations. As a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, I would go to the events to lend support to the clinics that we represented. If I saw Paul outside, I would simply walk through the hundreds of protestors and go up to him, shake his hand, ask how the kids were. If we had time, we would sit and chat about his views. He would ask me lots of questions about how abortions were performed and the women who sought them.
At one point, at a demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, I asked him if he thought it was okay to kill a doctor, then why hadn’t he done it himself? “You know, Pat, that’s a good question and a lot of people ask me the same thing,” he said. “But I feel I can do more as a leader of this movement than a doer.” He then told me how many of his colleagues in the pro-life movement had been harassing him about his theory, almost calling his bluff. Indeed, during the same rally, a leader of the anti-abortion group, Operation Rescue, asked me if I would give him any “intelligence” on Hill because they were concerned that he might kill a doctor. Talk about a bizarre situation.
In March, 1994, NCAP held an open air rally at the site of Doctor Gunn’s murder to commemorate the one year anniversary of that horrible event. About 100 abortion doctors and staff attended the ceremony. Paul Hill was the only protestor there. There were a few security guards circulating around, but they really didn’t offer much protection to us. Throughout the ceremony, Hill just walked around the edge of the group with a large sign, but he was very quiet.
Later that year, Paul Hill killed Doctor Britton in Pensacola. I never thought he could pull the trigger, but I was wrong. He was quickly convicted and sentenced to die.
A few months later, filled with some liquid courage, I called Paul at his jail. It was just a spur of the moment thing. The receptionist told me he couldn’t accept calls, so I left a message. The next morning, I was at my desk in the office when the phone rang and our receptionist buzzed me. “Pat, it’s Paul Hill.” I almost lost my lunch.
“Hello, Pat, how are you?”
“Well, I guess I’m better than you, Paul.” I hesitated, then decided to just jump in. “Paul, why the hell did you kill Doctor Britton? What did you think you would accomplish?”
“Well, Pat, I thought it was time to send a signal to others to take up the cause.” I felt like I was having an out of body experience, talking to a guy on death row.
“Okay, Paul, but here’s what I don’t understand. When we had our open air event in Pensacola and you were walking around, there were about 100 abortion providers there with no protection, we were all sitting ducks. Why didn’t you just wipe us all out at that point?”
“Well, Pat, don’t think I didn’t think about it but, honestly, I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to disrupt your event. You always were respectful of my opinions, so….”
I didn’t hear the rest of what he said. My mind just could not register his words. Then, I ultimately heard him invite me to his execution. My head started spinning again, but through my haze I told him that I didn’t support capital punishment so I had to decline his invitation. A few months later, Paul Hill left this world, leaving his wife and two children behind.