I follow the discussion on the Abortion.com Facebook page very closely and I appreciate the moderator posting some of my pieces. From what I can see, a number of people are interested in some of the more unique stories about the days when I was at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. I’m not sure if this will be to your liking, but…..
At about 2:00 p.m. on March 10, 1993 I learned that Doctor David Gunn had been murdered as he approached his clinic in Pensacola, Florida. For months, those of us in the abortion provider world knew something was going to happen. Anti-abortion terrorism was spreading everywhere, folks were on edge. I have to say that when I got the call, I was not in total shock.
The murder was front page news for several days. A short time later, I got a call from a producer from “The Donohue Show.” For you youngsters out there (or you oldsters who can’t remember where your bathroom is anymore), Phil Donohue was basically the first “Oprah.” The producer said they wanted me to join Susan Hill, Doctor Tom Tucker, David Gunn, Jr. and a Mr. Paul Hill on the show a few days later. I readily accepted the invitation. Unfortunately, Doctor Tucker got stuck in a snow storm but Doctor Takey Crist, an abortion provider from North Carolina, chartered a private jet at the last minute to fill in for Tucker. Susan Hill owned 8 clinics at the time and employed Doctor Gunn. David Gunn, Jr., the son of the murdered doctor, had already become a celebrity of sorts by that time. None of us knew who Paul Hill was.
When we got to the television station, we were escorted to the “Green Room” which is where we all met Paul Hill. By that time, we had learned that he would represent the anti-abortion side on the show. I shook his hand, he was very cordial. When we went up to the stage, I was seated next to him. Then, once the show started, Paul quickly told the world that it was “justifiable homicide” to kill an abortion doctor. The crowd, a liberal New York crowd, collectively gasped. They had never heard such a thing (neither had I). I thought the audience was going to lynch him. His remarks were especially outrageous in that the son of the murdered doctor was sitting three chairs from him on the stage.
I answered a few easy questions, although later on my friends said I had the “deer in the headlight” look about me. At one point, I was talking about how some police were letting protestors block the clinics and I said that “we HAD a sheriff in Corpus Christi, Texas, who testified that he would never arrest the protestors because he was pro-life.” Unfortunately, millions and millions of people across the country thought I said we “HAVE” a sheriff down there. The next day I got a call from the sheriff of Corpus Christi who, screaming in my ear, told me that his office was being barraged with phone calls from angry pro-choicers. I felt terrible when he told me he was actually pro-choice – but the damage had already been done.
During one commercial, Phil Donohue himself came over to me and said “Okay, someone is going to call in and ask you about that abortion pill. What is it called, RU-483 or something?” I told him it was RU-486. Minutes later, “Marianne from Brooklyn” called to ask about the abortion pill. I found out later that “Marianne” was actually one of the co-producers of the show calling from backstage.
Then there was Doctor Crist. He was a large, dashing bearded doctor of Greek descent who on that day was not going to take any crap from Paul Hill. He massacred him verbally, got more applause from the audience than anyone. After the show, over the course of the next few weeks, his clinic received hundreds of calls from women who wanted to meet Doctor Crist personally. He told me later that he received at least 50 proposals of marriage in the mail after his appearance. Ah, the power of television.
During the commercials, I talked to Paul Hill and over the next year I saw him at a number of anti-abortion protests. He became the national spokesman for the “justifiable homicide” doctrine. Then, about 15 months later I got another call that Doctor Baird Britton and his bodyguard had been assassinated in Pensacola. They were both shot by Paul Hill.