Few weeks ago, I pledged to remind people of the anti-abortion violence that has occurred over the years by giving personal insights into the crime and the people involved. I talked about Doctor David Gunn, the first victim who was killed on March 10, 1993.
Just a few months later, on August 19, an anti-abortion activist named Shelley Shannon leaped onto the car of Doctor George Tiller as he was leaving his clinic and started firing her semiautomatic pistol. She hit both of his arms but Tiller still was “so pissed off,” as he later told me, that he jumped out of the car and chased Shannon down the block until his damaged body caught up with him. Shannon was captured immediately and remains in jail today. The day after the incident, I called George and he jokingly said “I hope this incident gives the pro-choice movement a shot in the arm.”
After these two incidents, the office of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers was flooded with calls from doctors looking to protect themselves. I really thought that some of them figured the first murder was just an isolated incident. After George became a target, they knew it was serious. Indeed, we actually had meetings with security companies where we investigated the possibility of a group purchasing deal on bullet-proof vests.
One doctor who bought a vest was Doctor Bayard Britton. He travelled from clinic to clinic in the South and actually filled in for David Gunn until they found a replacement. I had heard of Doctor Britton but had never met or talked to him. At the same time, an anti-abortion protestor named Paul Hill was making a national name for himself because he publicly declared that it was “justifiable homicide” to kill an abortion doctor. These two were on a collision course.
In February, 1994, we were shocked to see an article in GQ entitled “The Abortionist” which painted a not very pretty portrait of Doctor Britton. It also talked about Paul Hill, who had been a constant figure outside The Ladies Center where Britton worked, just a short distance from the clinic where David Gunn had been killed. The article was horrifying in that it practically predicted what would happen just a few months later.
On the morning of July 29, I was in my dentist’s chair when a dental assistant came in and said I had an emergency call from the office. That morning, Hill was at his perch in front of the clinic as usual when Doctor Britton drove into the parking lot in a pick-up truck. He was accompanied in the passenger seat by his volunteer bodyguard, James Barrett and Barrett’s wife, June, was in the back jumper seat. Before they could get out of the car, Hill walked up wielding a 12 gauge shotgun and started shooting. Hill later admitted that he aimed for the doctor’s head because he knew he wore a vest. Doctor Britton and James Barrett died immediately in the hail of gunfire. Mrs. Barrett was injured but survived.
Hill, probably relieved that he had finally put his own words into action, calmly laid the shotgun down and started walking away but he was immediately apprehended. Years later, he was put to death by lethal injection in Florida.
- Anti-abortion minister to get new trial on charges he stalked doctor (wcnc.com)
- New Hampshire Sheriff Candidate Says He Would Use Deadly Force To Stop Abortions (thinkprogress.org)
- Why You Should Be Encouragd About the Pro-Life Cause (matthewtuininga.wordpress.com)