Report: July Anti-Choice Gathering Included Those ‘Sympathetic to the Violent Fringes’

The report chronicles a movement sanctioning a radical element that considers the murder of abortion providers as "justifiable homicide."

Rusty Thomas, the Operation Save America leader, said activists feel "betrayed" by the national anti-choice movement's push to regulate abortion care, as the report notes. Ty Wright/Getty Images

A quarter-century after 10,000 anti-choice protesters descended on Wichita, Kansas, for a so-called Summer of Mercy, the activists returned to the city this July in sharply diminished numbers. There, they advanced a radical approach to ending abortion access, according to a new report.

The report—released this month from progressive advocacy group People For the American Way (PFAW) Foundation—includes detailed firsthand accounts of the weeklong event, which was organized by Operation Save America (OSA), an offshoot of the extremist anti-choice group Operation Rescue. The report chronicles a movement advocating for “increased virulence” to influence a larger base of conservatives. And it shows a movement sanctioning a radical element that considers the murder of abortion providers as “justifiable homicide.”

“What’s most alarming is that it’s a message and approach that is increasingly being embraced by people in positions of some power in the conservative movement,” Miranda Blue, research editor at PFAW Foundation and principal author of the report, said in a statement.

The report also reveals an extremist anti-choice movement intent on fomenting radical change in abortion policy. Among its tactics: advocating for local and state officials to openly defy the U.S. Supreme Court rulings and federal laws that allow abortion care to remain legal and constitutionally protected.

“Despite their small numbers, these activists argue that they have the power to curtail abortion rights for the entire country,” Blue said.

The Summer of Justice, as the July event was called, attracted around 200 people, by some estimates. Attendees included those with ties to national figures, such as Flip Benham, a former OSA leader who recently met with GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and has been embraced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, a former Colorado state representative who said Planned Parenthood officials have the “same demonic spirit” as the man accused of killing three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility last November.

These people, as the report notes, “mingled with figures who have been involved in or openly sympathetic to the violent fringes of the anti-abortion movement.” duVergne Gaines, who runs the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project, notes in the report that those fringe figures included Matt Trewhella, who is “most renowned for his position advocating for and sympathizing with the justifiable homicide of abortion providers.”

Embracing “a figure like Matt Trewhella … is extremely dangerous,” Gaines continued. “And now the people [anti-choice groups] are able to recruit and partner with are being exposed to those ideas in a much, much more overt and unabashed way.”

As described in the report, the radical anti-choice movement is increasingly frustrated by what its members view as incremental attempts to regulate abortion care with clinic shutdown laws and bans on specific abortion care procedures.

State legislatures have enacted at least 288 laws restricting abortion care since 2010, as the Guttmacher Institute reported in January, and have passed upwards of 1,074 abortion restrictions since the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Rusty Thomas, the OSA leader, said activists feel “betrayed” by the national anti-choice movement’s push to regulate abortion care, as the report notes.

“God does not want us to regulate baby murder, he wants us to end it,” he told those gathered at the event’s opening rally in July.

Trewhella echoed these remarks at the event, blasting GOP lawmakers who he believes don a “pro-life” mantle for political gain, but are failing to outlaw abortion care.

“The pro-life groups offer legislation that nibbles at the edge of abortion. Why? Because it gets them labeled as pro-life and it gets them elected, it gets them votes,” Trewhella said, as quoted in the report.

The report notes that the group Abolish Human Abortion, which came out in large numbers in Wichita, was a driving force this year behind failed Oklahoma legislation to classify abortion care as first-degree murder.

The Wichita event closed with Thomas calling to unleash a sweeping campaign of harassment against abortion “death camps.”

Abortion providers have already been subjected to unprecedented levels of violence, with at least 94 death threats, nine incidents of attempted murder, and three murders in the past year alone.

“The goal is to recruit 24 churches to cover the death camps every day they are open,” Thomas told his followers via email, as the report notes. “One pastor has committed to raise up good soldiers of Jesus Christ to greet the two abortionists at their homes every morning when they go to ‘work’ and when they come home. There is no tranquility with child sacrifice and the shedding of innocent blood.”