Planned Parenthood Foes’ Extremism Hurts Cause

Joe Scheidler’s opposition to abortion is so virulent that he’s a half-step removed from convicted clinic bomber Eric Rudolph.

So Scheidler’s scheduled appearance Saturday at a protest against Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains’ new regional headquarters is a mixed blessing for opponents of that facility.The opponents, led by group called Colorado Families Against Planned Parenthood, are themselves pretty far over the edge. They refer to the facility that will be built on a city block at 7155 East Pontiac St. in northeast Denver as “America’s new Auschwitz.”

The desire of these folks to dictate women’s reproductive rights knows few boundaries.

Scheidler promotes the display of pictures of bloodied, aborted fetuses on public streets. He pushes what he calls “sidewalk counseling,” where anti-abortion zealots harass people as they try to enter family planning clinics.

This grotesque invasion of privacy not only suits Scheidler, it is the centerpiece of his movement.

“We believe sidewalk counseling is the most important pro-life work God has given us to do,” Scheidler says on the website for his Pro-Life Action League.

Scheidler remains in a protracted legal battle with the National Organization for Women over his aggressive tactics. Although the case is still open, at this point the ruling is that Scheidler has a First Amendment right to be a pain in the butt.

But in one sense, that is not the question he faces in Denver. The question is whether his methods attract supporters or drive them away.

“We confront the abortionists and abortion promoters wherever they are,” Scheidler proudly proclaims on his website. “We picket and demonstrate outside abortion facilities, pro-abortion events, the offices of abortion organizations like NOW and Planned Parenthood and even abortionists’ houses. We infiltrate their meetings and groups.”

Whether the “we” to whom he refers will ever include more than a relative handful of people is doubtful.

Planned Parenthood has all the permits it needs to build a new headquarters on Pontiac Street. The project has the support of City Council President Michael Hancock, who represents the area. The neighbors are more upset with potential protesters following Scheidler’s lead than they are with women’s reproductive rights.

Statistics show that only a small minority of clients use Planned Parenthood for abortion services. Most use it to get information on family planning and birth control. The number of people in Colorado or the U.S. who consider Planned Parenthood “America’s new Auschwitz” is infinitesimal.

What’s left to extremists looks like a doomed war of attrition. You see that in the attempt by abortion opponents to grant fertilized eggs the same legal status as people. The same folks who liken a Planned Parenthood clinic to Auschwitz and who consider Joe Scheidler a role model are gathering signatures to place an egg-as-person constitutional amendment on Colorado’s 2008 ballot.

The push back against an amendment that effectively makes intrauterine devices and other common forms of birth control illegal comes almost as hard from the right wing as it does from the left.

Boycotts of businesses that will build the new Planned Parenthood headquarters may eventually prove temporarily disruptive, but that hasn’t happened yet.

“We’ve been very upfront with our general contractor,” said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Jody Berger. “And they’ve been very upfront with subcontractors.”

Contractors aren’t bailing because boycotts organized by fringe groups always struggle to attract mainstream momentum.

Former Colorado Senate President John Andrews opposes abortion in almost all circumstances. Andrews would like to see the Supreme Court decision that gave women abortion rights overturned. Andrews is no friend of Planned Parenthood. But even Andrews understands that a by-any-means-necessary strategy can actually hurt.

“There are certain kinds of rhetoric and some styles of protest aimed at saving unborn children which fail because they’re so shocking the undecided audience recoils,” Andrews said. “Some of the most selfless and saintly people I know display those 10-foot photo boards of aborted babies bathed in blood. But I just don’t think that advances the cause.”

“You get to a point,” Andrews explained, “that is counterproductive.”

Guys like Joe Scheidler passed that point a long time ago. And Colorado Families Against Planned Parenthood is getting awfully close.

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Jim Spencer

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