Colorado personhood law backer linked to militant anti-abortion groups

The Johnston clan protesting at a 2005 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists meeting. (Photo/Christian
The Johnston clan protesting at a 2005 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists meeting. (Photo/Christian
A strange netherworld of extremes exists in today’s anti-abortion movement. Nowhere is that more evident than its latest political salvo coming to a voting booth near you in November — Colorado’s proposed Amendment 48, the so-called Human Life Amendment, a controversial mandate that seeks to confer constitutional rights to fertilized human eggs.

In the universe of antiabortion activism, a complex and sometimes toxic stew of passive pray-ins and endless letter-writing campaigns uneasily coexists with much more aggressive and violent means of ending abortion through patient stalking, clinic bombings and murder.

One man stands in the nexus between the mainstream factions that espouse the politically correct "love the sinner/hate the sin" mantra and the more virulent behavior inspired by strained Biblical justifications for killing said sinner.

James Patrick Johnston, D.O., is, by all appearances, a polite country doctor in south-central Ohio, husband and father of six children under the age of 10 with a new baby on the way. A self-avowed "life, liberty, and jobs" guy, he lost his 2007 bid for a seat in the Ohio General Assembly, where he ran on a plank of cutting taxes, expanding homeschooling and "making Ohio the first state in the Union to defy Roe v. Wade with a statewide abortion ban.”

Less obvious are his links to some of the most radical elements of the antiabortion movement — the paramilitary groups Army of God, Christian Gallery and Minutemen United that have been at the forefront of advocating for and celebrating violent clashes between anti-abortion forces and clinics.

The path leading from Johnston’s activism in poor Appalachian Ohio to the hotbed of wealthy religious conservatism in Colorado exemplifies the fluid interchange between the more radical antiabortion movement and those seeking to shield their past associations in order to appear more mainstream.

Kristi Burton, founder of Colorado for Equal Rights, the official sponsor of proposed Amendment 48, confirmed that Johnston, working from Ohio 1,300 miles away, is leading the group’s national outreach effort to doctors, pharmacists and others who share their philosophy.

Johnston, who founded the 30-member Association of Pro-Life Physicians (APLP) largely made up of doctors in central Ohio, is gathering endorsements from medical professionals from across the nation for the Colorado measure, which were announced on the campaign’s Web site recently.

He launched APLP in 2004 to "re-stigmatize abortionists in our society" based on his interpretation of pre-Hippocratic physicians in ancient Greece whom he claims euthanized and sexually assaulted their patients.

keyendorsersThus far, Johnston has managed to convince 70 medical professionals and organizations — all with their own deep ties to antiabortion, anti-assisted suicide and oral contraception denial groups — to lend their names to the cause. However, only one Colorado physician is on the endorsement list: Edwin Anselmi, M.D., of Our Lady of Hope Medical Clinic in Centennial. Dr. Anselmi did not return calls seeking comment on this story.

For his part, in a recent interview, Johnston openly acknowledged what the campaign committee will not — that the goal of the proposed Colorado law is ultimately to ban abortion.

As a scientist I’m convinced that life begins at fertilization, or what is traditionally known as conception. I think it’s a travesty what’s taken place with the exploitation of unborn human beings through abortion. I wanted to see them protected in law. I think states need to take the initiative to pass laws to protect the unborn in their jurisdictions. This personhood amendment has the potential to be the first crack in the ban of the abortion holocaust. The first opportunity to protect the unborn in the United States. I’m excited about it. 

Despite his earnest assurances that "personhood" at conception is widely accepted as scientific fact, the subject remains at the core of intense debate among embryology experts. The Colorado Medical Society, Colorado Gynecological-Obstetrical Society and the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians representing 7,000 Colorado physicians aren’t so convinced. The three groups oppose the proposed law and have joined with the Protect Families Protect Choices – No on 48 campaign to block the effort.

Crystal Clinkenbeard, spokeswoman for the No on 48 group, wrote in a statement:

Doctors must have the freedom to use their professional judgment to provide the best possible treatment for their patients. ‘The moment of fertilization’ is not a medical definition of pregnancy, and there is not a readily available test to determine when fertilization has occurred within a woman’s body. Defining the term ‘person’ in the state constitution using non-medical language is a dangerous government intrusion into the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship.

Doing battle with the Army of God  
Johnston denies that he belongs to the Army of God, a notorious group established in the 1980s whose members have been involved in inciting and perpetrating clinic bombings, arson, Anthrax scares and kidnapping. The group circulates a how-to "manual that supplies detailed instructions for attacking abortion clinics, manufacturing bombs and cutting off the hands of abortion doctors," according to Source

Patrick Johnston, right, (and an unidentifed man) at a 2005 Columbus, Ohio-area abortion protest organized by Operation Rescue West and Minutemen United. (Photo/
Patrick Johnston, right, (and an unidentifed man) at a 2005 Columbus, Ohio-area abortion protest organized by Operation Rescue West and Minutemen United. (Photo/
In 2004, however, Johnston was featured in the Army of God’s "Heroes of the Faith" page, a rogues’ gallery celebrating the actions of Paul Hill (who was executed by the state of Florida in 2003 for killing Dr. John Britton and his clinic escort and wounding the escort’s wife); James Kopp (who is in prison for the sniper-style shooting and killing of Dr. Bernard Slepian); Dennis Salvi (who killed two Boston-area clinic receptionists); and those who advocate "defensive force" — a form of Biblical law justifying the murder of clinic staff in order to prevent them from performing abortions.

Johnston claims that he asked that his commentaries be removed from the Army of God Web site. Two of his tracts, a response to "Justifiable Homicide — A Covenantal View of Justice" and "What the Bible Says Should Be Done to Abortionists: How America Pollutes God" are still accessible in cached versions of the site.

Immediately following an interview with Colorado Independent, Johnston followed up in an email:

I only ask that you not mention the so-called “Army of God” in your article because it would be harmful to the Personhood cause and those felons get way too much attention from journalists who only mention them to discredit authentic pro-lifers who disagree with them on the issue of force.

Johnston also claimed that the Army of God has "since written articles condemning me in the most vehement of terms, particularly because of my condemnation of Paul Hill and my reluctance to condemn all hormonal contraceptives as abortifacient." Johnston, however, did not provide proof of any split save for a 2004 commentary written by Jonathan O’Toole at Christian, a site that formerly hosted the Nuremberg Files — a notorious "hit list" detailing clinic physicians and their addresses that was shut down by court order.

To be sure, the relationships in the radical antiabortion movement are convoluted and memberships appear to be quite fluid. Army of God, Christian Gallery and Minutemen co-mingle at the same anti-abortion protests, as Johnston confirmed as the circumstances for getting to know various members of these groups.

He argues that his medical degree and ministries make him a target for others who espouse violence in the movement seeking validation for their own beliefs. Yet, none of his writings on his own site or others expressly disavow or criticize attacking clinic staff or fomenting criminal behavior.

One tract that directly contradicts Johnston stands out.

Shortly after Paul Hill’s Sept. 3, 2003, execution by lethal injection at the Florida State Prison, fellow anti-abortion crusader, Ron McRae of the conservative Street Preachers’ Fellowship, wrote a meandering 34-page Bible verse-infused refutation of Hill and his supporters’ religious justifications for killing the doctor and clinic escort and wounding the escort’s wife.

The Army of God posted a point-by-point counter-argument by Johnston refuting McRae’s positions, which remains on the current Web site:

McRae: Paul Hill did God no service when he murdered Dr. Britton and his 74 year friend. The life of Christ is never manifest to the world by a Christian killing a lost sinner, regardless of how depraved.< Johnston: YOU WOULD NEVER SAY THIS TO CONDEMN ONE WHO USED LETHAL DEFENSIVE FORCE TO STOP AN ASSAILLANT [sic] FROM KILLING ALREADY-BORN PEOPLE.  WHY THIS DISCRIMINATION AGAINST THE PREBORN?

The undated Johnston reaction does not appear on any other anti-abortion movement Web site — only at the Army of God, which hints that it was likely written specifically for the site.

The Paul Hill commentary also does not appear in active or archived versions of Johnston’s own Web sites for APLP, Right or this site’s precursor, The Ministry of the Johnston Family, Ohio Abortion and Stop Columbus — which posts photographs of central Ohio clinic patients, staff and security escorts and their license plates much like the court-shuttered Nuremberg Files site.

Johnston’s views on meting out justice to those who are involved in abortion get a little stickier when he tries to toe the line of polite company. Again, he claims that he doesn’t support violence but his political views as a high-ranking member of the ultraconservative Ohio Constitution Party draw from a crazy-quilt ideology of vehemently opposing taxes while vociferously supporting a Biblical worldview.

But the Bible is also clear that until society does justice for those being exploited, discriminated against and slaughtered then God will not extend mercy to our country. So I’m not only a strong advocate of protecting the unborn, I’m also a strong advocate of the government treating the unborn justily [sic] through the administration of justice.

That "justice" means the death penalty, as Johnston has also advocated for in other writings promoting the view that gays and lesbians should be put on trial for capital crimes.

Tomorrow: Fanning the radical anti-abortion flames in Colorado.