An anti-abortion activist in Iowa is currently under fire for his recent comments that “it will be a blessing to the babies” if someone shoots the employees who recently re-opened Dr. George Tiller’s former abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas. Now, he’s being forced to clarify that he didn’t intend to encourage anyone to commit murder, and a major anti-abortion group in his state is publicly distancing itself from him.
Dave Leach, who has previously been questioned by the FBI after suggesting that other murders of abortion providers have been justified, posted his comments on YouTube earlier this month. The YouTube post consists of a recorded phone conversation between Leach and a second man who Leach identifies as Scott Roeder — who shot and killed Dr. Tiller in 2009 and is currently serving a life sentence in prison.
In the recording, Leach discusses the fact that Tiller’s former clinic has now been re-opened to the public, and speculates about what would happen if the clinic’s new owners were killed in the same way that Tiller was. “If someone would shoot the new abortionists, like Scott shot George Tiller…hardly anyone will appreciate it but the babies,” he says. “It will be a blessing to the babies. Everyone else will panic. Of all places to open up a killing office, to reopen the one office in the United States more notorious for decades than any other is an act of defiance against God and the last remaining reverence for human life.”
The man who Leach identifies as Roeder laughs in response. He says that Julie Burkhart, the women’s health advocate who spearheaded the effort to turn Tiller’s old property into the South Wind Women’s Clinic, has made herself into a shooting target. “To walk in there and reopen a clinic, a murder mill where a man was stopped, it’s almost like putting a target on your back — saying, ‘Well, let’s see if you can shoot me,’ “ he says in the recording. The man went on to quote another right-wing activist who once predicted that the abortion industry would end if 100 abortionists were shot. He says, since eight have been killed over the past several years, “we’ve got 92 to go” and Burkhart might be number nine.
In an interview with the Des Moines Register, Leach attempted to clarify that he does not actually wish any harm on abortion providers. “I’m 67 years old. I don’t know anything about guns,” he said, claiming that his statements do not represent a call to action against doctors and he actually favors banning abortion through the courts.
When the newspaper asked Leach if he would be sad if someone were to actually murder the employees at the South Wind Women’s Center, he said, “It would be tragic to have someone have to die over that, but it’s also tragic that they would open a clinic and kill more babies.”
Jenifer Bowen, the executive director of Iowa Right to Life, condemned Leach’s recorded statements and said he does not have any affiliation with her group, the largest anti-abortion organization in the state. “Comments like this don’t feel any different from a jihadist calling for the death of another person he doesn’t agree with,” she told the Des Moines Register, pointing out that violent statements about abortion providers simply turn people away from the anti-choice cause as a whole.
Over the past two decades, violent anti-abortion harassment has been on the rise. The states with particularly restrictive abortion laws tend to have the greatest amount of harassment leveled against abortion clinics and providers, which makes doctors less likely to be willing to practice there. Burkhart had a lot of trouble finding doctors to work at her new clinic in Wichita, partly because of the legacy of Tiller’s murder, and had to compromise by employing an out-of-state doctor who agreed to regularly make the trip to Kansas. As she has worked to open the South Wind Women’s Center, tightened security has been one of her top concerns.