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ABORTION NEWS | Los Angeles Times Examines Ongoing Feud Between Operation Rescue Leader, Founder

ABORTION NEWS | Los Angeles Times Examines Ongoing Feud Between Operation Rescue Leader, Founder
[Aug. 26, 2009]

The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday examined the relationship between Randall Terry, the founder of the radical antiabortion-rights group Operation Rescue, and Troy Newman, the group's current president. Although the two once had a close relationship, an ongoing feud over the ownership of the Operation Rescue name has "locked" them in an "increasingly nasty battle," the Times reports. According to the Times, Terry founded the group in 1986 and "rose to fame leading clinic blockades." However, he "faded from the forefront" of the antiabortion movement after a 1998 legal settlement with the National Organization for Women, in which he agreed to a permanent injunction barring him from protesting at abortion clinics. Several of Terry's followers, including Newman, criticized the agreement. Newman, who started as a spokesperson for the group, became president in 1999.

In 2002, Newman relocated the group's headquarters to Wichita, Kan., to focus on activities intended to shut down murdered abortion provider George Tiller's practice though "relentless harassment," the Times reports. Tiller was shot at his church in May, allegedly by a man who claims to have donated money to Operation Rescue. Newman has condemned the murder while attacking Terry's response to the event. Following Tiller's death, Terry called Tiller a "mass murderer" who was "every bit as vile as the Nazi war criminals."

According to the Times, the most recent dispute between the two men involves a trademark petition filed by Newman in 2006 for the rights to the group's name. Terry subsequently filed a petition with the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in 2007 to cancel Newman's registration of the Operation Rescue name. Terry claimed that he is the rightful owner of the name because he received a business certificate for it in 1988 in Binghamton, N.Y. He also alleged that Newman obtained the trademark fraudulently and that Newman uses the name to attract donations that are meant for Terry. In a letter sent to his supporters, Newman charged Terry with attempting "a hostile takeover." John Welch, a trademark attorney not involved with the situation, said that such disputes usually result in some kind of agreement because the legal process can take several years. However, he added that he "doubt[s] this one will be settled. This one looks like a personal vendetta."

Although Operation Rescue has an "unquestionable ability to raise money," other groups in the antiabortion-rights movement "question its political relevance today," the Times reports. For example, a recent conference call with leaders of the movement took place to discuss President Obama's health care reform plan and their fears that a health reform bill will not prohibit federal funding for abortion services. More than 35,000 listeners were invited to participate in the call, but Operation Rescue was not on the participant list, the Times reports.

Marvin Olasky, editor of the conservative Christian magazine World, said that Operation Rescue is "largely a blast from the past, and fairly marginalized in the pro-life movement now," compared with the group's efforts two decades ago. At that time, the group's activities "were probably creating more support for abortion overall, and as the pro-life movement recognized that, the emphasis became one of offering compassionate help to women in crisis. The group as a whole, and particularly Randy Terry, never made that leap."

The Times reports that some advocates in the antiabortion movement have tried unsuccessfully to reconcile Terry and Newman. Missy Smith, an advocate in Washington who has tried to bring the two together, said that it "would take some real humility" because "[t]hese are two strong-willed men, both of them very talented" (Abcarian, Los Angeles Times, 8/26).