NPR Lets Abortion Lobby Smear Pro-Lifers As Potential Terrorists

On Thursday's Morning Edition, NPR's touted the Obama administration's "more aggressive legal approach" towards pro-life demonstrators with the stepped-up prosecution of alleged violations of the controversial FACE Act. Correspondent Carrie Johnson highlighted the prosecution of an elderly pro-lifer, and let an abortion lobbyist denigrate pro-lifers as possible terrorists.

Host Steve Inskeep introduced Johnson's report with slanted language about how "the fight over abortion rights continues in courtrooms and state houses all over this country. But a smaller-scale version of that conflict is on display almost every day between protesters and escorts at abortion clinics. And some of those tensions are on the rise, as the Obama administration takes a more aggressive legal approach against people who block access to clinics."

The correspondent then introduced Dick Retta, a pro-lifer who is a regular presence outside a Planned Parenthood office in Washington, DC, just blocks from the White House. Johnson noted that Retta had "a civil lawsuit...filed against him in July [by the Justice Department]. Authorities claim Retta violated a law called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE. The law is supposed to protect women and their doctors, by letting the government set up buffer zones against people who block patients from entering clinics. The clinic in D.C. says Retta blocked a patient this year, following her for 35 feet and standing in front of the door."

I should disclose that I personally know Mr. Retta. I met him several years ago as part of the regular 40 Days for Life campaign, and I sometimes see him at my church. While the NPR correspondent noted that he carries "rosary beads and a packet of brochures filled with information about pregnancy and fetuses" and that he "has seven children and 11 grandkids," they didn't reveal that he is 79-years-old. The Obama DOJ has seen fit to pursue a senior citizen for supposedly being "among the most vocal and aggressive anti-abortion protestors [sic] outside of the Clinic," as the civil complaint alleges. One might recall that the same Justice Department dismissed a case against he New Black Panther Party for their violent antics outside a Philadelphia voting precinct in 2008. As the National Review's Hans A. von Spakovsky put it recently, "Somehow the behavior and speech of a 79-year-old sidewalk counselor violates federal law against intimidation, but the speech and behavior of the New Black Panthers in Philadelphia in 2008 was just fine, according to the skewed perspective of the liberals who inhabit the Civil Rights Division these days."

After playing sound bites from a Planned Parenthood director and the leader of a pro-life group, Johnson cited how "the National Abortion Federation, which tracks violent incidents, says major violence is down since the murder, two years ago, of abortion doctor George Tiller....But Sharon Levin of the Abortion Federation says there are still some signs of trouble- two incidents this summer involving Molotov cocktails, and the arrest in Wisconsin of a man who told police he wanted to shoot abortion doctors. Levin attributes the relatively low level of violence to the Justice Department's more aggressive enforcement." She then played a clip from Levin, who smeared all pro-lifers as potential violent offenders:

SHARON LEVIN, NATIONAL ABORTION FEDERATION: One of the dangers we have seen is that the people who commit the major violent acts often started with minor violent acts, and they were never arrested. And so, their activities escalated.

What the NPR correspondent didn't mention is that the National Abortion Federation not only apparently "tracks violent incidents," but also serves as the "professional association of abortion providers in North America," as their own website states, and their members perform half of all the abortions on the continent. Though they helped the NAF hype apparent violence against abortion clinics, the media outlet completely ignored covering on-ar the 2009 murder of Jim Pouillon, who was targeted for holding a pro-life sign outside a school.

It should be pointed out that the National Abortion Federation made their feelings about the NPR report quite clear on their Facebook page: "Listen to a great segment on NPR's Morning Edition featuring NAF Vice President and General Counsel Sharon Levin about the U.S. Justice Department's enforcement of the FACE Act against abortion clinic protesters."

This isn't the first time this year that Johnson has carried the water for liberal interests. Back in March 2011, she highlighted critiques of the Obama White House from the left on their promise to be "the most transparent administration in history," but downplayed questions over the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Unit's use of non-disclosure agreements with companies under investigation.

The transcript of Carrie Johnson's report from Thursday's Morning Edition:

STEVE INSKEEP: The fight over abortion rights continues in courtrooms and state houses all over this country. But a smaller-scale version of that conflict is on display almost every day between protesters and escorts at abortion clinics. And some of those tensions are on the rise, as the Obama administration takes a more aggressive legal approach against people who block access to clinics.

NPR's Carrie Johnson has the story.

CARRIE JOHNSON: A few blocks from the White House, outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington, D.C., Dick Retta has reported for duty in a blue windbreaker, khaki pants belted high, and brown shoes with thick soles. He's carrying rosary beads and a packet of brochures filled with information about pregnancy and fetuses.

DICK RETTA: Please don't let them take your child's life. You don't have to. We can and will help you, please. Don't let them take your child's life. Let us help you. (audio of door shutting)

JOHNSON: That was the clinic's front door, shutting right in Retta's face. But he says he's not deterred by that, or by a civil lawsuit the Justice Department filed against him in July. Authorities claim Retta violated a law called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE. The law is supposed to protect women and their doctors, by letting the government set up buffer zones against people who block patients from entering clinics. The clinic in D.C. says Retta blocked a patient this year, following her for 35 feet and standing in front of the door. Retta disagrees.

RETTA: We don't block women from coming in. That's not our policy. I teach it. I teach what I'm doing. I teach that, and I say one thing: never block the women from going in- never.

JOHNSON: Retta, who has seven children and 11 grandkids, says he's moved by his Catholic faith to do what he calls sidewalk counseling. The Justice Department civil lawsuit against him is one of eight authorities have filed since the start of the Obama administration, a big increase over the George W. Bush years, when only one case was filed.

Ellen Gertzog is director of security for Planned Parenthood.

ELLEN GERTZOG, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: There's been a substantial difference between this administration and the one immediately prior. From where we sit, there's currently much greater willingness to carefully assess incidents as they occur, and to proceed with legal action when appropriate.

TROY NEWMAN, OPERATION RESCUE: This is a ridiculous overstepping of the federal government's bounds and- with the intent of restricting our freedom, our liberties, and our speech.

JOHNSON: That's Troy Newman. He leads Operation Rescue, a group that protests at abortion clinics across the country. He describes the Justice Department's approach to the FACE Act this way.

NEWMAN: It's really a political tool to shut them up, shut them down, and make them go away.

JOHNSON: The National Abortion Federation, which tracks violent incidents, says major violence is down since the murder, two years ago, of abortion doctor George Tiller. The man who killed Tiller has been convicted. A federal grand jury is investigating his alleged accomplices. But Sharon Levin of the Abortion Federation says there are still some signs of trouble- two incidents this summer involving Molotov cocktails, and the arrest in Wisconsin of a man who told police he wanted to shoot abortion doctors. Levin attributes the relatively low level of violence to the Justice Department's more aggressive enforcement.

SHARON LEVIN, NATIONAL ABORTION FEDERATION: One of the dangers we have seen is that the people who commit the major violent acts often started with minor violent acts, and they were never arrested. And so, their activities escalated.


JOHNSON: Back at the Planned Parenthood in Washington D.C., what's escalating is the tension between Dick Retta and volunteer escorts who help women enter the clinic.

RETTA: I get pushed.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: Well, you're putting yourself-

RETTA: And you're not allowed-

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 1: You're putting yourself next to the patients.

RETTA: She pushed me. You know that? (unidentified woman 1 laughs)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: You're not supposed to be pushing either.

JOHNSON: Troy Newman of Operation Rescue says he relies on a simple rule, to tell if he's crossing a line.

NEWMAN: My rights and your rights end at where our nose begins, okay?  So, in other words, I could swing my arms wildly on the street, but as soon as I hit you in the nose, that's a violation.

JOHNSON: As for Retta, he's still waiting for a judge to decide whether he violated the law. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center