Robert Sanderson didn’t deserve to die. He was a cop by day. On his own time, he protected Americans’ right to privacy. Sanderson died yesterday morning when a bomb shattered the women’s health clinic where he moonlighted as a guard. It bears repeating that this man, who dedicated his life to protecting others’ freedoms, did not deserve to die. Neither does the 41-year-old clinic nurse whose name was not released but whose condition was critical at press time. The blast caught her just steps away from arriving at work in the morning. After the bomb went off, she lay bleeding, her red dress badly charred by the explosion.
The bomb went off in Birmingham, and the nurse was lucky. A passerby and a bicycle cop were on the scene almost instantly; they kept her alive until an ambulance arrived. If her luck holds, the nurse will pull through. According to the clinic’s owners, an off-duty cop guards the clinic through the night. The first employee arrives at 7:30 a.m. to unlock the health center for the day. That’s exactly the time the bomb went off, killing Sanderson instantly and just missing the nurse.
Windows around the block were shattered by the blast. Some of the buildings in the South Birmingham neighborhood included a Ronald McDonald House, a hospital and a public library. Two blocks away, University of Alabama-Birmingham dormitories had to be emptied in case of another bomb.
Such were the grisly details of yesterday’s Birmingham bombing. Sanderson was the first death from the bombing of an abortion clinic in this country; the five previous victims of anti-abortion violence were shot. The timing of the attack indicates that, unlike most previous clinic bombs, fatalities were intended. Or rather, this time the terrorists wanted to kill. “I cannot think of any more cowardly and reprehensible act,” Alabama Gov. Fob James said. This bombing is in fact the height of cowardice and reprehensibility. When the terrorists set off the blast yesterday morning, they meant to kill, and kill indiscriminately. Anti-abortion terrorists — a tiny minority of abortion opponents — have given up on convincing their fellow citizens to ban the procedure.
The terrorist fringe instead hopes to make all law-abiding citizens afraid to go near abortion clinics. They hope that their bombs can shape our fear, and that our fear will override our reasoned decisions. Yesterday’s bomb left a good man and police officer dead, a dedicated nurse shattered, and just missed a lone abortion opponent who demonstrated peacefully on the street. Not even reasonable abortion opponents are safe from the terrorists, a result the bombers welcome. For the terrorists to win, abortion opponents must join abortion advocates in abandoning reason and politics on this divisive issue.
Anti-abortion terrorists must be found and punished. But even in prison, a few cowardly terrorists can still have their way if only good people give in to their fears. The task of showing the bombers for the reprehensible cowards they are falls to every reasonable person. All Americans, whether they support or oppose legal abortions, must remain committed to success through persuasion and politics. We must not give in to our fears of bombs or of each other.