In late September we broke the news that Todd Akin was arrested for blocking access to a women’s health clinic. We posted a video of Akin speaking in O’Fallon, MO in March 2011. Akin, apparently not aware that he was being recorded, told the crowd that he had been arrested with other protesters outside the clinic. “Don’t tell anybody I’m a jail bird,” he joked. He also said he reunited the evening before with “a group of people who had been in jail with me” who were all “involved in the pro-life movement.”
Akin spoke freely of his arrest that evening and used it to illustrate his point that Christians should follow God’s law – not man’s law – when the two are at odds. That viewpoint raises a number of questions when it’s coming from a candidate for Senate. Yet Akin, who spoke freely last year, has refused to provide any details about what happened and with whom. So we had to go find them ourselves.
At a news conference last week in Kansas City, Akin said he had been arrested as an anti-abortion protester about 25 years ago, and an aide said the campaign would provide more details later. Akin campaign adviser Rick Tyler said Wednesday that no charges ever were filed but that Akin’s campaign would not provide any further details about the incident.
We wondered why
Akin’s campaign calculated that they’d be better off breaking their promise to the media than revealing what happened. Could it be that there’s “something damaging in the details of the arrest or the protest he had joined,” we asked
. The answer, we now know, is yes.
We learned from a public records request that Akin was arrested on May 9, 1987 in St. Louis. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch covered the protest and reported the following day that police “arrested 30 anti-abortion protesters” for blocking “the front doors of Reproductive Health Services” while about “50 anti-abortion activists picketed two clinics” in St. Louis County. The Post-Dispatch quoted the spokesman for the protesters, John Ryan, who said the actions “were in honor of Mother’s Day.”
At the time, Ryan was head of the Pro-Life Direct Action League. He and his organization were among those sued
by the National Organization for Women in 1986, which sought to “stop what it called a nationwide conspiracy to close abortion clinics.” “We believe there is a reign of terror going on,” said Eleanor Smeal, then president of NOW. She labeled Ryan – who had been “arrested almost 350 times
” by then – a “terrorist.”
This is who Akin chose to get involved with in 1987 – and it gets worse. Ryan was pushed out
as head of the Pro-Life Direct Action League around September 1987 and replaced by an aggressive, fundamentalist leader, Tim Dreste. Dreste affiliated the group with Randall Terry’s radical Operation Rescue the following summer. This is the same Randall Terry who later said of abortion providers, “When I, or people like me are running the country, you’d better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we’ll execute you.”
Dreste shared a jail cell
with Terry in September 1988 and returned to St. Louis under orders to break with the Catholic-dominated Pro-Life Direct Action League. Just one month later, Akin appeared at an event for Dreste’s new group, Whole Life Ministries.
The Post-Dispatch reported on October 29, 1988 that Akin, who was elected days later to public office, “spoke to about 35 anti-abortion activists” planning to block clinic doors the next day. He said, “As far as I am concerned, you are the freedom fighters of America.” “My hat is off to you,” he continued.
The article identified Dreste as director of Whole Life Ministries, “a new anti-abortion group in St. Louis.” “We’re going to tell her we’re not going to allow her to kill her baby,” he said. Dreste made clear that protesters would block the clinic doors and refuse police orders to move. “We will tell (police) we will obey God’s law before we obey man’s law.” Sound familiar?
The Post-Dispatch reported the following day that 30 protesters were arrested, including several who “ignored police warnings against interfering with people trying to enter” the clinic. Others were “arrested for jumping on cars attempting to enter the building parking lot.” That’s not exactly a sit-in or what most would call a peaceful protest.
Akin was elected the following month to the state house and had an opportunity to make a clean break with extremism. He never took it. More to come….