Operation What’s-Its-Name

Today, Operation Rescue is among a handful of far-Right groups attacking James Dobson for saying a recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the so-called “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban” would “protect children”:

In a full-page ad in The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, the group said Dobson wrongly characterized the court’s April ruling as a victory for abortion foes. The ad said the ruling will actually encourage medical professionals to find “less shocking” methods than late-term abortions, which abortion opponents often call “partial-birth abortion.”

“Dr. Dobson, you mislead Christians claiming this ruling will ‘protect children.’ The court granted no authority to save the life of even a single child,” the ad said. It concludes by asking Dobson to “please repent.” A spokesman for Dobson did not immediately return a call. …

The letter is signed by Brian Rohrbough, president of Colorado Right to Life; the Rev. Tom Euteneuer, president of Human Life International; Flip Benham, director of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America; Judie Brown, president of American Life League; and Bob Enyart, pastor of Denver Bible Church.

Also today, Operation Rescue is joining the Christian Defense Coalition for a press conference in Wichita “to demand to know how the federal government plans to enforce the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act now that it has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.” In fact, Operation Rescue released a statement that it is “proud to stand with Dr. Dobson” on the Supreme Court case.

Today’s confusion arises from an internecine squabble rivaling the spat between Chris Simcox’s Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project.

Operation Rescue, a militant anti-abortion group founded by Randall Terry in 1988, was at the center of a legal battle over organized clinic blockades. In an effort to evade various restraining orders, debt, and monetary judgments, Terry shut down the Binghamton, New York-based Operation Rescue and reformed it as Operation Rescue National out of a much smaller office in South Carolina. Benham became national director of this group around 1994, by which time the group was struggling to keep its head above water as the clinic-access laws and headlines of murdered doctors kept participation low.

Benham started using the appellation “Operation Rescue/Operation Save America” (with “Operation Save America” letterhead) around 2000. According to Pennsylvania anti-abortion activist Steve Wetzel of Missionaries to the Unborn, “In a personal telephone conversation, Flip explained that the name change was necessary due to the large number of lawsuits filed against the Operation Rescue name – and a name change was the only way out of those lawsuits.”

As for the other Operation Rescue, also known as Operation Rescue West, that’s Troy Newman. Although Newman’s version of Operation Rescue frequently collaborates with Patrick Mahoney and Christian Defense Coalition, which Mahoney and Randall Terry founded together, Benham fervently disputes the legacy. From an Operation Save America release in January, in which the group distanced itself from Newman’s protest in Kansas:

Troy Newman is not now, nor has he ever been, the Director of Operation Rescue. He simply stole the name. …

Some of you might believe you are coming to an Operation Rescue sponsored event in Wichita this January. You are not! Flip Benham, Keith Tucci, and Operation Rescue leaders from across the nation will have no part in this event. This is not the organization that was leading the Summer of Mercy in 1991, or 2001. This is a group of about five or six people using our name to promote their event. It is not and never has been the Christian ministry you know as Operation Rescue.

Benham further declared, “Troy owning the name Operation Rescue is no more legal than abortion is.” Newman responded, “I feel that I don’t ‘own’ the name; I am preserving a legacy that was purchased by tens of thousands of Christians and their sacrifice. Operation Rescue is a movement that can not be owned or controlled.”

It’s also a movement that can hardly be kept track of.