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Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

Ax-wielding priest chased from abortion clinic vandalism

October 1, 2000

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— A Catholic priest smashed his car into an abortion clinic Saturday morning, then chopped at the building with an ax until the owner fired two shotgun blasts to stop him, police said.

The clinic was not open and nobody was injured in the attack, which came just two days after federal approval of the abortion pill RU-486.

The man drove through a door at the Abortion Access Northern Illinois Women's Center around 8:15 a.m. He was swinging an ax when the clinic's owner fired a 12-gauge shotgun twice. Neither man was injured.

The Rev. John Earl, 32, was arrested and charged with burglary and felony criminal damage to property, said Deputy Police Chief Dominic Iasparro. Earl was released later Saturday on $10,000 bond.

Iasparro would not comment on statements Earl made to police about a possible motive.

The building owner, Gerald W. "Wayne" Webster, 56, has rented space to the clinic for 15 years. He sometimes sleeps in the building for security. No one else was inside Saturday morning.

Police said Webster's weapon was legal and no charges will be filed against him.

"He came at me with an ax over his head," Webster told reporters. "He would have chopped my head off if I wouldn't have been armed with a 12-gauge shotgun."

"I thank God and my shotgun that I'm alive," he said.

The Diocese of Rockford issued a statement that Earl's activities are restricted while it reviews the matter.

"While it is the policy of this diocese not to comment on the specifics of legal matters, it has never been nor is it the policy or practice of the Roman Catholic Church to condone, approve or promote violence in any form to achieve a desired end," the statement said.

Abortion providers usually are on alert for violence following abortion-related events in the news, such as this week's approval of RU-486 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation.

"We haven't received any specific threats, but anytime abortion is in the headlines we issue an alert to our clinics to take precautions because there is the potential for increased violence," she said.

The Rockford clinic is not one of the NAF's 360 member facilities, but "it's just kind of common sense that clinics would be on alert," she said.

Earl did not reach the clinic offices with the ax, so damage was confined to the exterior overhead door he crashed through and woodwork in a hallway, Iasparro said.

The clinic houses the office of Dr. Richard Ragsdale.

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