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Anti-abortion group says it's broke, may shut down

AN ANTI-ABORTION group that has been under attack since the killing of an abortion doctor has told its supporters it is facing a "major financial crisis" and is very close to shutting down unless emergency help arrives soon.

Despite its public condemnation of the slaying, Operation Rescue has been heavily criticized by both fringe anti-abortion militants and abortion rights supporters since the May 31 shooting death of Dr. George Tiller in the foyer of his church during a Sunday morning service.

But the group's president, Troy Newman, blamed the economic downturn for its money woes in a desperate plea e-mailed Monday night to donors.

"We're now so broke (as the saying goes), we can't even pay attention," Newman wrote.

"Seriously. We struggle to pay every bill," Newman continued. "I had to borrow money just to send you this letter, in hopes that you will come to our rescue so that we can continue to rescue babies."

Newman told The Associated Press in an interview after the mailing that the Kansas-based group has only four paid employees left, compared with nine a year ago. The group typically has an annual budget of $600,000, but donations this year have been down 30 to 40 percent. Newman, who earns $60,000 annually, said he hasn't been paid in two months.

Tiller's murder has been a public relations nightmare for Operation Rescue since a note with the name and phone number of the group's senior policy adviser was found in the suspected shooter's car when he was arrested.

"You see, this summer has been brutal for Operation Rescue," Newman wrote. "Not only did George Tiller's death throw everybody in the pro-life movement for a loop (and especially us), but the economic crisis our nation is suffering has brought our financial support to nearly a halt."

Newman told AP that the decline in the group's donations actually began last year, and he insisted there was no correlation between the drop and Tiller's shooting.

However, other anti-abortion groups say they have not experienced a similar decline in contributions.

Scott Roeder, 51, faces charges of murder and aggravated assault in Tiller's slaying. He has told The Associated Press that Tiller's killing was justified to save "the lives of unborn children."

Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, said that since Tiller's shooting her abortion rights group has had tens of thousands of dollars in new donations from people who were outraged by it, and noted that the financial backlash against Operation Rescue was not surprising.

"They have publicly denounced his murder, yet they move their headquarters to Wichita and spend years harassing and trying to put him out of business," Saporta said. "And people involved with Operation Rescue had also been in communication with Scott Roeder so their hands aren't necessarily 100 percent clean in this scenario."

Abortion rights supporters contend some of Operation Rescue's activities contribute to the atmosphere that encourage people like Roeder to take the law into their hands.

Operation Rescue has been the target of death threats since Tiller's shooting.

The name Operation Rescue became synonymous with the anti-abortion movement after the original group orchestrated the 1991 "Summer of Mercy" protests in Wichita that sparked mass demonstrations and arrests. Today, its protests in that same city typically draw no more than a couple dozen protesters.

Its tactics have instead focused in recent years on legal challenges in courts and medical boards as well as lobbying efforts. But it retained its ability to stir controversy by blacklisting businesses that provide services to abortion clinics and protesting in the neighborhoods of clinic workers.


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