Anti-Abortion Activist Convicted of Trying to Bomb Clinic Objects to Doctor Calling Movement 'Violent'

Cheryl Sullenger in 2014. Photo via AP
Cheryl Sullenger in 2014. Photo via AP

Dr. Warren Hern, the Colorado doctor who performs later abortions and is under attack by a Congressional subcommittee, published a full-page newspaper ad in the Denver Post recently. In it, he accuses the committee of harassment and reminds them of murders committed by “anti-abortion fanatics,” as he put it. One person who really didn’t like that characterization: Cheryl Sullenger of Operation Rescue, who was once convicted of trying to bomb a clinic.


Hern is being “investigated” by the anti-abortion Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, chaired by Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn. The panel is dedicated to finding proof of the entirely fictitious claim that abortion clinics are selling fetal tissue, and they’ve set their sights on Hern. In turn, Hern warned that such targeting could lead to his assassination by an anti-abortion terrorist, as happened to his friend Dr. George Tiller in 2009.

Hern’s Denver Post ad is in fact a scalding open letter, addressed to Blackburn. He scolds her for using the word “abortionist” to refer to him, calling it “a vicious, despicable, anti-abortion propaganda term intended to slander the person to whom it is applied.” (That’s true: the term is intended to be disparaging and isn’t used by unbiased organizations or media outlets.) He calls the panel a “callous, delusional witch hunt” and tells Blackburn she is allying herself with what he calls a “terrorist movement:”

You and your Republican Party are vigorously allied with a violent terrorist movement that threatens the lives of women, their families and healthcare workers. As part of this sham “investigation,” your letter to me and letters to other physicians constitute a program of target identification for anti-abortion assassins. You can deny this, but it is a fact.

Your “investigation” is legislative harassment that endangers our lives. The blood of any of us who are assassinated is on your hands.

It’s a fact that the FBI classifies some anti-abortion organizations as violent extremist groups. Nonetheless, Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion group, reprinted Hern’s Denver Post ad in full because they’re so furious about it. Cheryl Sullenger, the group’s senior policy advisor, wrote in a blog post that the ad is full of “wild conspiracy theories” and called it “crazy talk.” And she’s very excised about calling any anti-abortion activist a “terrorist:”

Hern’s warped perception of the work of a peaceful pro-life movement that sacrifices to aid pregnant women and provide loving alternatives to abortion – acts that he considers “terrorism” — reveals how much Hern is deceived by his own fears and prejudices.

This is all sort of ironic—not necessarily funny, per se, but ironic—given that Sullenger was convicted in 1988 with her husband of plotting to bomb an abortion clinic. Sullenger has said she “regrets” trying to bomb said clinic, but Operation Rescue still engages in the targeted harassment of abortion providers and clinic employees. Operation Rescue head Troy Newman was denied a visa to travel in Australia last year because of governmental fears that his extreme rhetoric could prevent women from accessing healthcare or even stoke violence against providers. And George Tiller was assassinated by a man who claimed to have met with Sullenger, and said she helped him track Tiller’s earlier court dates.

It’s clear that Operation Rescue now plans to try to depict Hern as mentally unstable: Sullenger writes that his ad “provoke[s] troubling questions about his loose tether to reality.” Her show of indignation is really quite something, overall, and serves as a reminder that no matter what terrible things they’ve been convicted of doing and served prison time for, don’t you dare call an anti-abortion activist names. It hurts their feelings.

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.



(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

  • (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
  • (B) appear to be intended—
    (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
    (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
    (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
  • (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

Source: 18 USC § 2331

Yes. Operation Rescue is a terrorist organization.