Got news? ‘Pro-choice terrorist’ pleads guilty

Among the many tragedies of the polarization over abortion is the fringe figures on both sides who resort to violence or are at risk of resorting to violence. They are not large in number but they do exist.

The news media tend to cover the violence or violent figures differently depending on which side of the issue they’re on. This isn’t limited to abortion, since other culture war issues that lead to violence show similar discrepancies in how the opposing fringe figures are covered, but abortion is probably the best example of it.

In any case, last week a pro-choice activist was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for making murderous threats to several leaders in the pro-life movement. Theodore SHulman plead guilty back in May to transmitting a threat to injure another person. This particular case dealt with threats to Father Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, and Princeton University’s Robert George.

He had posted a comment on First Things making the threat. The pro-life media outlet LifeSite News reports:

Shulman, a self-described “pro-choice terrorist” is the son of feminist activist Alix Kates Shulman. His mother wrote the 1972 sex-novel Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen and has stated that each of her four abortions were deliberate – “not one was the result of carelessness.”Shulman liked to style himself as the “first pro-choice terrorist” and even had a blog called “Operation Counterstrike.” His mission statement was: “Right-to-lifism is murder, and ALL right-to-lifers are bloody-handed accessories. Swear it, believe it, proclaim it, and act on it.”

His targets included many pro-life leaders including LifeSiteNews bloggers Jill Stanek and Dr. Gerard Nadal.

Stanek had compiled 4,000 comments over four years that Shulman had posted on Stanek’s blog, including this one: “I’m looking forward to watching a documentary entitled ‘The Assassination of Jill Stanek.’”

Shulman has harassed other leaders in the anti-abortion movement and said it was unfortunate that a “pro-choice counterterrorist” hadn’t been able to kill Dr. Bernard Nathanson (the former abortionist and NARAL co-founder who later became a pro-life activist) before he died.

Shulman’s plea didn’t make big news in May and one blogger reported it last week by saying “I eagerly await pervasive MSM coverage of this … I packed a lunch.

But I thought we’d give it a few days and see if anyone got around to reporting on it.

The Wall Street Journal published a seven-sentence Associated Press report on the matter, but I didn’t see that AP report in any other paper. A Fox affiliate in New York published a 9-sentence report. The Staten Island Advocate got in eight sentences since one of the targets was a local man. And that was pretty much it.

It is, of course, significant news in the Catholic, Protestant and pro-life media, where Shulman has been threatening many for years.

So why do you think violence from anti-abortion activists is covered more thoroughly or broadly than violence from abortion rights activists? It’s not that the guilty man here didn’t have a fascinating story or proud pro-choice lineage. It’s not that his mother isn’t a famous feminist author (her latest is the image above). It’s not that his targets weren’t high profile. It’s not that his rhetoric wasn’t quotable. It’s not that his targets weren’t willing to speak on the record. One of them issued a statement forgiving the guilty man. Doesn’t that normally make for good copy? So how to explain the dearth of coverage?

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  • The Old Bill

    ” So how to explain the dearth of coverage?”

    Because it might be embarrassing to the cause.

  • Suzanne

    Or maybe because, unlike many notorious anti-abortion terrorists, he didn’t actually kill anybody.

    • mollie

      It can’t be that because even when pro-lifers are victims of physical violence or death, we don’t see the commensurate coverage.
      And on the flip side, even when the violence against abortion clinics, etc., is just threatened as opposed to actually carried out, it tends to get significant coverage.
      So it gets back to my original question.

  • sari

    Was there a religious component to Shulman’s story or was his inclusion on G.R. due to the fact that he attacked people who act out of religious conviction? I’m not seeing the religious aspect to this story.

    Is it possible that he received less coverage, because, unlike some of the more violent pro-life counterparts, he threatened but did no bodily harm? It’s important that we compare apples to apples.

    • mollie

      I cover abortion coverage in general and would have looked at this even if one of his targets hadn’t been the head of Priests for Life. I of course would like to know about Shulman’s religious life. If my memory of the one memoir I read of his mother’s is accurate, she was raised Jewish but was not religious.
      As for your other question, it can’t be that since the same discrepancy applies whether or not anti-abortion activists are just threatening as opposed to committing actual bodily harm as well as when pro-lifers are injured or killed.

  • sari

    Has there been an instance of a pro-abortion individual shooting a pro-life individual, or bombing or setting fire to their workplace, home or headquarters? That’s the question I’m asking. Killing a person ups the story’s importance by several orders of magnitude. As for the religious component, lots of people are Jewish by virtue of birth, but does he speak from a religious perspective? If he doesn’t, then the story lacks a religion angle.

    • mollie

      Pro-life press covers these things much more thoroughly than the mainstream media, obviously, and it may surprise you how many stories their activists tell of threats, violence, etc. There are lawsuits and the occasional convictions. As for killing, yes, I know that an anti-abortion activist was killed somewhere in the midwest in 2009 or 2010. I looked at the coverage here, which was mostly bad. Although, it’s worth pointing out, there was one fantastic photo essay related to the killing that ran in the New York Times. Still, it’s obvious the coverage has some odd disparities.
      Anyway, I can only repeat again that I have analyzed abortion-related coverage for years. If you have a problem with that, it’s best just to skip abortion-related posts here. However, you seem to have missed that one of the targets was literally the head of Priests for Life. If you can’t see the religion angle in that, I don’t really know what to say. In addition to that very loud and very prominent religion angle, it would certainly be helpful, if the media became interested in this interesting story, to find out if the self-described “pro-choice terrorist” has any religious leanings or none.

      • sari

        Are you referring to the 2009 murder of James Pouillon in Michigan? He seems to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time: murdered for his signs right before the murderer drove off and killed a second person for an entirely different reason. The NYT article stated that Pouillonwas probably the first pro-life protester killed for his beliefs.

        In contrast, eight pro-abortion individuals were killed prior to that date, either by shooting or by bombing from 1993-1998, with a ninth shot *in church* in 2009, a few months prior to Poiullon’s death.

        A pro-life activist was killed in the mid-west this past year while walking with his group at night, but there’s no evidence that it was more than an accident.

  • Julia

    “unlike many notorious anti-abortion terrorists, he didn’t actually kill anybody.”
    How many people have been killed by anti-abortion terrorists. I can only recall 2.

    • Suzanne

      A quick Google search turns up eight abortion doctors or abortion clinic employees murdered by terrorists in the past 20 years. The murderer of one of them, Eric Rudolph, killed two others at the 1996 Olympics, apparently also as part of his “pro-life” crusade (at least according to his manifesto).

  • Julia

    The issue of abortion is a huge religious issue for many, many pro-life people.

  • dalea

    What I find puzzling is that he is going to jail for making threats. Is this a common punishment? Are there others in the abortion battle who have been jailed for threats alone, which is a form of speech? Would like to see coverage of just how many people have been jailed for threats, with names, places and dates. The stories imply Shulman is a lone nut, but really do not have enough depth to verify this. And I wonder if he acted alone, or if he has sympathizers willing to act with him? Also, is Shulman physically capable of acting on his threats? Does he have training and skills with weapons and combat? It’s one thing if he is ex special forces, another if he is an unpublished poet.

    All the coverage we get is that Shulman has made threats and his mother wrote feminist books. And he will serve forty one months for the threats. There is no context, no explanation, nor really any biography. We go from birth mother’s feminism to the threats, as if this was some sort of logical progression. We don’t even know if he was raised by his mother, let alone how he feels about her and her work.

    What I keep coming back to is wondering how many people on all sides of this issue have been jailed for making threats? That would seem to be the major story here. If this happens frequently, then that is one thing. If it rare, than that is another.

    • dalea

      Searching for more on this story, almost every single article is on a prolife website. There is one fairly comprehensive overview of the case:

      I did not know federal attorneys issued press releases about their cases, but here it is. From the press release:

      ‘Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that THEODORE SHULMAN, a pro-choice advocate, was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court to 41 months in prison for threatening to kill two pro-life advocates. SHULMAN pled guilty in May 2012 to one count of transmitting a threat to injure another person before United States District Judge Paul A. Crotty, who imposed today’s sentence.

      Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara stated: “The vibrant exchange of ideas that is a hallmark of our society does not include threats. As Theodore Shulman’s sentence makes clear, advocating one’s point of view through threats of violence is illegal conduct that will be punished.”

      According to Count Two of the Indictment to which SHULMAN pled, the Complaint, plea agreement, other public record material, and statements made in court proceedings:

      On January 14, 2010, SHULMAN transmitted a threat to injure two pro-life advocates (“Victim-1” and “Victim-2”), by submitting a message for posting on “SecondHandSmoke,” a blog that appears on the website “” The message stated, “If Roeder is acquitted, someone will respond by killing [Victim-1] of [the University] and [Victim-2] of PRIESTS FOR LIFE.” Roeder refers to Scott Roeder who was convicted in 2010 for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who provided abortion services. SHULMAN was in possession of cyanide, castor beans, and rosary peas at the time of his arrest in February 2011.’

      Cyanide is a fairly common chemical used in the jewelry industry for plating of precious metals. Castor beans and rosary peas are precursors of several nerve gas agents. It is believed that Shulman has advanced training in bio-chemistry, though this is not confirmed. This is all I could find out.

  • dalea

    Searching a bit further, I did find a comparable case on the prolife side:

    The big difference seems to be that the accused is mounting a defense:

    ‘A domestic-terror trial in Kansas just got more interesting as Angel Dillard now claims the threats she made to abortion provider Dr. Mila Means were “divinely inspired” communications and are therefore entitled to constitutional speech and religious protections.

    Dillard is facing prosecution under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) for a series of threats to Dr. Means. Among the threats made include this gem which promised the doctor thousands of people from across the country were looking into her background: “They will know your habits and routines. They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” the letter said. “You will be checking under your car everyday — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

    The difference is that Shulman was prosecuted for making threats across state lines while Dillard is facing clinic entrance laws.

  • Going through the links on the Google search, I’m noticing that none of them have a photo of Shulman, but several have mugs of Fr. Pavone. And RH Reality Check (a decidedly NOT pro-life blog) has mugs of both Pavone and Robert George. Is it that there was no photo of Shulman available, or are we being subtly reminded that the anti-choicers are really to blame when the righteous wrath of the pro-choice “terrorist” (always in sneer quotes) descends upon them?