Published October 24, 2012
GRANTS PASS, Ore. – An anti-abortion protester accused in a stabbing outside a Planned Parenthood in Oregon said Wednesday he was just trying to stop a man who was beating him and is relieved he's expected to live.
Chris Tolhurst, 54, told The Associated Press he was picketing at the Grants Pass clinic Tuesday as he has for months when he stabbed a man with a pocket knife in self-defense.
"I thank God it didn't hit an artery," Tolhurst said.
Authorities say the dispute began when Tolhurst was protesting alone and pushed a young woman who had kicked over one of his signs. She came back with her father, who started beating Tolhurst.
Police say Ted A. Clair, 48, was stabbed seven times and was in stable condition. Efforts to reach him at the hospital were not immediately successful.
Josephine County Deputy District Attorney Lisa Turner said it could be weeks before police finish their investigation and turn over the information to prosecutors to decide if charges will be brought against any of the three people involved.
"There definitely are some self-defense issues to look at," Grants Pass police Lt. Dennis Ward said.
Tolhurst, 54, said he's been picketing the clinic for the past four months trying to drive it out of town. But he said he wasn't getting much support, even from the local right-to-life group.
The health center is on the campus of a medical office complex. It does not perform abortions.
Tolhurst said he has worked as a janitor for a local organization that employs developmentally disabled adults, but had not been working lately and was living off his savings.
Police said Kailah L. Clair, 22, told them the dispute began as she passed the center and Tolhurst went into the road with his sign.
Tolhurst said Kailah Clair told him she had a right to clear the sidewalk, and kicked over one of his signs. With a sign in each hand, he said he bumped her off the sidewalk with his chest. One said, "Abortion is Murder." The other said, "Planned Parenthood performs abortions."
Kailah Clair came back with her father, who pushed Tolhurst to the ground and punched him in the face, police said.
"I couldn't stop him from hitting me," Tolhurst said from the motel where he lives. "I tried. He wouldn't stop. So I had to defend myself from him some way. The only way I could do it was with that knife I had in my left hand."
Tolhurst said he stabbed Ted Clair a few times in the side, and when that didn't stop him, once in the neck.
Meanwhile, Ted Clair told his daughter to grab the knife, and she stood on Tolhurst's legs and kicked at him, Tolhurst said.
Arriving officers reported finding Ted Clair holding down Tolhurst, who had a knife. Ward said it was a pocket knife with a 3-inch blade.
Kailah Clair was treated for cuts on her hand. Tolhurst said he was treated for bruises on the side of his face.
He said police handcuffed him and kept him in the back of a patrol car awhile, then took him to the emergency room and released him.
Settled during the Gold Rush, politically conservative Grants Pass has a long history of anti-abortion activism. Josephine County Right To Life holds an annual parade, and the city is the hometown of Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon, convicted of firebombing abortion clinics and the 1993 shooting of a doctor in Kansas who provided abortions. She is serving an 11-year term in federal prison.
Myrna Shaneyfelt of Josephine County Right to Life said she sometimes stopped by the Planned Parenthood to encourage Tolhurst and warn him that he was vulnerable protesting alone.
"He said he had a real passion for stopping Planned Parenthood," Shaneyfelt said. "He said, 'I have this calling. I have got to be here.'"
Shaneyfelt said the Josephine County Right To Life group had picketed Planned Parenthood for about 20 years, until a court ruling about four years ago prevented members from going on private property, making it difficult to talk to people using the site.
Shaneyfelt said she invited Tolhurst to join picketing by her group outside the local Democratic Party headquarters, but he showed up only once, then returned to his protest outside Planned Parenthood.
Ward said police have dealt with several complaints involving protests by Tolhurst.
Tolhurst said he's now reconsidering whether to continue, because the police have his signs, and he has no money to replace them.
"I just really am against abortion because, simply stated, it's killing the unborn child. And not only is it not right, it's murder," he said. "Thou shalt not kill. It's that simple."