John Britton (doctor)

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John Britton
John Bayard Britton

(1925-05-06)May 6, 1925
DiedJuly 29, 1994(1994-07-29) (aged 69)
Cause of deathAssassination by gunshot
Alma materUniversity of Virginia School of Medicine
Known forPerforming abortions

John Bayard Britton (May 6, 1925 – July 29, 1994)[1] was an American physician. He was assassinated in Pensacola, Florida,[2] by anti-abortion extremist Paul Jennings Hill. Britton's death was the second assassination of a Pensacola abortion provider in under a year and a half; he had replaced David Gunn after the latter's 1993 murder by another anti-abortionist.

Born in Boston, Britton graduated in 1949 from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, then served in the US Army stationed in Korea and also taught at the Medical College of Georgia. He then became a family physician in Fernandina Beach, Florida, spending much of his time delivering babies.[3]

After Gunn's murder, Britton began flying across the state to Pensacola weekly in order to perform abortions at the Pensacola Ladies' Center. Because he had received harassment and death threats, he wore a homemade bulletproof vest, carried a .357 Magnum,[4] and enlisted volunteer bodyguards.[1]

Britton was notably ambivalent about abortion: he viewed abortion as a last resort option, and would sometimes turn away women seeking it, telling them to think about the decision and come back in a week if they still wanted an abortion. However, he described anti-abortion protesters as "fanatics."[3]

Assassination and trial[edit]

As Britton arrived at the clinic on July 29, 1994, Hill approached and fired at him with a twelve-gauge shotgun, hitting him in the head and killing him. Hill later stated that he aimed for Britton's head because he suspected the doctor was wearing a bulletproof vest.[1] Hill also killed Britton's bodyguard, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, James Herman Barrett Jr, and wounded Barrett's wife, June, a retired nurse. The murders resulted in several members of Congress calling for the FBI to infiltrate anti-abortion groups, as it had with the Ku Klux Klan.[4]

Hill was sentenced to death on December 6, 1994, and executed by lethal injection on September 3, 2003. He was the first person in the United States to be executed for murdering a doctor who performed abortions.

In a piece several months earlier in GQ, Tom Junod had profiled a number of parties involved in the murders: not only Britton, but also Hill and the Barretts.[5] Britton and Hill are also interviewed in Tony Kaye's documentary Lake of Fire, which was released in 2006.[6]


  1. ^ a b c McCann, Joseph T. (2006). Terrorism on American soil: a concise history of plots and perpetrators from the famous to the forgotten. Sentient Publications. p. 202. ISBN 9781591810490.
  2. ^ "Abort violence". Washington Post. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  3. ^ a b Verhovek, Sam (July 31, 1994). "At Center of Abortion Shooting: an Avid Protester and an Uncertain Martyr". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b Van Biema, David (August 8, 1994). "Avenging the Unborn". Time. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013.
  5. ^ Junod, Tom (February 1994). "The Abortionist". GQ.
  6. ^ Pilkington, Ed (October 23, 2007). "Right to choose? British director tackles the debate that divides US". The Guardian.