The harassment of abortion providers and their families
June 2, 2015 10:29 PM   Subscribe

The Subculture of Embattled Abortion Workers.

Chloe Angyal writes in the New Republic:
While [Dr. George] Tiller’s murder made headlines—and made me wonder if staying in the States was for me—Cohen and Connon spend much of their book describing the harassment that flies largely under the radar of the press and of many pro-choice people, but that has an enormous effect on abortion providers. Since 1993, eight people have been victims of fatal anti-choice violence, four of them abortion doctors—but thousands more have suffered in less dramatic and less talked-about ways.

Many providers reported that their family members—close and distant—had been targeted, too. “My kids would be home from school, and some antis would call them up, and when they answered the phone they were told they were going to be murdered,” one says. Another provider told a story about a frequent clinic protester recognizing her as she visited her mother in a nursing home. The protester followed her into her mother’s room and began shouting at her mother that her daughter was a murderer. One physician in a Midwest state announced that she would begin performing abortions and in response, protesters began picketing her god-brother’s house.

Providers are targeted at home, in their churches, and in their neighborhoods (protesters will place signs and fliers around the neighborhood decrying what the providers do for a living). Their kids are harassed at school. Some doctors and nurses who practice in hospitals as well as in abortion clinics are harassed by their hospital colleagues, their careers endangered by other doctors’ disdain. And, of course, they’re targeted at work. Half of the eight murders of abortion providers since 1993 occurred at work....

In some senses, the “culture of terror,” as one provider puts it, is effective: providers are afraid, as are their friends, family, and neighbors—and they arrange their lives around the threats they face. But in the most important sense, it’s not: providers don’t stop providing abortion. Just two of the 87 providers interviewed for this book stopped providing abortion, and only one of those two held firm to that decision. The other, confronted with the opportunity to perform an abortion for a young woman with AIDS who couldn’t find another doctor to help her end her pregnancy, stepped in to help and hasn’t stopped providing abortions since. For almost all the providers, the harassment they face only deepens their sense of commitment and their desire to help people in need. Despite the hounding, despite the death threats, despite the danger to their families, they don’t leave.
Previously, previously, previously, previously.
posted by John Cohen (16 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Thank you for posting this. Abortion providers and their staff are heroes. My grandmother had an abortion in the 60's before Roe v Wade. Her kidneys were failing and the procedure saved her life. If it was not for the termination, I would not be here. I am grateful every day for the brave practitioner who performed the abortion.

I make donations to the Chicago Abortion Fund in their memory. They offer financial support for women who could not otherwise afford an abortion.
posted by batbat at 10:42 PM on June 2, 2015 [22 favorites]

Jesus fucking christ how are people still allowed to threaten and harass each other, least of all kids related to your target (?!). I just can't believe this shit is tolerated. Is it mostly in small towns where the local PD doesn't give a damn? And who the hell was the goddamn backlash from that forced this to be categorized separately from terrorism?

My god I'm angry.
posted by erratic meatsack at 1:29 AM on June 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

Good article, thanks for posting it. erratic meatsack, I'm sure the local police don't care. In the smaller towns I bet some of them have family or friends among the harassers.

Where do people get the idea that if they disagree with someone's values, it's ok to call them with death threats? Or burn their house down? Or (as with the GG crew) send SWAT teams? It's just so crazily excessive.
posted by harriet vane at 1:36 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Every story like this needs a link to The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion
posted by DreamerFi at 4:51 AM on June 3, 2015 [21 favorites]

I hate that "Only Moral Abortion" article.

Mostly because it makes me despise Pro-Lifers, and I don't want to have that kind of opinion about people.
posted by qcubed at 6:47 AM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I truly do not understand the thought process behind believing that every life is sacred and then also believing it is okay to murder, harass and destroy the lives of physicians and their families.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:51 AM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I hate that "Only Moral Abortion" article. Mostly because it makes me despise Pro-Lifers, and I don't want to have that kind of opinion about people.

I just read the article now, but I came away from it with a lot more sympathy towards women in the anti-abortion movement; it seems like the inability of many of them to understand why other women would want/need an abortion comes from a place of deep oppression and self-denial.

The men, on the other hand...
posted by .holmes at 6:56 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

believing that every life is sacred

People who are anti-bodily-autonomy are not that way out of honest belief in the sanctity of life, by and large; otherwise, more children of military drone pilots and executioners would be getting death threats, too.

(In particular, we probably shouldn't indulge anyone's insistence on calling themselves "pro-life". That is a propaganda term that disguises their actual motivations and avoids being explicit about the fact that they have a problem with abortion, instead painting a picture of a general principled ethical stance that doesn't seem to be present in most cases.)
posted by busted_crayons at 7:03 AM on June 3, 2015 [16 favorites]

I now call them Forced Birthers.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:16 AM on June 3, 2015 [17 favorites]

A conservative acquaintance asked me one time, joke-style, why I support the killing of innocent babies while being anti-death penalty for convicted murderers. It helped me understand more about where they're coming from--it's a worldview where the "innocence" of fetuses is sacrosanct and the lives of every living adult who's ever made a bad decision (everything from premarital sex to actual crimes) is negligible. Particularly when they don't look like you and/or are a woman and/or are from a different socioeconomic class.

So then it's perfectly consistent that the "murderers" of these innocent 8-weeks-old clusters of cells would deserve violence, because they are Bad People on par with death row inmates and fornicators.
posted by witchen at 7:27 AM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's very much like war propaganda. You paint your targets as bloodthirsty baby-killers, which means there are no holds barred in stopping them, nothing that is too wrong to do. Even kidnapping their kids; after all, they kill babies! What is more evil than that? Kidnapping their kid to frighten them out of it is peanuts in comparison.

I once believed the same, but could never bring myself to threaten anyone or even picket a clinic. I remember the dissonance I would feel, though, when my "it's a baby" argument didn't work and women just kept getting abortions/being pro choice. I could not believe that they were all ruthless and heartless, and that's when I began to crack and think that something else was going on, and [insert long philosophical/ethical period of questioning], here I am, very much pro-choice.

I think those are the roads someone who accepts antichoice arguments has to choose from; either you question and reject the whole thing, or you double down or you refuse to think about it/decide not to care about what's going on because it doesn't directly affect you.
posted by emjaybee at 8:47 AM on June 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

I want to read an article that explains what happens to the harassers. What reports were made, what legal actions were taken, something that doesn't make me feel like the general public has washed their hands of the whole thing and is looking the other way.
posted by erratic meatsack at 9:53 AM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've always found this video to be as thought-provoking as the "The Only Moral Abortion..." article. A few of the people in the video appear to question their entire belief structure in the moment they're asked what a woman's punishment should be. Libertyville Abortion Demonstration.
INTERVIEWER - And, if it was illegal, should there be a penalty for the women who get abortions illegally?
PROTESTER - I don't know. I don't know. I've never thought about that one.
I - Well, usually when things are illegal, there’s a penalty attached. What do you think that should be?
P - I really haven’t speculated much about it.
I - You’ve been doing this for two years.
P - I really haven’t speculated much about it.
posted by theraflu at 11:06 AM on June 3, 2015 [12 favorites]

I can only tell you about the volunteer escort side, and my information is several years out of date. But we were strongly encouraged to report all harassment - however, if we'd done that we would have been spending all our time reporting and not actually outside the building escorting patients.

In practice, I only filed reports twice - the times protestors followed me on the bus home afterwards to find out where I lived. To the best of my knowledge nothing ever came of those reports. No one ever asked me for any follow up information. The protestors continued to sidle up and tell me about my house and my family and what I had coming to me for aiding and abetting murder.

I never reported the routine stuff that happened on a given Saturday during escorting hours. Verbal abuse, physically being shoved into walls, that stuff was just routine and not even worth reporting.

It was nowhere near the level of what actual clinic workers deal with, and I hope they have/had a more robust reporting situation. But I wouldn't bet on it.
posted by Stacey at 12:31 PM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

it's a worldview where the "innocence" of fetuses is sacrosanct and the lives of every living adult who's ever made a bad decision (everything from premarital sex to actual crimes) is negligible.

It's a frustrating worldview, because, if one's belief-system (in this case, the idea of some simple axioms that are supposed to guide behaviour, obedience to which axioms is enforced by the prospect of a decline in everyone else's moral obligations toward one) entails the conclusion that it is sometimes permissible to cause other people to suffer to no particular practical end, then that is supposed to serve as a reductio of the whole belief-system, not a happily-accepted conclusion. The notion that our moral obligations toward others depend on their level of "innocence" (apart from any practical considerations) strikes me as rather arbitrary, with little to recommend it besides shared habit.

Also, perhaps I just don't have a good understanding of ethics rooted in various religious traditions, but it seems to me like believing that judgment and vindictiveness are handled by a higher power should take some of the pressure to be judgmental and vindictive off of the believers, rather than encourage such attributes. I guess some people really want to be made in their god's image, or something.

Also (one might ask one's conservative friend, if their conservatism is motivated by certain religious beliefs) isn't that foetus, like, totally depraved, or something? Isn't the "bad" shit done by real adult humans, like, rounding error compared to the burden of original sin borne by both human being and foetus? Isn't the foetus just as guilty as the abortion provider of the shit that was actually pulled by Adam and Eve, and isn't that repugnant guilt supposed to dwarf the sins committed by the abortion provider (like providing abortions)? So what's with the "killing innocents" rhetoric?
posted by busted_crayons at 6:59 PM on June 3, 2015

I'm not sure that all religions have the concept of original sin. I was raised Catholic and it's definitely part of their theory. But in practice it's not seen (by the Catholic laity, dunno about the hierarchy) as being as important as a sin you choose as an adult.
posted by harriet vane at 6:40 AM on June 4, 2015

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