Almost every Saturday morning, I wake up at 6:30 a.m. and walk 20 minutes up Prospect Street to the New Haven Planned Parenthood clinic, where I volunteer as a clinic escort. Each time, I stand outside for three hours, watching the protestors who stand at the clinic gates. They display signs with gruesome, digitally altered images of dismembered fetuses, and I ensure they don’t trespass or harass patients more than they are legally entitled to. When a woman drives past them, they always surround her car, press leaflets on the windows and scream at her not to go inside. When she continues forward, the pleas turn to warnings about going to hell, or to racially offensive epithets; the protestors are almost always all white, but routinely tell black women that they are facilitating “the genocide of black babies.” Sometimes, the protestors have long-lens cameras and take pictures of all who enter, as well as of clinic staff and escorts. There are dozens of anti-choice websites and forums with pictures, descriptions and addresses of anyone connected with clinics that provide abortion services.
Sometimes, the pictures have crosshairs superimposed on people’s faces.
Last Friday, a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing three people and injuring several more. This is merely the latest in several decades’ worth of bombings, anthrax threats, blockades and shootings at health centers that provide abortion services. This year alone, there have been arson attacks at Planned Parenthood clinics in four states. Protests and violence have intensified since the release earlier this year of heavily edited footage by the so-called “Center for Medical Progress,” which purported to show Planned Parenthood negotiating the sale of fetal body parts. Against all reason, the hysteria has continued even though Planned Parenthood has been unequivocally cleared of any wrongdoing by every state that investigated the videos.
The attack in Colorado is tragic and disturbing, but it is not surprising. It was the inevitable result of an increasingly extreme and fanatical anti-abortion movement, and of pro-life politicians either encouraging or willfully ignoring the dangerous shift in anti-choice rhetoric. Some anti-abortion activists celebrated the Colorado shooting on Twitter, calling the gunman a “brave hero” and saying the victims “deserved it.” The majority of anti-abortion organizations now support a ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest, as do six Republican presidential candidates. Former Governor of Arkansas and Republican candidate Mike Huckabee even defended the government of Paraguay for refusing an abortion to an 11-year-old girl who had been raped by her stepfather. At what point did it become a legitimate political position to force women to give birth to the children of their rapists? When did we accept it as normal that a GOP debate could seem like a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women are treated as nothing more than reproductive vessels?
We can no longer pretend that the pro-life movement is comprised solely of harmless grandmothers reciting the Rosary, and we can no longer pretend that fantastical and violent anti-abortion rhetoric has no real-life effects. Eight doctors have been murdered since 1993 because they provided a health service to which women are constitutionally entitled. The media is already justifying the shooter’s actions as being the result of mental illness and portraying him as a disturbed lone wolf, completely ignoring the culture, misogyny and fanaticism that fosters and permits this kind of violence. It is time to call the extremist factions within the anti-abortion movement what they are: domestic terrorists. Though each individual is fundamentally entitled to hold his or her own belief towards abortion, the use of violence to intimidate women accessing reproductive healthcare — and doctors providing it — is morally reprehensible. It is time for pro-life people who do not support the shooting of abortion doctors to publicly reject those who do. It is time for politicians to end the demonization of abortions and the shaming of women who have them. We must end the propagation of false information, mandatory waiting periods and the funding of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which intentionally mislead women. If we continue to be complacent about women’s reproductive rights, extremists will continue to push us back to an era of fear, shame and backstreet abortions.
Helen Price is a sophomore in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org