Abortion Providers Watching Capitol Violence Say They’ve ‘Seen This Rage Before’

From fire bombings, shootings, and ceaseless harassment, anti-abortion violence has wreaked havoc on clinics for decades.

[Photo: A young person wearing a 'Make America Great Again' hat and Trump shirt holds anti-abortion posters as he crosses the street.]
The belief that Donald Trump and his ilk are entitled to power and control in this country is not distinguishable from the eugenicist foundations of the anti-abortion movement. Philip Cohen/Flickr

Trump supporters laid siege to our nation’s capital on Wednesday, storming past a flaccid and enabling law enforcement presence in an attempt to stage a coup. As they were filling the halls of Congress—stealing lecterns and paintings, and taking selfies at Nancy Pelosi’s desk—pundits lamented: This is not America; this is not who we are. Some even marveled at the cooperation from law enforcement, wondering how security could have been so lax.

Unfortunately, abortion providers are all too familiar with the sort of violence that played out at the Capitol.

Anti-abortion violence has wreaked havoc on clinics for decades: fire bombings, shootings, and ceaseless harassment, have forced clinic directors to barricade their medical facilities and stock them with bulletproof vests and staff trained to respond to mass violence at any given moment. All for providing necessary and critical medicine.

“Those of us who provide abortion care have seen this rage before,” Dr. Jamila Perritt, president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a statement. “We have seen it in the eyes and hear it in the shouts of the protesters outside of our offices and clinics. We know that the individuals that breached the Capitol [on Wednesday] are the same ones standing outside our health centers in the morning.”

In the 40 years that the National Abortion Federation has been documenting violence against abortion providers, there have been 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 189 arsons, and thousands of incidents of criminal activity directed at abortion providers across the country.

Calla Hales, executive director of A Preferred Women’s Health Center, an abortion clinic with branches in North Carolina and Georgia, is no stranger to anti-choice terrorism. Her clinic is a hotspot for harassment and protests. The health center is regularly inundated with hundreds—even thousands—of violent anti-abortion terrorists, who occupy the lot next door to harass patients and shout about baby parts.

Hales said watching the insurrection unfold in Washington was rattling.

“As an executive director of multiple abortion clinics, in the Bible Belt no less, the potential for violence is something that’s never far from my mind,” she told Rewire News Group. “Violence is something all abortion providers and advocates are familiar with. We deal with harassment and intimidation on a daily basis.”

Wednesday “made me think about how invading and blockading clinics over the past few decades must have been the perfect training ground for this insurrection,” Hales said.

The violence on Capitol Hill also hit home for Dr. Diane Horvath, an OB-GYN and abortion provider in Baltimore.

“The terror was visceral, and I had to sit down, close my office door, and have my panic attack in private,” she said. “It wasn’t until hours later that I was able to even recognize that I reacted in that way because of the constant fear of violence that we live with every day.”

Many others in abortion advocacy noted the similarity between Wednesday’s violence and the violence that clinics and providers face with regularity—and with far less visibility and protection. And these parallels extend beyond the symbolism of white nationalists overtaking a building by force and threatening those inside. There were also many familiar faces among the insurrectionists at the Capitol.

Sharp eyes spotted the anti-choice darling Abby Johnson in the crowd. And RNG has confirmed the presence and involvement of dozens of other well-known anti-abortion terrorists and protesters, including convicted clinic bomber John Brockhoeft.

In the coming weeks we will surely see calls for more security around the Capitol; we have already seen unearned gratitude paid to the police who did next to nothing in the face of a violent coup attempt. As we watch this unfold, it’s critical to hold the providers who have grown accustomed to this kind of violence in the forefront of our discussions. They have warned us of the terrors of right-wing extremism, reporting to the frontlines of a domestic terrorism battleground and fighting to keep their patients safe every day—and they have done so while being met with a thankless and merciless response.

Clinics around the country long relied on the protection of buffer zones—boundaries created outside of clinics to deter violence—that were instituted after John Salvi’s 1994 assault on two abortion clinics in Boston killed two people and injured five others. But when the constitutionality of buffer zones came before the Supreme Court, which itself enjoys the protection of a buffer zone, the Court ruled that the provision violated the First Amendment, leaving clinics at an increased risk for violence.

Remember: Many of the same political leaders who decried Wednesday’s display will vote for anti-choice laws that subject providers to the same kind of violence. Many in Congress see this as an entirely singular and unprecedented incident, while failing to realize that they confirm judges who would swiftly take away a clinic’s right to protect itself from right-wing extremism.

“The fear that someone will use violence to get inside a clinic is not theoretical,” Dr. Horvath said, emphasizing that she uses evidence-based safety measures to keep her patients safe.

“It has happened many times and will continue to happen as long as it’s tolerated by the public,” she said.

“What we need is systemic change. Laws that protect us and our patients (and enforcement of the laws we already have) would be a great place to start. Call your local and state legislators and ask them what they are doing to protect health-care facilities that provide abortion. See if your local clinics need escorts to help patients safely access care (or donate to help support others doing this work). Send postcards of support. Call us and tell us you appreciate us. Donate to an abortion fund so that patients who need care can get it.”

These are not coincidences: Fascism, white supremacy, and anti-abortion terrorism are inextricably linked. The desire to control other people’s pregnancy outcomes has a direct line to the racism that fueled Wednesday’s insurrection. The belief that Donald Trump and his ilk are entitled to power and control in this country is not distinguishable from the eugenicist foundations of the anti-abortion movement.