Today marks National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. The day was set aside in 1996, exactly three years after the first abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn, was shot and killed by a white supremacist anti-abortion terrorist. It’s a day to give thanks to the physicians, nurses, clinic escorts, and clinic staff who provide abortion care, oftentimes at great personal cost.
Abortion providers are compassionate people doing necessary work at great risk to their own personal safety and the safety of their families. They have dedicated themselves to providing pregnant people with health care—because that’s really all abortion is: health care—and they do so in the face of unyielding vitriol, personal attacks, and death threats. (It is not uncommon for abortion providers to wear Kevlar to work in order to protect themselves—far too many abortion providers have been shot and killed simply for providing medicine to those who need it.)
Providers this year deserve extra thanks because, after four years of Trump spurring white nationalists to violence—and there’s a lot of overlap between white nationalists and anti-abortion extremists—harassment and violence against clinics will likely continue to escalate.
For starters, the culture of violence had been worsening over the years on its own, even before Trump was elected and anti-abortion extremists decided that the formerly pro-choice president was the most “pro-life” president to ever pro-life. Anti-abortion extremists had already been emboldened by the relentless efforts by states to restrict abortion, as well as manufactured scandals like David Daleiden’s failed five-year (and counting) effort to take down Planned Parenthood through debunked claims that the organization was in the nefarious business of trafficking in fetal baby parts. These false accusations led to increasingly violent rhetoric aimed at both providers and patients and an uptick in incidents of violence against clinics and clinic workers, according to the National Abortion Federation’s most recent report.
But more importantly, perhaps, is the fact that a Democrat is in the White House again. Anti-abortion violence is worse during Democratic administrations, according to the Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, who is the president and CEO of NAF. “I have been in the movement for over 35 years, and I have watched this roller coaster, this increase in violence during Democratic administrations. It has to do with desperation and not feeling they can go through the regular channels—as you saw when they stormed the Capitol,” Ragsdale told the Los Angeles Times in January. “It’s the same level of craziness.” (There’s a reason that no abortion provider has ever been murdered during a Republican administration).
Angry Christian conservatives and white nationalists stormed the Capitol—the seat of government—and wreaked havoc. These folks aren’t going to be shy about storming abortion clinics.
In fact, that’s already happening. Just last Friday in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, a group of protesters decided to swarm an abortion clinic in what one of the protesters called “a life-saving rescue attempt,” an explicit callback to the clinic sieges and blockades organized by Operation Rescue in the 1980s and ‘90s. The blockade resulted in the arrest of nine adults and four children. Mt. Juliet’s Carafem clinic has experienced myriad protests over the years, but this was the first time protesters had ever entered the facility and refused to leave, according to police. This escalation from “sidewalk counseling” to clinic blockades is alarming but not surprising.
Clinic workers are under siege. In Delaware last month, a young man pleaded guilty to intentional damage of a facility that provides reproductive health services after he tossed a Molotov cocktail through the window of a Planned Parenthood clinic last year. In January, someone blasted a shotgun through the front-door window of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee. Last weekend, a man accidentally shot himself in the leg outside a clinic in Raleigh, North Carolina, while a different clinic in North Carolina has been dealing with bomb threats and increasingly aggressive protesters.
It’s this sort of clinic violence that prompted Congress to pass the FACE Act in 1994. The FACE Act—it stands for Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances—makes it a federal crime for anyone to use force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to prevent people from obtaining or providing reproductive health-care services. The statute also provides for civil remedies against blocking access to abortion facilities, including fines for those found liable. It is up to the Department of Justice to prosecute those appearing to break the law.
Despite these federal protections, though, threats against clinic patients and providers remain staggeringly high, in no small part due to state legislative efforts attacking abortion access. Anti-abortion advocates have made significant gains in the states—dozens of bills have been introduced so far in 2021 alone, and in 2020, state legislatures introduced more than 200 bills targeting abortion.
Abortion access is at a low point. But the fact that they are winning the war against abortion (with six Supreme Court justices on the bench waiting to overturn Roe v. Wade) doesn’t seem to be enough for these anti-abortion domestic terrorists. They’ve joined forces with white nationalists and outright fascists to turn their campaign against abortion into a campaign against democracy and the rule of law itself.
The clinic breach at Carafem in Mt. Juliet is a clear example that these activists are planning to return to the clinic “siege and blockade” tactics that prompted passage of the FACE Act in the first place.
During the Trump administration, these sorts of FACE Act violations went unpunished. Hopefully, that will change once Merrick Garland is confirmed as attorney general; given his handling of the Oklahoma City bombing, Garland is expected to turn up the heat on domestic terrorists, which is precisely what these anti-abortion protesters are.
They’re violent extremists who have convinced themselves that murder and mayhem perpetrated against health-care workers, many of whom are literally risking their lives to do the work they do, is a “pro-life” value.
It’s not. The true pro-life values are exhibited every day by the abortion providers who go to work and provide pregnant patients with the care they need to control their own bodies and their own lives.