Three years after Dr. George Tiller’s assassination, anti-abortion extremists are as brazen as ever. Should we be surprised? The far right is dreaming up new, more harrowing ways to restrict a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy every day. Last week, the targets were distant cities and reasons that are rare, if not imaginary. The best that can be said about these efforts is that they are legal. The same can’t be said for three attacks against reproductive health care facilities last week.
On May 24, Women With a Vision (WWAV), a New Orleans advocacy organization that provides health care and other support for poor women of color, was the victim of arson. Earlier the same day, a fire broke out at a Cobb County obstetrics and gynecology office near Marietta, Georgia, the second fire of questionable origin at a Georgia clinic that week.
The FBI is investigating these cases, and at the moment, it hasn’t determined whether they are related. Georgia officials haven’t yet identified arson as the cause of the two fires. While I am grateful that law enforcement is held to a higher standard of proof than me, I have no doubt that these events are not only related to each other, but to the current political climate, where the preponderence of anti-abortion legislation has effectively made very restrictive views about abortion into a new normal.
So where is the outrage? I scour the headlines every day (with the help of an alert or two), and I would not have heard about these clinic attacks if not for Democracy Now!‘s piece on the anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s assassination. (I know we’re supposed to be jaded up here in New York City, but the Times is writing its own embarrassing obituary when not one of these incidents has warranted a mention in its pages.)
Thankfully, the Huffington Post and independent news services like Democracy Now have seen fit to report on the rise in violence without resorting to the overheated rhetoric that may have incited it in the first place. President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation Vicki Saporta pays tribute to Dr. Tiller by noting his compassion for the individual women who came to him for care, something anti-abortion activists seldom do, and insists that Dr. Tiller’s assasination serve as a reminder of the very real threat that abortion providers face every day. Of the recent violence she says:
Oftentimes these extremists start with a lower level criminal activity and that escalates, which is why law enforcement response to clinic violence is so very very important . . . . There is no justification for murdering an abortion provider or any other health care professional, and in a civilized society we can’t allow people to settle political differences by murdering one another.
Dr. Willie Parker, MD, MPH, MSc, the Medical Director of Planned Parenthood Metro Washington, and a board member of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH), responds to the increased attacks on later term abortions by following Dr. Tiller’s example and focussing on the actual women who seek these procedures rather than the faceless masses anti-abortion crusaders can so easily demonize. He points out that only a small precentage of women have abortions beyond 21 weeks and that “tragic situations arise all the time,” as “reproduction is not as clean and black and white as people like to make it.”
Fortunately, law enforcement is taking the recent esclation in clinic violence seriously, something Vicki Saporta believes is crucial in bringing the perpetrator to justice.
At the Women With a Vision office in New Orleans, volunteers have started to clean up from the fire damage. Today they have opened a temporary office at First Grace United Methodist Church. They are determined to rebuild. You can contribute to the effort here.
Jodi is a freelance writer and recovering academic with more enthusiasm for sports than athletic talent and a prodigious taste for the health food known as dark chocolate.