Book Club: Living in the Crosshairs

CrosshairsLiving in the Crosshairs is an important and terrifying book that was published last year by Oxford University Press. Its authors are David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University who also sits on the boards of the Women’s Law Project and the Abortion Care Network, and Krysten Connon, who graduated from Drexel Law School in 2012, and is now an attorney in Philadelphia. In it, they look at targeted harassment of abortion providers. This is different from the protests we may think of outside abortion clinics, which are aimed at the clinic, or the women seeking abortions, or the issue in general. Targeted threats and attacks are aimed at individuals who work in the clinics. They are personal.

The title comes from a story of one provider’s dealings with the legal authorities. He describes one protest at the clinic where he works, where:

… a new sign displayed Paul’s picture in crosshairs. “I was just shocked that that was legal. I just can’t see how that’s fair.” Paul contacted the FBI about the targeted protest, particularly in light of the sign with the crosshairs. “They said it’s perfectly legal. The protesters could do that, and they could do worse.”

This incident shows the way abortion providers are targeted, literally and figuratively, by anti-abortion activists, and is a representative example of the stories told by the people interviewed for this report. In all, 87 providers were contacted, and 82 of them agreed to be interviewed at length. The authors included doctors, administrators, and other medical and non-medical staff who work where abortions are performed. Non-medical staff are also targets; as the authors point out, of eight providers murdered by anti-abortion killers, four were doctors; the others included two receptionists, a security guard, and a volunteer escort. And more recently, we’ve seen in Colorado Springs that people unrelated to a clinic can also be killed in anti-abortion violence. The danger is great; almost all of those interviewed chose to use false names, and to have details that could identify them changed as well. Continue reading

Freedom of Access Under Attack

Clinic escorts in Minnesota. Image: Brianne

Clinic escorts in Minnesota. Image: Brianne

One of the saddest — and most infuriating — things I witnessed during my time as a Planned Parenthood clinic escort was the relentless, unyielding harassment that women were forced to withstand at the hands of anti-abortion protesters, simply for seeking reproductive health care.

Now that we are in the midst of another annual “40 Days For Life” campaign, which always causes a dramatic increase in protester presence, my memories of escorting are even more vivid.


Buffer zones prevent raging extremists from occupying clinic property and blocking patients’ movement.


Before our clinic on 7th Avenue in Phoenix was relocated, I stood outside every Sunday morning for more than a year serving as an access advocate for women. Not only were our patients subjected to extreme haranguing by Planned Parenthood protesters, I was as well. Not one Sunday would pass where I wouldn’t be (loudly) accused of being some kind of an accomplice to murder — or a “murderer” myself.

I constantly questioned not only their tactics, but also their motivation. What kind of people spend their mornings and afternoons preying on women who are going to get health care? Debasing and denigrating unsuspecting women they don’t know at all. Taking mental snapshots of them. Capturing their identities. Glaring directly into their eyes. And voraciously leering at them as they go in and out of a clinic.

It’s a feral, savage practice if you think about it. Incredibly voyeuristic and wildly invasive. Continue reading

When Metaphor Becomes Reality: The Abortion Battle and the Necessity of the FACE Act

PP entrance

Clinic escorts at a Washington, D.C. Planned Parenthood. Photo: Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño via Flickr

Serving as the medical director of a reproductive health clinic made Dr. George Tiller a lightning rod for constant vitriol — and more than once a target of violence. Picketers routinely gathered outside his clinic in Wichita, Kansas, a site of their protests because it provided abortions, including late-term abortions. In 1986, Tiller saw the clinic firebombed. Seven years later, in 1993, he suffered bullet wounds to his arms when an anti-abortion extremist fired on him outside the property. Finally, in 2009, he was fatally shot while attending worship services at a Wichita church.


Anti-abortion extremists can create life-threatening scenarios for those who seek reproductive health care.


In the wake of Dr. Tiller’s death, many reproductive rights advocates argued that his assassination could have been avoided. The shooting was not the first time his murderer, 51-year-old Scott Roeder, broke the law.

Roeder could have been stopped prior to the shooting under a federal law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which was enacted in 1994 — 19 years ago this Sunday — to protect the exercise of reproductive health choices. The FACE Act makes it a federal crime to intimidate or injure a person who is trying to access a reproductive health clinic. It also makes it unlawful to vandalize or otherwise intentionally damage a facility that provides reproductive health care.

Roeder’s ideology was the root of his criminality. Roeder subscribed to a magazine, Prayer and Action News, that posited that killing abortion providers was “justifiable homicide.” Roeder also had ties to a right-wing extremist movement that claimed exemption from U.S. laws and the legal system. Continue reading

National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Brittany Sevek, our communications and marketing intern, who is a fourth-year journalism student at Arizona State University.

We are currently in the midst of “40 Days for Life.” Spanning from February 13 through March 24, “40 Days for Life” is a campaign that coincides with the 40 days of Lent. Participants in the campaign protest against abortion, seek to discourage women from having abortions, and even hope to shut down health centers that provide abortion care entirely. At a time like this, when people are openly rallying against the very things Planned Parenthood works to protect, it is important to take a minute to reflect upon and appreciate those who have labored so hard to support women’s rights and maintain access to health care.


We should be able to get health care without fear of violence, harassment, or intimidation.


Another important date in regards to abortion falls within these 40 days: March 10. Many are probably unaware that March 10 is designated as National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers. Established in 1996, National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers was founded to commemorate the life of Dr. David Gunn. Unfortunately, March 10 marks the anniversary of Dr. David Gunn’s 1993 assassination — 20 years ago this Sunday.

Dr. David Gunn was a physician and abortion provider in rural Alabama, and was assassinated in Pensacola, Florida, at an anti-abortion rally. Shot three times in the back, Dr. Gunn was killed by an anti-abortion extremist. Gunn’s death is noted as the first assassination of an abortion provider. Since then, there has been a total of nine murders of abortion providers and other clinic personnel, according to the National Abortion Federation.

Even those who support a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions do not generally consider the risks and dangers to which abortion providers are subjected in order to continue providing their services. The National Abortion Federation tracks statistics of acts of violence and disruption against abortion providers. These acts range from murder, attempted murder, death threats, hate mail, stalking, bombing, arson, vandalism, and even acid attacks. In 2001, a record total of 795 acts of violence were committed against abortion providers. These numbers dropped for several years, but spiked again in 2005 when 761 incidents of violence occurred. Thankfully, in recent years this number has dropped dramatically: 2011 saw 113 violent acts committed.

However, this number is still 113 violent acts too many. It is therefore crucial to honor those who put themselves at risk every day. By taking the time on March 10, and every day, to commemorate and recognize these abortion providers for supporting women’s rights, we can raise awareness about this otherwise unspoken issue. In turn, we can continue to diminish these numbers, and hopefully stop such terrible acts of violence from occurring in the future.

A Conversation with Faye Wattleton: Part 1, Historical Perspectives

Faye Wattleton reflects on her career in the family-planning movement. Image: Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, 1981

Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. At 34 years old, she was not only the youngest and the first African American to head PPFA, but was also the first woman since Margaret Sanger to hold that position. She had already been executive director of the affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, for seven years, and is still PPFA’s longest-serving president.

Ms. Wattleton received her nursing degree from Ohio State University in 1964, and a master’s degree in maternal and infant care, with certification as a nurse midwife, from Columbia University in 1967. Working in obstetrics, she saw a wider world than she had known and was exposed to the choices women in other circumstances needed to make. She saw the results of illegal abortions when women were desperate to end unwanted pregnancies, and saw the judgmental attitudes of many of the doctors and nurses who treated them. These experiences, along with her religious upbringing by a strong mother who was a preacher in the Church of God, led her to a career in the movement for reproductive rights.


“What is different today is that the element of violence is much less of a factor in the struggle” for abortion rights.


Ms. Wattleton was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. In this first installment, she speaks about the battle for women’s reproductive rights as it has evolved over time.

In the years since Roe, states have been passing more and more restrictive laws, such as Arizona’s strict 20-week cutoff for abortions, and mischaracterizing some birth control methods as abortifacients. I asked if it had been difficult to watch the worsening attacks against reproductive rights since she left Planned Parenthood — and was surprised when Ms. Wattleton said she does not think the struggle for reproductive rights has gotten more difficult. In some ways, she said, things have gotten better. Continue reading

The Birmingham Clinic Bombing and the Culture of Violence Against Reproductive Freedom

After earning her nursing degree from the University of Alabama in 1977, Emily Lyons developed a suite of skills in a variety of health care settings, from in-home care to emergency services. She passed on much of her knowledge to future nurses when she taught at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and by 1998, she had taken the helm as director of nursing at the New Woman All Women Health Care clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.


The 1990s were a time of numerous murders and attempted murders of reproductive health-care providers.


Lyons remembers little from January 29 of that year, a date 15 years ago today. She woke up earlier than she wanted but pushed herself through her morning routine, knowing she could look forward to a nap after work. She also looked forward to being home again with her husband, who was back from two weeks of business travel. But when she arrived at work, a devastating act of violence would ensure that nothing that ordinary would happen to her that day.

At 7:33 a.m., just as the clinic was opening, a bomb containing dynamite and nails exploded outside, killing security guard Robert Sanderson and critically injuring Emily Lyons. Although it was one of dozens of abortion clinic bombings that had occurred since abortion was legalized in 1973, the bombing of that Birmingham clinic was the first that resulted in a fatality. The five prior murders of reproductive health-care providers had been by gunshot.

Wounded in her face and legs, Lyons’ life was changed forever. After a long recovery, she was unable to resume her nursing career, but she became a spokesperson and activist for reproductive rights, receiving, among other honors, the Margaret Sanger Woman of Valor Award from Planned Parenthood. Continue reading