The Mayor of Castro Street Turns 85

Harvey Milk DayThe pathway to social change is paved with an unwavering commitment to forging ahead in the face of adversity, and above all, loyalty to your community. This Friday, we celebrate the legacy of Harvey Milk on what would have been his 85th birthday, had his life not been cut short by assassination. When we talk about social movements, we often point to a specific event as a catalyst for change, and oftentimes, that event is a tragedy. I, however, believe that it is people like Harvey Milk who bring about and create change through their dedication to justice, no matter what barriers may present themselves.


“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” — Harvey Milk


Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay politicians ever to be elected and serve in a United States public office. Upon arriving in San Francisco in 1972, Milk opened his iconic camera store in the famed Castro district, and became increasingly involved in promoting local businesses in the area. A longtime proponent of equal rights for all and an unapologetic advocate for the LGBTQ community, Milk became the unofficial spokesperson for the gay rights movement, and campaigned for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Upon losing both his first and second election for the Board of Supervisors, in 1975 he was appointed to the San Francisco Board of Permit Appeals by his ally and friend, Mayor George Moscone. Continue reading

Brookline Clinic Shootings: December 30, 1994

BROOKLINE, MASS., DEC. 30 — A gunman dressed in black opened fire with a rifle at two abortion clinics here this morning, killing two female staff workers and wounding at least five other people.

This matter-of-fact sentence was the opening of a Washington Post story on December 31, 1994. Today marks the 20th anniversary of these shootings at the Planned Parenthood and Preterm Health Services clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston.

Planned Parenthood buffer zone in Vermont. Photo: Adam Fagen

Planned Parenthood buffer zone in Vermont. Photo: Adam Fagen

The Brookline shootings are generally considered the third in a series of assassinations by anti-abortion activists and followers, beginning with the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida, in March 1993. A history of acts of violence compiled by NARAL frames Dr. Gunn’s killing as a turning point, while recognizing that violent acts were happening all through the 20 years since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

I was living in Massachusetts in 1994; my life, however, was such that I did not have much time or energy for the news. I have a friend who lived in Brookline at the time; I asked for her memories of the shooting. She sent me this:

 My 7-year-old daughter and I were coming home to our apartment in Brookline on the trolley to Cleveland Circle when we saw the police swarmed around the brownstone that the [Planned Parenthood] clinic was in. I had a friend who worked there part time, so I was very worried. I wanted to join the crowd of people behind the police line to find out what happened, but my daughter’s safety was first on my mind. Continue reading

Dr. George Tiller’s Death: Five Years Later

Dr. Tiller's supporters remember him at a vigil in San Francisco, June 1, 2009. Image: Steve Rhodes

Dr. Tiller’s supporters remember him at a vigil in San Francisco, June 1, 2009. Image: Steve Rhodes

On May 31, 2009, Dr. George Tiller was murdered by Scott Roeder while attending church services in Wichita, Kansas. This Saturday is the fifth anniversary of his assassination. From 1975 until his death, Tiller was an ob/gyn who also performed late-term abortions.


Dr. Tiller is remembered for the compassion he showed his patients.


A late-term abortion is a medical procedure in which a pregnancy is terminated during the later stages. The definition of “late-term” varies — even among medical journals — because of its correlation to fetus viability (i.e., when a fetus can survive outside of the uterus on its own). The medical community has not established an age at which a fetus becomes viable, as its survivability is contingent upon conditions internal and external to the womb; however, the survivability of a fetus greatly increases after 25 weeks, or almost 6 months from a woman’s last menstrual period. For reference, the expected gestation of a pregnancy is 40 weeks, or 9 months. Only 1.2 percent of abortions take place at or after 21 weeks.

Late-term abortions remain particularly controversial because of the issue of fetus viability, as well as the methods used to perform the medical procedure (e.g., inducing labor). Late-term abortions also have the potential to be more physically and emotionally challenging for the woman than those performed during earlier stages of pregnancy. While a woman should not be required by law to account for herself and the reasoning behind her medical decision-making, there are numerous medical reasons why a late-term abortion is a valid medical choice. 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