Brothers in Arms, Part 4: The Gathering Storm of Patriots and Plainclothes Politicians

This article is our final installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined the connections that developed in the 1980s between white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement, which bred a growing extremism and led to the first assassination of an abortion provider in 1993. This installment looks at the threats that developed in the aftermath.

1996 Planned Parenthood publication detailing militia movement links to anti-abortion terrorism

On March 11, 1993, Michael Frederick Griffin approached Dr. David Gunn outside his Pensacola clinic and shot him in the back three times, reportedly shouting, “Don’t kill any more babies!” Griffin, who had been radicalized by former Klansman and anti-abortion crusader John Burt, committed the first assassination of an abortion provider in the U.S. The following year, 1994, saw a record four murders and eight attempted murders by anti-abortion extremists, and more than half of the estimated 1,500 abortion clinics in the U.S. were targets of anti-abortion crimes, such as arson or bombings, in the first seven months of 1994. Although the next two years would see decreases in some types of anti-abortion crimes, clinics have never been free of threats in any of the years since.


Since the 1990s, anti-government groups have stirred racial hatred and anti-abortion extremism on the right.


Just weeks after Dr. Gunn’s assassination, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended a 51-day armed standoff at a compound in Waco, Texas, the home of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians. The standoff began in response to reports that the cult was abusing children and stockpiling illegal weapons. The siege ended on April 19, 1993 — 25 years ago this month — when the cult’s leader, David Koresh, ordered his followers to ignite fires that soon engulfed the compound in flames. By the end of the standoff, 75 people had lost their lives.

The federal government’s actions in Waco had overwhelming public support — 70 percent according to a poll conducted shortly after the siege — but to many right-wing activists, who held a deep distrust of the federal government, Waco was a gross display of heavy-handed government intrusion; tyrannical, military-style policing; and violent intolerance of religious liberty. Waco thus became a rallying cry for a growing, militant movement in the political right. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 2: Race and Abortion from Roe to the Reagan Years

This article is our second installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined how fears of immigration — and racist notions that associated abortion with the barbarism of so-called “savage” races — fueled the opposition to abortion that led to its prohibition in the late 1800s. This installment examines the social forces that helped racism and opposition to abortion converge again in the first years after Roe v. Wade.

Replica of a banner used at NAACP headquarters from 1920 to 1938

A principle of democracy holds that while majority rule should serve as the guiding force of government, at times it must be reconciled with the rights of individuals and minorities. It was an idea Thomas Jefferson captured in his inaugural speech of 1801:

All … will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail … that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect.

With that understanding, the framers wrote the Constitution to include provisions for a judicial branch, composed of judges whose lifetime appointments would free them from the pressures of elections and afford them greater independence in their decisions. The branch would serve as the nation’s highest judicial body, above state and local courts.


Before his obsession with abortion and Tinky Winky, Jerry Falwell fought civil rights and integration.


For much of U.S. history, local, state, and federal judicial systems existed alongside another judicial system, one far less formal and conceived not in the interest of protecting minorities, but often in meting out the harshest possible punishments for them. It was the vigilante justice of lynching, sometimes known as Lynch law. Named after the Virginia plantation owner Charles Lynch, it was a form of mob justice that took root in the Revolutionary War era, before an official court system was fully established. It came to mean quick trials that ended in public hangings.

Though lynching was initially used against British loyalists, eventually Southern blacks became the overwhelming majority of its victims. Many Native Americans, Asians, Jews, and Mexicans were also lynched. According to the NAACP, between 1882 and 1968, in the period of racial tension in the post-slavery and civil rights years, 4,743 lynchings took place, and 3,446 of its victims were black. Rather than taking place under the cover of night or in countryside seclusion, many lynchings were staged in broad daylight, even in front of courthouses, and they were often advertised beforehand in newspapers — a blunt assertion of their existence as a separate judicial system for people of color. Though associated with the South, they took place in the North as well. In fact, only a few states — Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island — had no lynchings between 1882 and 1968. Continue reading

The 26th Amendment at 45: Bringing More Voters to the Fight for Reproductive Rights

Image of a button showing support for a lower voting age from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

When the question of same-sex marriage went before the Supreme Court in the summer of 2013, it was clear that millennials, the nation’s youngest adults, had already reached their verdict; 66 percent were in favor of recognizing it, putting them among the most supportive demographic groups in the U.S.

That same year, millennials were in the spotlight in another fight for social justice. Refusing to accept their university’s mishandling of sexual assault reports, two survivor activists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fought back with federal complaints. Their activism turned up the pressure on their institution and evolved into the founding of the organization End Rape on Campus, or EROC, a networked movement against sexual assault that linked survivor activists and other advocates for change on college campuses throughout the U.S. Following EROC’s founding, supportive faculty formed Faculty Against Rape, or FAR, bringing the movement to more stakeholders in campus communities.


Young voters have the power to shape political futures.


Jennings Randolph, a Democratic member of Congress from 1933 to 1947 (and later a senator from 1958 to 1985), said the nation’s youth “possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world and are anxious to rectify those ills.” With that faith in the collective power of young Americans, Randolph made it his mission, beginning in 1942, to introduce legislation that would lower the voting age to 18. Historically it had been 21. His hopes, though, would not be realized until decades later, in the 1970s.

The United States entered the 1970s bearing the toll of what became one of the longest and most unpopular wars in its history. By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, 2.5 million Americans had served in the conflict, a quarter of them because of the draft. More than 58,000 of them lost their lives. Continue reading

Roe v. Wade: Texas Then and Now

“Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court: It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”

Supreme Court, 1973

Supreme Court, 1973

Thus Jay Floyd, Texas assistant attorney general, opened his December 1971 oral argument in Roe v. Wade, as his adversary attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee sat nearby (no doubt dumbfounded) after Weddington had presented their argument for women’s abortion rights.

Wisely, the Texas reargument in 1972 opened with no attempt at humor. (When Roe was first argued, the Supreme Court consisted of only seven justices. Because the decision would be so historic, the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments a second time when all nine justices were in place the following year.) Then, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was constitutionally protected and the 1854 Texas law at issue was struck down, along with abortion laws in 45 other states. (The Texas gentleman was right: The Texas ladies did have the last word.)


What will the Supreme Court bring us this year? “Don’t Mess with Texas” or “Don’t Mess with Women”?


So, as we approach the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade this Friday, let’s mosey down memory lane. How did we get to that landmark decision, and where might we be going this year with a new Texas case testing abortion rights, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole?

Throughout history, abortion has been a common practice. At the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, abortion was legal in all states. Prior to the mid-1800s legal scholars were not proposing abortion laws, nor advocating “personhood” of an unborn child, nor asserting abortion control on medical safety or any other grounds. Continue reading

Meet Our Candidates: Scott Prior for State Senator, LD 16

The Arizona general election will be held on November 4, 2014, and early voting starts today! Reproductive health care access has been under attack, both nationally and statewide, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed candidates who have shown strong commitment to reproductive justice. To acquaint you with our endorsed candidates, we are running a series called “Meet Our Candidates.” Make your voice heard in 2014!

Covering parts of Pinal and Maricopa counties, including Gold Canyon, Apache Junction, and parts of Mesa, Legislative District 16 is home to more than 220,000 Arizona residents. Scott Prior made the decision to run for Senate in LD 16 so that his fellow constituents could be represented by someone who advocates for workers, makes education a priority, and supports equality for Arizonans regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Both he and his spouse Cara are seeking to represent LD 16 to bring more attention to those issues in the legislature, with Cara running for one of the open seats in the House of Representatives. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona has endorsed both Scott and Cara Prior because of their commitment to reproductive justice.

Mr. Prior returns to the campaign trail after running in 2012. At that time, he shared his thoughts with this blog on the many issues that needed to be addressed in the legislature, including Arizona’s high teen birth rate, inadequate sex education, and health care policy that interferes with private decisions between doctors and patients.

On October 4, Mr. Prior generously took the time to share his thoughts with us again, highlighting many of those same issues but explaining why he is hopeful for a better outcome in this year’s election.


“Let’s leave the practice of medicine to the doctors … and keep legislation out of it.”


It’s great to talk to you again! How has your commitment to serving Arizona grown over the past two years? On the policy level, what has happened during that time to give you hope, and what has happened to strengthen your convictions?

Over the past two years, it has become even more imperative to get common sense people in the state legislature. We have seen a continuing shift over the past several years of elected officials working for the benefit of corporations and special interests, and away from helping the people of our great state. I firmly believe that until we can elect people who will concentrate on the important issues of the economy, creating jobs, and fixing our failing education, we will continue to be the laughingstock of the late-night comedy circuit.

This election cycle will be different, I believe, as my opponent doesn’t have the [same] name recognition and popularity as my opponent in 2012. This gives me hope that I might be able to make a difference, and have a good chance that this election will be much closer of a contest. My convictions are strengthened by the fact that in the 2014 primary, I gathered more votes than I did in the 2012 primary. This means that people are more interested in getting their voices heard, even in a midterm election.

Earlier this year, the state legislature passed HB 2284, which permits the health department to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant. What do you think about this new law?

I personally believe that HB 2284 is just another way for those who don’t believe women can make their own health care choices to try to intimidate and prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights. If those same people who supported this bill spent as much time working on taking care of children after they are born as they do before they are born, then my district would not have a 16 percent child poverty rate, 11 percent of the children in my district would not be without health insurance, and education statewide would not be ranked so low compared to other states. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Supreme_Court_protectI’ve spoken about my experiences as a clinic escort and the importance of buffer zones around abortion clinics many times on this blog. We at Planned Parenthood are staunch supporters of buffer zones and believe they’re crucial in protecting our patients from potential harm and harassment. So, imagine our collective dismay yesterday when the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision calling the 35-foot clinic buffer zone in Massachusetts “unconstitutional” on the basis that it violates the First Amendment of those who wish to “counsel” clinic patients. Pretty infuriating to say the least. (Mother Jones)
  • Will SCOTUS also throw women under the bus in the upcoming Hobby Lobby decision? (RH Reality Check)
  • Four years ago, Aaron Gouveia and his wife had to make the heartbreaking decision to abort their non-viable, very much wanted child. His story describes how the presence of anti-abortion protesters made the saddest day of their lives exponentially worse. (Time)
  • President Obama is the first Commander in Chief to help advance transgender rights! (Associated Press)
  • Women who volunteer in the Peace Corps are now able to receive insurance coverage for abortion (albeit in limited circumstances: rape, incest, or life endangerment). Better to have baby steps than no steps, I guess. (RH Reality Check)
  • Check out this fascinating piece on the history of sex-ed films shown in schools over the years. (Truth-out)
  • The headline might sound sensational, but it’s the truth — Abortion Clinics Are Closing Because Their Doors Aren’t Big Enough. (Vice)
  • The Vatican is aware their teachings on contraception aren’t followed or even highly regarded by most Catholics, but apparently, it’s easier to keep the doctrine stale and irrelevant than to evolve because they’re not likely to make any changes. (Toronto Star)

Roe v. Wade: An Overview

The name of the case Roe v. Wade is familiar to many people in the United States. So is its main impact, to establish a constitutional right to abortion — which it did exactly 40 years ago today.

That said, many fewer people know the details, both of the factual case and of the case’s finding. Do you?

What did abortion law look like at the time?

At the time the facts immediately behind the case started, abortion statutes varied by state, though most states restricted abortion significantly. In Texas, where Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) lived, the law prohibited “procuring or attempting an abortion” except to save the mother’s life.

Who was “Jane Roe,” and why did she sue?

“Jane Roe” was Norma McCorvey, a single woman who learned she was pregnant. In 1970, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington brought suit on her behalf under the alias of Jane Roe. They asserted that the Texas law violated the Constitution on the grounds “that the Texas Abortion Laws deprive married couples and single women of the right to choose whether to have children” (N.D. Texas Opinion of U.S. District Court June (17,) (1970) – Per Curiam:). Continue reading