Brothers in Arms, Part 3: White Supremacy and the War on Abortion

This article is our third installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series explored the first years after Roe v. Wade, when a fight to preserve school segregation brought together Christian conservatives, who then took on the issue of abortion. This installment examines the connections that developed later between racist groups and the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s, which fed a growing extremism that escalated in the following decade.

KKK members picket Carter campaign office in Alabama, September 1, 1980. Photo: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, courtesy of Georgia State University

The U.S. entered the 1980s with a new political force at work, one that had proven its strength by playing a role in the landslide defeat of incumbent President Jimmy Carter and the election of Ronald Reagan. The religious right had been slow to coalesce in the 1970s, but when it finally did, it became a power that shaped national politics.

What had taken time was trying out — and then abandoning — issues like school prayer and pornography, hoping to find the political lightning bolt that would unite and energize the religious right. When they finally did find their compelling issue, the religious right had a problem: It wasn’t one they could use publicly.


During the Reagan years, there was ample crossover between white supremacist and anti-abortion groups.


Beginning in the 1960s, the South was dotted with private Christian schools that provided white Southerners, many of whom were wary of racial integration, with an alternative to the public schools that were undergoing desegregation. But by the 1970s, those private schools were under attack, coming under the scrutiny of both the IRS and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for their admissions and hiring policies.

The issue brought together key figures in the religious right, like Jerry Falwell, Bob Jones, and Paul Weyrich, and they made it their mission to defeat Carter’s reelection bid, hoping the next president would put the IRS and EEOC on a shorter leash. But to build their movement publicly and nationally, they needed an issue that would stir a broader base of sympathy, branding them as believers instead of bigots. They picked abortion — namely, demanding a constitutional amendment to outlaw it — and they enjoyed a resounding success. Carter refused their demands and lost. Reagan, the candidate they endorsed — and whose party supported their demand in its official platform — won by one of the largest margins in history. Continue reading

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

Today Is Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

candleNovember 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience — a day that honors the memory of those killed because of anti-transgender prejudice. So far this year, each week a trans woman lost her life to this violence. Targeted simply for who they were, these women should not only be remembered and celebrated but should also be fuel to power the movement that stands up for fairness and equality for trans folks.

Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience is also an opportunity for the trans community and our allies to share stories about pervasive crimes against trans folks and to celebrate the resilience of a community often living in the shadows. The 2014 Hate Violence Report, which documented hate crimes perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected individuals, showed an increase in transgender murder victims. Of the murder victims documented in this report, 80 percent were people of color, and 50 percent were transgender women. Transgender people of color were also 6 times more likely than the other groups studied to experience physical violence from police. These reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs paint a bleak picture for the transgender community, particularly the trans women of color communities. The FBI also tracks violence against those living with HIV and is able to get a more complete picture of the violence targeted to trans communities.

Findings from the Injustice at Every Turn report, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, showed alarming rates of violence and harassment experienced by the transgender community, including in educational settings, at work, during interactions with police and other authorities, at homeless shelters, when accessing public accommodations, and in jails and prisons.

At this time, 14 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 125 municipalities offer hate crimes protections that are inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. Arizona is not currently one of the states that protects LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination; however, several cities in Arizona do have nondiscrimination policies that protect city workers and community members: Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Tempe.

After its signing in October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act has made it a federal hate crime to assault an individual based on actual or perceived disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This landmark legislation both mandates that the FBI track hate crimes based on anti-transgender bias and allows the Justice Department to assist in the prosecution of local hate crimes based on gender identity.

Much more needs to be done to address the level of violence and harassment targeted at transgender individuals. Please take a moment to remember those lost to violence and celebrate the resilient trans spirit. It’s time we commit to creating a world inclusive of all trans folks. Tag your own selfie and transformational message of how you would make your community safer for transgender people and post on social media with the hashtags #TransMonth and #PPAZ.


You can follow PPAA on Twitter @ppazaction and Instagram @PPAArizona.

Take Back the Night and the Clothesline Project: The Anniversaries of Two Anti-Violence Movements

Take Back the Night rally in the 1980s. Photo: University of Wisconsin

Take Back the Night rally in the 1980s. Photo: University of Wisconsin

The statistics on violence against women can be jarring. One out of every four women in the United States reports being assaulted by a current or former partner. And every day, three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. At 2 million injuries per year, domestic violence is the leading cause of injury among women. It means that a woman is assaulted every nine seconds in the United States.

As shocking as these statistics are, evidence from crime reports and community surveys indicates that women are safer today than they were 30 to 40 years ago. Domestic violence and violent crime in general have fallen significantly since the 1970s and 1980s. It was that past era that set the stage for an anti-violence movement that turns 40 this month.


The silence of their victims and the indifference of their communities give amnesty to the perpetrators of gender-based violence.


In October of 1975, the fatal stabbing of a Philadelphia woman shook the community and brought people into the streets to take a stand against relationship and gender-based violence. A young microbiologist named Susan Alexander Speeth was walking home at night when she was attacked and killed only a block from her home.

Following the killing, campus area residents organized a candlelit march through the neighborhood. It was a response not only to the tragedy but also to warnings that women should stay inside to keep similar tragedies from happening again. The people who marched that night wanted to send a clear message: They refused to let the solution to violence fall on its victims, or to let safety mean that their work, family, and community commitments would be secondary. Their protest spawned a movement. 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

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

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