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

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.