Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism
kidnapping, murder. This year’s most chilling read is not from Stephen King.
Journalist/rights activist Eleanor Bader and former abortion provider Patricia
Baird-Windle have collaborated to produce a book that will make the hairs stand
up and the skin become goosefleshed. Never before has the anti-violence against
centers for choice, clinic personnel, and abortion providers been so thoroughly
documented, cross-referenced, and time lined. Here are the horror stories that
even those of us active in the pro-choice movement never heard. For this expose,
three years in the making, Bader spent one year traversing the country to get
the personal accounts of those in the front lines. Additionally, there was
contact by phone, email, and snail mail for additional information and updating.
The result is a clearly-written, month-by-month chronicle that shocks and
against clinic personnel rarely get press unless they are more egregious than
usual. The psychological effects on those being terrorized are never mentioned.
Especially heinous are the threats, real or implied, against the families—most
of all, the children—of heroes on what has become a battlefield for choice.
Imagine the feelings of nurse administrator Roni Windle when she was on staff at
the Aware Woman Center for Choice and found a photograph of a fetus in her
mailbox with a picture of her 12-year-old daughter’s head superimposed on it.
In the case of
Cathy Conner who was a clinic administrator, the antis picketed her home and
carried signs saying “Cathy Conner: Baby Killer,” while using bullhorns. Her
children, eight and ten years old at the time, were playing outside. She was
understandably upset, having the antis know who her children were.
Jude Hanson was a
clinic director in Portland, Oregon who had worked in abortion facilities for 20
years. She left her job in 1997 because of the barrage of screaming picketers
outside her home. Clinic administrator Sandy Sheldon tells of being stalked by a
man who had been one of the picketers outside her home. He followed her
everywhere and her greatest fear was the safety of her nine-year old daughter.
Finally, the state attorney agreed she was being stalked and took the case. Even
after the man was convicted, Sheldon was afraid to have birthday parties for her
daughter or to let her daughter’s friends sleep over because the pickets might
show up. She and her daughter spent a year and a half in counseling after the
stalker’s conviction. Even with implied rather than overt violence, and with
constant harassment, the antis can, and have, whittled away the sense of
autonomy of dedicated clinic personnel, making them fear for their safety and
for that of those closest to them. They know, only too well, that from
1977-September 2000 there have been 7 murders, 17 attempted murders, 115
incidents of assaults, and 3 kidnappings of those working in abortion clinics.
They are painfully aware that no one is safe.
Hatred begins with a comprehensive overview, “The State of the Union:
Abortion in North America,” which presents what is happening to our reproductive
rights since Roe v. Wade. To say the least, it is not a pretty picture.
The foes of
abortion rights are well-organized and, although to date they have not been able
to overturn Roe v. Wade, they have been successful in chipping away at
our right to choose by utilizing everything within their well-organized arsenal
to close clinics, to limit Medicaid spending on abortions for poor women, to
institute parental notification for teenagers and to intimidate abortion
providers. Between 1992 and 1996 the number of providers fell by 14 percent,
leaving nearly one-third of American cities without a reproductive healthcare
center. Rural areas often have none for hundreds of miles. According to a 1998
study by the New York-based Alan Guttmacher Institute that is cited by the
authors, the drop in services is attributed to both anti-abortion terrorism and
the antis legislative successes in curtailing access.
The authors also
point out that the majority of abortions in the United States are performed by 2
percent of the country’s obstetrician-gynecologists, two-thirds of whom are 65
or older and that only 12 percent of ob/gyn residency programs require training
in first-timester procedures. Also, laws in 44 states prevent physician’s
assistants, nurse practitioners, and midwives from performing abortions, no
matter how competent they are. When you read in detail of the severity of clinic
violence, the disruptions, the crimes against personnel, you wonder who the
dedicated young physicians are who will brave these attacks in order to perform
The antis claim
that fanatics are committing the murders and kidnappings, the arsons and
bombings and that their various organizations are not involved. However, even as
they deny responsibility, they don’t really censor the attacks. In case after
case, the thoroughness of Bader’s and Baird-Windle’s investigations refute these
organizations disclaimers. However, it is true that as actions have become more
violent many moderate antis have become less visible, leaving the field open to
the most dangerous elements.
pro-choice groups are also criticized by the authors who point out that, with
the exception of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the groups “have been
reluctant to aggressively counter or even study anti-abortion activity. Instead,
they have confined their efforts to lobbying against abortion restrictions and
to working to elect pro-choice candidates to local, state, and national office.”
They cite the mistakes made by wearing blinders and it would be difficult to
disagree with them.
In the last
chapter, of this remarkable book, the authors suggest ways to rectify past
errors and they present “A Vision for Slowing the Violence.” Whether their
methods will work remains to be seen, but they deserve careful consideration.
whenever we began to feel in any way secure about our reproductive rights, my
friends and I had a catch phrase to bring us back to reality: “Wake up, Little
Susie.” Targets of Hatred will arouse even the comatose.
Lowy was the editor of On The Issues, a women’s healthcare magazine.
She has written extensively on women’s issues.