Abortion clinic workers risk their lives on a regular basis. Today, National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers, we show our appreciation and support for the individuals who stand up for justice every day.
With the current legislative and judicial war against abortion rights, this day is needed more than ever. Since 1996, March 10 has been observed as the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers to honor the courageous and compassionate people who provide abortion care.
The date has been chosen for a reason. On March 10, 1993, abortion provider Dr. David Gunn was murdered during an anti-abortion protest at the Pensacola Women’s Medical Services clinic. As Gunn was getting out of his car, Michael Griffin shouted, “Don’t kill any more babies!” before shooting him in the back three times. Disturbingly, fellow protesters appeared to be nonchalant about the assassination. One witness said, “It looks like they were just happy.”
Just a few days prior, Griffin had attended a prayer service and protest organization meeting by Rescue America. Founded in the 1980s, this is an anti-abortion outfit that uses aggressive tactics such as bombings, harassment, explicit imagery, intimidation and even assassinations. At the prayer service, John Burt, an organizer of the anti-abortion protest and preacher at Whitfield Assembly of God Church, said that Griffin “asked that the congregation pray, and asked that we would agree with him that Dr. Gunn would give his life to Jesus Christ. He wanted him to stop doing things the bible says is wrong and start doing what the bible says was right.” In response to Gunn’s murder, Rescue America’s National Director Don Treshman remarked: “While Gunn’s death is unfortunate, it’s also true that quite a number of babies’ lives will be saved.”
(To be clear, the bible doesn’t even mention abortion. In fact, far from being “pro-life,” the bible actually describes gory killings of babies in countless passages. And even if the bible did say that abortion should be prohibited, the United States is a secular democracy, not a theocracy.)
Sadly, Gunn wasn’t the last abortion provider to be killed. Former minister Paul J. Hill murdered Dr. John Bayard Britton and a clinic volunteer, James H. Barrett, outside a Pensacola women’s health center in July 1994 barely a year after Gunn’s assassination in the same city. Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kan., a regular target of anti-abortion violence, was killed by Scott Roeder in 2009, who testified that “God’s judgment would sweep over this land like a prairie wind.” At least 11 people have been slaughtered in assaults on U.S. abortion clinics since 1993, most recently when a gunman, mumbling “no more baby parts,” opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three and wounding nine.
Violent behavior directed at clinics and clinic workers has dramatically increased in recent times, as a report from the National Abortion Federation reveals. Abortion providers reported an increase in death threats and threats of harm from 92 in 2019 to 200 in 2020. There was a 125 percent jump in reports of assault and battery outside clinics. Internet harassment, hate mail and harassing phone calls also rose, with 3,413 targeted incidents of hate mail and harassing phone calls in 2020, up from 3,123 in 2019.
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One clinic worker described what it is like to be the target of abortion terrorism: “It’s stressful. You get sick more. It gets into your head, it gets into your heart. It gets to be really hard to take.” Kristina, a pseudonym, explained that she has been accosted, stalked and sent threatening letters. As Time magazine reported, “Perhaps the riskiest part of her job is when she drives the doctor who performs the abortions to and from the clinic. Because of past violence against abortion providers, the doctor drives to another public location to meet Kristina, and then she drives the doctor to the clinic in her own car. For extra security, they vary the locations where they meet. This system is not foolproof, and Kristina says she understands the risks.”
Patients also face harassment. Pia, who has gone to Planned Parenthood for annual exams the past two decades, says that she is always terrorized when she arrives. Most recently, Pia and her boyfriend described “a man pacing back and forth, carrying a giant cross over his shoulder” before they were approached by an elderly woman who told her not to “kill” her baby.
The attacks on abortion clinics, providers and patients are unlikely to dissipate. Last year, U.S. states enacted more than 100 abortion restrictions in a single year, which is historically unprecedented. And the ultraconservative Supreme Court is likely to overturn or invalidate Roe v. Wade in just a few short months.
This means that we need to stand up for secular values more than we ever have before. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has endorsed a resolution to officially commemorate today that Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, have introduced (with Hirono’s press release on the resolution naming FFRF among the supporting organizations).
I also hope that you will join me in cheering on the steadfast and unwavering support that abortion providers give their patients. You can send a message of thanks via the Center for Reproductive Rights, donate to an abortion fund (Women’s Medical Fund of Wisconsin — also name-checked in Hirono’s press release — was founded by FFRF co-founder Anne Nicol Gaylor) and read up on our primer on how to fight for abortion rights.
Let’s do all that we can in support of reproductive rights in honor of the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.