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From the desk of ... David S. Cohen, Repro Health Watch

Living in the Crosshairs: Violence Against Abortion Providers Hurts Us All

David S. Cohen, Professor of Law, Drexel University

In an ideal world, abortion providers would lead lives just like any other medical professional. However, in the highly charged environment we live in, abortion providers’ lives are different. Because of their work, providers have been murdered, shot, kidnapped, assaulted, stalked and subjected to death threats. Their clinics have been bombed, attacked with noxious chemicals, invaded, vandalized, burglarized and set ablaze. Individual abortion providers have been picketed at home and have received harassing mail and phone calls. Their family members have been followed where they work, their children have been protested at school and their neighbors’ privacy has been invaded.

Unfortunately, as the attacks of the past few months show, this kind of targeted harassment of abortion providers is not a relic of the past, when Operation Rescue was at its peak and clinic bombings seemed to be a weekly occurrence across the country. Although the federal government passed a law in 1994 that greatly reduced the number of clinic blockades, the day-to-day harassment that some providers experience continues.

In our recent book, my co-author Krysten Connon and I detail findings from interviews with almost 90 providers across the country. We document the types of individualized harassment providers face and the toll this takes on their lives. Some register property in other people’s names, wear disguises to work, take different routes to and from work and leave restaurants quickly so no one identifies them.

These evasive measures are foreign to almost all other medical professionals. As one abortion provider told us, “If anybody told me when I was in medical school that I would go to work armed and with a bulletproof vest, I would have thought they were nuts. But I do have a bulletproof vest, and I do go to clinics armed these days.”

Although the Supreme Court failed to uphold buffer zones outside of clinics, there are other ways the law can help providers. Police can work preemptively with clinics and providers to enhance security, legislators can strengthen harassment and stalking laws and pass laws restricting home picketing, states can better protect providers’ identities from being included in public databases and judges can obtain a thoughtful understanding of an abortion provider’s unique conception of a threat.

It’s rare for an abortion provider to leave the field because of this harassment; they are too committed to their patients and the cause to do so. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Just the opposite — these defenders of human rights need to be better protected so that women can more easily access the basic constitutionally protected medical care they seek.


David S. Cohen is a law professor at Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, where he teaches constitutional law and gender and the law. Prior to teaching, Cohen was a staff attorney at the Women's Law Project. He is currently on the board of the Women's Law Project and the Abortion Care Network and writes for The Good Phight and occasionally for Slate and Rolling Stone.


Comments

Submitted by Bill on November 25, 2015
These attacks r unconscionable & UNACCEPTABLE. How dare they take it upon themselves to HARASS PEOPLE & CAUSE MORE PAIN under the guise of protecting 'babies.' Doesn't bother them to take a life for their own purposes, does it???
Submitted by 111 on November 24, 2015
I agree
Submitted by Patty Political on November 23, 2015
The same people complaining about abortion and birth control seem to be the same ones complaining about "All these Warfare moms" I Guess they haven't figured out that abstinence just doesn't work.
Submitted by Jo on November 23, 2015
I agree that the term "baby" is inaccurate and inflammatory.
Submitted by choice on November 23, 2015
Let's tell the truth. Legal or not, there will always be abortions. Doctor's office is much safer than back alley or homemade. Let's keep women safe. And much needed other services safe too.
Submitted by Susan on November 23, 2015
These attacks on clinics need to be investigated and prosecuted as the crimes that they are. These harassment groups need to be labeled as the hate groups that they are. It is time for push back against them.
Submitted by CUBBROBB on November 23, 2015
Ditto - Same as above, submitted by "MASCAR"... on November 23, 2015 As long as abortion opponents continue to use the term "baby" instead of the fetus, egg, or ovum that it is -not a fully formed and viable human. They will win this war. I eat eggs -some come barely fertilized - and I know that I am not eating a baby chick. We have to address their harmful misinformed rhetoric in order to win this battle. We need a good campaign to address this soon.
Submitted by Buck on November 23, 2015
Professional medical providers such as end-of-life and abortion providers need federal, state, and local laws vigorously enforced and prosecuted; such laws publicized and promoted by broadcast, print, and public and person-to-person speech.
Submitted by mascar on November 23, 2015
As long as abortion opponents continue to use the term "baby" instead of the fetus, egg, or ovum that it is -not a fully formed and viable human. They will win this war. I eat eggs -some come barely fertilized- and I know that I am not eating a baby chick. We have to address their harmful misinformed rhetoric in order to win this battle. We need a good campaign to address this soon.
Submitted by none on November 23, 2015
I fully support this.

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