Domestic Terror Against Healthcare Providers

By Aurea Bolaños Perea, President’s Assistant Intern

On Saturday, November 28th, 2015 at around 12pm local time, Colorado Spring’s Planned Parenthood clinic was victim of an act of domestic terrorism (let’s call it by what it is), by Robert Lewis Dear who killed three people and wounded nine others.

The first thing I thought when I saw this news was: “Watch this be an act against abortion clinics.”

As I read this breaking news, I thought, “Why would anyone shoot a Planned Parenthood clinic? Why a healthcare provider?

According to recent history, it is not that uncommon. Both clinics and workers have been subject to violence, and can you guess when this trend began? Following Roe v. Wade, the number of legal protests, picketing, blockades, trespasses and attempted arsons increased throughout the United States.

The Department of Justice created a task force called the National Task Force On Violence Against Health Care Providers – their purpose is to coordinate investigations that can help law enforcement prosecute acts of violence enacted against abortion providers. This task force was formed in 1998, two weeks after the shooting death of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a reproductive health care provider who lived in New York.


Timeline of terror against Healthcare Providers

The first act of terrorism against health care clinic was in 1977 – a bombing.

By 1980, the Pro-Life Action League, headed by Joseph Scheidler, advocated violence against abortion providers to instill fear throughout the female population, in hopes of forcing an end to abortions. Instilling fear in the masses might also reject innocent refugees from coming into the country or instill the masses to put a certain ethnic group in an internment camp.

In Illinois in 1982, a reproductive health care physician and his wife were kidnapped. By 1983, three other health care clinics in Virginia and Florida were bombed. The perpetrators of these acts were identified, caught and convicted.

After the 1983 bombings, there were more than 25 other individual incidents – bombings and arsons – that took place throughout the U.S. In 1988, anti-abortion activists engaged in a series of blockades of reproductive health care clinics in cities throughout the U.S., drawing massive media attention to the issue and forcing police to make hundreds of arrests on charges of trespassing, resisting an officer, disorderly conduct and violence.

By the early 1990’s, the number of violent clinic-related incidents only escalated. Bombings and murders were still happening too regularly. Since 1993, 7 people have been killed in incidents motivated and inspired by anti-abortion extremists.

Now because of the actions of Robert Lewis Dear, that number is 10.

According to the National Abortion Federation, there have been 84 cases of violence against healthcare clinics in the United States. Below are the ones in the last 5 years.

Date State Type Case
11/25/2015 Colorado Murder and Attempted Murder Robert Lewis Dear has been charged with murder and attempted murder
10/2015 California Arson Open
9/2015 Washington Arson Open
8/2015 Louisiana Arson Open
7/2015 Illinois Arson Open
10/2014 Missouri Attempted Arson Jedediah Stout – pending trial
3/2013 Montana Vandalism Zachary Klundt vandalized and destroyed a clinic in Kalispell, Montana. Sentenced to 5 years in prison
5/2012 Georgia Arson Open
4/2012 Wisconsin Bombing Francis Gerald Grady was arrested, but no proof he did it
1/2012 Florida Arson Bobby Joe Rogers sentences to 10 years for damaging a reproductive health facility
8/2011 Texas Arson Open
5/2011 Wisconsin Attempted Murder Ralph Lang convicted to 10 years in prison for attempting first-degree homicide
5/2009 Kansas Murder Anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder shot and killed Dr. George Tiller in his church in Wichita, Kansas

What led me to write such a lengthy blog post, and my last blog post as I end my internship here at the National Organization for Women, is that America is not a stranger to terrorism – it hasn’t been, even before 9/11. What happened, however, was that it was easier to convict and criticize those whose opinions differed from ours, even if they were extremists, rather than to believe that we have terrorists of white skin in our country.

I said it.

The media has always spiraled out of control when there is a shooting or murder regarding someone who is different than the majority of the population. Basically, if you are Black, Latino, Muslim, Immigrant, Poor, LGBTQ+, etc; your headlines will instigate terror based on your race and beliefs – not what you did.

Here are some examples:

  1. Everyday Feminism: “8 Ways the Media Upholds White Privilege and Demonizes People of Color
  2. The Washington Post: “Shooters of color are called ‘terrorists’ and ‘thugs’. Why are white shooters called ‘mentally ill’?
  3. The Daily Show episode: “Attack On Planned Parenthood
  4. ACLU: “The Anti-Abortion Agenda Explained (Here’s a Hint: It’s Not About Women’s Safety)

When these domestic terrorists attacked health care clinics, why weren’t people just as terrified as they were when the Paris attacks happened? I mean, if it had  been a Muslim man who entered an abortion clinic and shot and killed 3 innocent people, the hate that America already has against the Arab population would only become deadlier. If the shooter was Muslim, they would have searched his home, investigated where he had been and whom he had met with in the past 5 years, what mosque he attended (if he did), and the news would have labeled him “terrorist”.

Why didn’t the media label Lewis Dear as a “White Terrorist”? The media would have said “Muslim Terrorist” if the man was Muslim.

Why isn’t the same terror we feel when it is someone of a different colored skin than ours, being felt after our citizens shoot a school or movie theatre or church, bomb or burn clinics or kill people seeking medical help?

The only answer I can come up with is one that the President of NOW, Terry O’Neill, said in her press release this Saturday- “we must reject the use of deception and hate to further a political ideological agenda.”

Because in the end, these acts of terror are a battle already half-won. With this, fewer women will want to  attempt to have an abortion because they will fear being attacked in what they thought was a healthcare safehaven. The public’s perception of abortion and affordable care will change. It only makes sense that after these crimes that we, pro-choice believers, will be fearful.

But here I am, typing away, hoping that readers, supporters and advocates for and against abortion leave this blog post with one thing – just one; and that is to remember who is the true criminal here. It is not race, it is not religion, it is not gender, it is not the pro-choice or pro-life debate – it is extremists and it is social biases. The criminals are these steel boxes that want to keep us frightened of differences – about anything, really – and to separate the nation by creating an “us versus them” mentality. The United States cannot move forward if we live our days cornered in fear because of senseless actions of others.

What happened in Colorado this weekend and what has happened to abortion institutions and health care clinics like Planned Parenthood in the past 40 years is the result of advocating an idea through the use of intolerable violence – one that happens one too often in our country, but so many of us are afraid of calling it by its name.

It is time, now more than ever, to protect our women, our daughters and our sisters who seek freedom over their own body; it is time to look over skin color and religion and be fair to one another – no one is better than the other – we are and should all be considered equal. That is the true testament of feminism.

There is too much to be done in this country, but let it be that no one else will have to be gunned down in the name of extremism.

2 responses to “Domestic Terror Against Healthcare Providers

  1. Ms. Perea,
    I appreciated this blog post. I was grateful for the accurate historical account of violent acts that have occurred against healthcare providers.
    I also appreciated the call to respect differences.
    The amount of thoughtful, insightful, dialogue between pro-choice and pro-life advocates is scant at best. I would genuinely love to hear a respectful debate from both sides at some point.
    Specifically I would like to hear the prochoice side address the humanness of the embryo/fetus. Most anti-abortion sentiment is derived from a fundamental belief that abortion is an act of violence against the most vulnerable in our society. How do pro-choice advocates address this concern? Contrastingly, I would like to hear how anti-abortion advocates address the idea that a woman’s body is ultimately not her own. If she is required to continue a pregnancy to term, she has lost vital capacity to make her own healthcare decisions. How do anti-abortion advocates address this concern?

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