Members of the mob supporting Donald Trump destroy media equipment during an attack on the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021. (Alex Kent)
As more evidence is discovered and more arrests are made in connection to the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol, the picture of intersectional violence becomes clearer. It’s something the reproductive rights community has lived as a reality for years: a common thread of rage and violence directed at people exercising their constitutional rights.
It’s not a coincidence that many of those present at the attack on the Capitol are have also engaged in anti-abortion extremism. One of the insurrectionists arrested, Derrick Evans, a newly elected (then resigned) West Virginia state legislator, had a restraining order against him for harassment of employees at a Charleston, West Virginia, women’s health clinic that provides abortion care.
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Anti-abortion zealot Abby Johnson, who spoke at the Republican National Convention, attended the pre-attack rally and tweeted a picture of herself. Another anti-abortion militant, Tayler Hansen, filmed himself inside the Capitol building when a woman was killed by police. And as noted by Vice News, John Brockhoeft, who was convicted of firebombing an Ohio abortion clinic and planning to bomb another in Florida in the 1980s, livestreamed his exploits at the Capitol on Facebook, writing that he was “fighting for our beloved President Donald J. Trump.”
Abortion clinics have been the target of rage and violence for decades, and thanks to Trump it’s been getting worse. The National Network of Abortion Funds tracks violence against abortion clinics. In 2017, violent acts against abortion providers more than doubled from the year prior, according to data compiled by NNAF. The group recorded 1,081 violent acts, the most since the group began tracking these incidents.
In 2018, the group recorded another new record high: 1,369 reported violent acts, including 15 instances of assault and battery, 13 burglaries, 14 counts of stalking and over a thousand episodes of illegal trespassing.
Anti-abortion violence escalated in 2019. Abortion providers reported a nearly double increase in death threats and threats of harm, going from 57 in 2019 to 92 in 2019. Bomb threats rose from three in 2018 to nine in 2019. And as NNAF notes, lack of punishment and arrests exacerbated the problem: “Throughout 2019, the majority of the anti-abortion extremists invading abortion facilities were repeat offenders. Without adequate repercussions for their actions, these invaders will continue to harass patients and attempt to disrupt services.”
Thanks to U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, Colorado has a “bubble law” that established a protective safety perimeter of 8 feet around any patient and a 100-foot perimeter for a clinic entrance. DeGette championed the law when she was a Colorado state legislator. The law has withstood Supreme Court scrutiny. But the fact remains: Why does a health care provider require a bubble law protecting patients from harassment and intimidation?
Bluntly, threats and harassment of abortion clinics, patients and providers have been tolerated for too long because of abortion stigma — that this emotional and psychological terror is somehow deserved or is simply the cost of providing abortion care. But as we have seen, violence can’t be isolated or siloed.
That rage has manifested itself over and over again, and it exploded on Jan. 6, aided by the incitement of President Donald Trump. And in a supreme moment of obliviousness, some anti-abortion zealots are now actually arguing in op-eds, “The pro-life movement must make it clear: Donald Trump does not represent us.”
No one but the terminally deluded believes these Trumpian denials of responsibility. You broke it, you bought it. The same anti-abortion extremists who praised and promoted Trump now have to own the horror of Jan. 6. They should own and stop inciting violence in their own ranks — however, we won’t hold our breath waiting on that one. And law enforcement needs to get serious about enforcing the law against the kind of threats and terror patients, providers and clinics have to endure, both in person and online. That includes making the connections between anti-abortion extremists and other terrorist groups.
This is an inflection point for all of us as to what is acceptable and what is not. As noted in Rewire, “Anti-abortion violence has wreaked havoc on clinics for decades: fire bombings, shootings, and ceaseless harassment, have forced clinic directors to barricade their medical facilities and stock them with bulletproof vests and staff trained to respond to mass violence at any given moment. All for providing necessary and critical medicine.”
Abortion is health care. And as in attacks on churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, or the invasion of the U.S. Capitol, the violence and terror directed at abortion care facilities must not only be prosecuted in the courts, but condemned by all Americans who profess a belief in freedom and the Constitution.
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