While the brutal murders at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado has focused attention on the most extreme forms of violence that is being aimed at women’s health clinics, we should not forget that abortion providers and their patients and clients are the victims of daily, ongoing, routine threats and harassment.
A new book Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism by David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon tells the stories of the people being terrorized. ProPublica has an interview with the first author who says that these anti-abortion protestors seem to have no sense of limits.
The director [of the Allentown Women’s Center in Pennsylvania] had been dealing with some pretty severe targeted harassment. The protesters picketed her house. They harassed her at work. They sent letters to her mom. It got so bad that she was wearing a bulletproof vest to work. This kind of personalized, individual targeting is not a part of the national conversation, and it should be.
A lot of people deal with home picketing. It’s a particularly invasive form of harassment because the home is where we go to escape the world and the public life that we live. Extremists will come to someone’s home on a weekend and protest with signs that say “A Murderer Lives Here” and pass around pictures of the provider and yell to the neighbors that they need to do something about this terrible person in their midst. It sends a not-so-subtle message: We know where you live, we know where to find your family, and maybe we’ll do something more. It’s not something that gets picked up in the media. It’s ongoing.
There’s hate mail at home and work, targeting of family members by showing up at schools.
Cohen says that prosecutors are reluctant to take action against these kinds of actions, even if they are illegal, further emboldening the protestors and leaving the victims feeling vulnerable. And it takes a toll on them. Some of them even wear bullet-proof vests and carry weapons to work.
It has a deep impact on their lives. For some it’s so constant and so pervasive that they think of it as normal. Then, as they were telling us their stories, they would realize: This is not normal. One doctor said he was like a soldier in the field, a cop on the beat, a fireman going into a burning building. A lot of them feel like they are targets, they are in danger, they have to be vigilant all the time. They are traumatized. But these aren’t soldiers in battle. They’re medical personnel working in office buildings.
The goal of these protestors is to terrorize the workers in these health centers and they are aided in this effort by right-wing politicians and right-wing media.