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NYT Op-Ed Examines Link Between Antiabortion-Rights Rhetoric, Violence

NYT Op-Ed Examines Link Between Antiabortion-Rights Rhetoric, Violence

December 2, 2015 — In a New York Times opinion piece, columnist Katha Pollitt writes about the shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic in the context of antiabortion-rights rhetoric, denouncing abortion-rights opponents' "long history" of "disclaiming any connection with violence."

Citing several incidents of antiabortion-rights violence since the release of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood, Pollitt writes, "I'm not aware of any prominent abortion opponents who have publicly accepted responsibility for fomenting violence by using language that equates abortion with the Holocaust or murder on an industrial scale -- atrocities that would seem to call for resistance by any means necessary." Pollitt notes that "even when deploring violence, [abortion-rights] opponents equate it with the practice of abortion."

According to Pollitt, "Violence against abortion clinics and providers has been part of the so-called pro-life movement virtually since 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion is a constitutionally protected right." She cites the National Abortion Federation, which "has recorded a staggering 6,948 acts of violence against clinics and providers between 1977 and 2014, including eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 182 arsons."

Pollitt writes that while abortion-rights opponents "portray violence as the doings of madmen ... it is not surprising that susceptible people will act on what they hear as a call for violence" when prominent antiabortion-rights leaders frequently make incendiary claims, such as comparing "clinics to Auschwitz" and "embryos [to] slaves." Noting that "sometimes the call is explicit," Pollitt points to Troy Newman, president of the antiabortion-rights group Operation Rescue, who "views abortion as a capital crime and has called for the execution of abortion providers." She notes that rather than being "ostracized by mainstream abortion opponents," Newman was thanked by Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for his endorsement.

Meanwhile, Pollitt explains, "Law enforcement and the news media have been reluctant to call this continuing violence by its rightful name: terrorism." She notes, "Unless there's a death, each incident gets little attention. It's as if we take abusive anti-abortion tactics for granted."

According to Pollitt, such "anti-abortion violence ... works" to reduce abortion access. She notes that a Wichita, Kan., clinic operated by murdered abortion provider George Tiller was closed after his death and that a different clinic that later opened in its place "offers a narrower range of services." Similarly, the "only abortion provider" in Kalispell, Mont, remains closed after it was destroyed by an abortion-rights opponent, she writes.

Pollitt explains that while "[m]ost targeted clinics stay open ... there's a toll." She writes, "When I asked abortion providers how the threat of violence had affected the way they provided care, people listed everything from armed security guards and metal detectors to safe rooms and regular emergency drills." Further, "Technicians have to decide whether a patient's elevated blood pressure is caused by a medical condition or from the anxiety of wading through a crowd of protesters," and clinics face difficulty "hir[ing] and keep[ing] staff when the job description includes feeling threatened every day," she adds.

Citing research that found most U.S. residents "believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases," Pollitt concludes, "Do we want to live in a country where extremists use violence to deny women legal health care, and people whose words may well spur them to action insist they have nothing to do with it?" (Pollitt, New York Times, 12/1).