October 30, 2015 — Diane Horvath-Cosper, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a family planning fellow, in a Washington Post opinion piece discusses her experience with harassment by abortion-rights opponents, noting, "Unfortunately, my experience is not the exception among my colleagues who perform what the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled is a legal medical procedure in all 50 states."
Horvath-Cosper shares that she recently found information about herself "in a new and terrifying place: an anti-choice Web site that claims I am part of an 'abortion cartel.'" According to Horvath-Cosper, the website not only lists her "office address and links to find [her] medical license numbers" but also "features several photos," including one in which she is "holding [her] then-15-month-old daughter." She writes the website's use of the photos aims to "to intimidate and incite fear," adding, "The message is unambiguous: I'm being watched, and so is my daughter."
Noting that she now works in Washington, D.C., Horvath-Cosper describes her experience working at a "family-planning clinic in Minnesota, where security guards had to escort doctors, nurses and other employees from our cars while anti-choice extremists wrote down our license plate numbers and took photographs." She notes, "When a new clinic building was constructed, it included an enormous locking gate, a tall perimeter fence and secure underground parking." According to Horvath-Cosper,"This extraordinary level of security is simply not necessary at any other kind of medical facility, because this kind of abusive behavior doesn't happen in other fields."
Despite the threats, Horvath-Cosper writes that she is "not shy" on social media "about the fact that I am an OB-GYN," noting that she "believe[s] physicians must engage in public discourse wherever it is happening, and we must be voices for evidence-based medicine both in and out of the office." She writes, "There is still an incredible amount of stigma surrounding abortion and other reproductive health issues, and I hope that doctors' willingness to share their stories will help women feel empowered to share theirs."
However, Horvath-Cosper notes that "[a]s a mother, it is especially difficult to shoulder this risk as a cost of doing my job." She shares how she is "intensely aware of [her] surroundings" when in public areas, how "there's a fraction of a second of panic" when she starts her car "that someone may have planted a bomb," and how concerned she is "that protesters may someday show up at [her child's] day care, focused on hurting [her daughter] as a way to punish [Horvath-Cosper]."
According to Horvath-Cosper, "Numerous colleagues have similar stories," and "[t]he threats can be vague ... or terrifyingly specific." She continues, "Too often, these threats are not all talk." She states "13 physicians or staff members at abortion-providing facilities have been killed or seriously injured" over the last 20 years, and she points to recent attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington, Louisiana and New Hampshire. Horvarth-Cosper continues, "We already know what abortion-provider violence looks like at its worst," describing how abortion provider George Tiller was murdered in 2009 after facing harassment "for years."
Such attacks "should not exist at all -- especially not as a response to trained, committed health-care professionals providing a legal, essential service," Horvath-Cosper writes. She cites a Feminist Majority Foundation survey that "found that nearly 20 percent of clinics have been subject to the most severe types of anti-abortion violence" and "[m]ore than half of the clinics surveyed reported some form of intimidation, one-quarter of them on a daily basis." In fact, because of this ongoing harassment, "[n]ational advocacy organizations have had to develop curricula to address security issues" for abortion providers, Horvath-Cosper notes.
Further, she notes, "As hard as it is for physicians and staff who work at these clinics, the impact isn't just on providers" but also on patients, some of whom "are too frightened to enter the clinic to get the care they need."
Horvath-Cosper writes, "I chose to become an abortion provider because I respect the autonomy of women, and I trust them to decide what's best for themselves and their families." She notes that while some U.S. residents might oppose abortion rights, everyone "should ... agree that no physicians ought to be terrorized for doing their jobs" (Horvath-Cosper, Washington Post, 10/29).