December 7, 2015 — In an opinion piece for STAT News, abortion provider Warren Hern writes about the harassment and death threats he has faced throughout his 42-year career and why he continues to provide abortion care, stating that it is "the most important thing [he] could do in medicine."
According to Hern, the death threats and violence began shortly after he began providing abortion care at a clinic in Colorado in 1973. Noting that he "expected to be shot as [he] walked out the door in the morning or as [he] came home at night," Hern writes, "The terror of those days came back to me last week when a gunman ... attacked the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three and wounding nine others."
Hern states, "That fear has been with me for 42 years and is constantly renewed." He describes how even medical professionals were hostile to him when he opened a clinic shortly after Roe v. Wade, and how antiabortion-rights groups and individual opponents targeted him professionally and personally.
Meanwhile, his "patients were grateful," Hern continues, writing about one instance where a patient was "trembling" because she was so grateful to access professional abortion care after previously obtaining an "illegal abortion ... under hideous circumstances." According to Hern, "The patients were usually ... healthy young women who wanted to live their lives, get an education, learn a profession, know themselves, and experience independence before they started a family." Other patients "were women who already had families but who could not bear the stress of raising more children," women who were in "broken or abusive relationships" and women who were sick or in danger of dying from their pregnancies, he writes.
He notes that while owning and operating a private abortion clinic "had not been [his] plan," he realized that doing so helped "make the Roe v. Wade decision meaningful" and "save[d] women's lives."
Hern elaborates on other instances during which he and his colleagues were harassed, physically assaulted and murdered. He describes how his first marriage fell apart in part because of the "constant stress" of having antiabortion-rights harassment outside his home, and how someone fired five shots at his clinic in 1988, "narrowly missing a staff member." Hern also describes how his colleague, George Tiller, was murdered in 2009, noting that he was placed "under 24-hour armed guard at [his] office and at home" following Tiller's death.
Hern explains that he continues to provide abortion care because "[p]erforming safe abortions in a humane, dignified, and caring atmosphere matters for the health and safety of ... women. It matters for the health of their families. It matters for the health of our society. And now, it matters for freedom." He concludes, "If women are not free to make decisions about their own lives and health, they are not free. And if women are not free, none of us are" (Hern, STAT News, 11/4).