City-Level Antiabortion Tactics Perpetuate 'Cycle of Violence,' Salon Piece Argues

City-Level Antiabortion Tactics Perpetuate 'Cycle of Violence,' Salon Piece Argues

September 11, 2013 — Antiabortion-rights activists' escalating rhetoric in Albuquerque, N.M., "echoes the targeting of Wichita, Kan.," where abortion provider George Tiller was murdered in 2009 after nearly two decades of protests and violence in the city, Jill Filipovic writes in Salon (Filipovic, Salon, 9/10).

The Albuquerque protests come as the city prepares for a ballot measure on a proposal to enact a citywide ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. After failing to pass the measure in the state Legislature, abortion-rights opponents gathered enough signatures to hold a referendum. If approved by voters, the measure would make Albuquerque the first city to impose such a ban, which mirrors statewide laws in a dozen other places.

Activists associated with Operation Rescue moved to Albuquerque in 2009 to lead protests and rally opposition against Southwestern Women's Options, which offers abortions after 20 weeks. The group's supporters organized a protest last month outside the New Mexico Holocaust and Intolerance Museum, where they demanded the museum include an exhibit on the "American genocide" of legal abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/5).

Activists in the city are also distributing fliers with the pictures of Albuquerque abortion providers and the phrase "Killers Among Us."

Pattern of Violence

Filipovic -- an attorney and writer who is the editor of the blog Feministe -- explains that since the violent "Summer of Mercy" protests in Wichita in 1991, there have been 17 attempted murders of abortion providers, as well as the deaths of eight clinic workers and Tiller's murder. The 1991 protests -- "largely" driven by Operation Rescue -- targeted Tiller's clinic and two others in the area across six weeks that saw 2,600 arrests.

In the years since, "[e]very clinic bombed or burned, and every clinician assaulted or killed, had been previously picketed, targeted or assailed by antiabortion groups like Operation Rescue," according to Filipovic.

The parallels between Wichita and Albuquerque evince a wider pattern of violence, she argues. The cycle starts when a radical antiabortion-rights group uses "offensive, overhyped language" -- such as comparing abortion doctors to Hitler, Nazis or mass murderers -- to target "doctors and clinics who they've decided are particularly bad," she writes. Right-wing media outlets then disseminate those "talking points" to a wider audience, she explains.

The mainstream antiabortion-rights movement and lawmakers capitalize on that energy around the issue to support legislation, and more extreme activists -- who "have spent years hearing that abortion providers are Nazis but the U.S. government won't do anything about it" -- "take the next logical step and bomb a clinic or kill a doctor," according to Filipovic. The mainstream movement condemns the violence, but then "support[s] the grass roots in rallying their extremist troops all over again," she argues.

Meanwhile, abortion-rights supporters "have to play at all levels ... perpetually trying to prevent antiabortion groups from scoring more points, passing more legislation, and making life even more difficult for women," Filipovic continues.

Symbiosis Within Antiabortion Movement

This "antiabortion ecosystem ... gives the more mainstream players plausible deniability when violence occurs, while allowing the radical actors to keep pro-choice activists and clinic workers in a state of fear," she writes. According to Filipovic, people who murder abortion providers or bomb abortion clinics are "not a handful of crazies," but are "all necessary parts of the bigger picture."

Ultimately, antiabortion-rights groups "cannot look at the historical ways violent rhetoric has been followed by real-life violence and still claim that they have no intention of anyone getting hurt" because it is illogical to argue that "abortion clinic providers are the moral equivalents of Hitlers and Eichmanns, committing mass murder and crimes against humanity, and also that it's 100 percent wrong to kill them," Filipovic states.

Antiabortion-rights leaders "benefit from the fear and anxiety these acts of violence cause" because such tactics help their cause "to a point -- at a cost that antiabortion groups seem happy to live with," she writes (Salon, 9/10).