Violent rhetoric hinders access to abortion services

Violent rhetoric hinders access to abortion services
© ANNA GASSOT/AFP/Getty Images

Imagine your morning. You wake up, have a little coffee and get ready for a doctor’s appointment. You get dressed. In fact, you’re having a great day. Everything is going as you planned. You get in your car and make your way to the doctor’s office. Once you arrive, instead of a peaceful setting, aggressive protestors who are yelling at you greet you.

They are standing at the entrance of the parking lot of the doctor’s office, walking up and down the sidewalk, and before you can even pull into the parking lot, you are harassed, intimidated and shamed for needing health care. These protestors, unfortunately, are a fixture at this health care facility; standing outside, degrading you without any knowledge of who you are or your life circumstances. 

But what makes this health care experience different and downright terrifying for some patients is abortion. What matters is that this doctor’s office happens to provide reproductive health care, including abortion. Day in and day out, people are subjected to this type of treatment. Still people cross the picket line, in order to get the health care they need.

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For decades, abortion has been politicized and sensationalized. Since Roe v. Wade was handed down, abortion providers have also been subjected to routine violence, harassment and intimidation.

With the election of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump faces high stakes in meeting with Erdoğan amid impeachment drama Democrats worry they don't have right candidate to beat Trump Trump threatening to fire Mulvaney: report MORE, those who are more zealous in their opposition to abortion have become emboldened. As a direct result, just two days after Trump’s election, our Wichita clinic was vandalized. It was also reported across the country that threats to reproductive health clinics had immediately risen. Trump even went as far to say that women must face some form of punishment for having an abortion

In 2017, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) confirmed what we were then witnessing across the country. They reported that violent acts against abortion providers more than doubled from the prior year.

But Trump continued to fan the flames, and in 2018, there were record high numbers of violent acts: 1,369 reported violent acts, which included 15 acts of assault and battery, 13 burglaries, 14 counts of stalking and over one thousand episodes of illegal trespassing.

There were three separate arrests of young men who were threatening violence against abortion clinics in Ohio, Illinois and Washington D.C., just in August 2019 alone; further illustrating the ongoing threat that abortion providers and patients face on a daily basis.

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Frighteningly, the numbers show that there continues to be more violence and harassment perpetrated against abortion providers. It is unequivocally true that continued and heightened use of sensationalized rhetoric contributes to this harmful trend.

Between 1993 and 2016, seven anti-choice extremists were responsible for the deaths of 11 people nationwide, including doctors, clinic staff, clinic security guards and other civilians at abortion facilities. There were 26 attempted murders in that same time span. 

Violent rhetoric can hinder access to abortion services and put those dedicated to protecting and providing reproductive health care in the cross hairs. Unfortunately, some abortion providers, like myself, have been forced to take steps in order to protect, not only ourselves, but also our families. As a country, don’t we owe, our patients and our physicians, a reasonable dialogue that is not intent on inciting violence, harassment or intimidation?

The truth of the matter is that people who access abortion services are our children, our mothers, our relatives and the physicians who provide abortion care have families of their own. Don’t we owe it to each other, as citizens and neighbors, to end the senseless targeting of abortion facilities and those who enter their doors? 

Julie A. Burkhart is the founder and CEO of Trust Women Foundation. Trust Women opens clinics that provide abortion care in underserved communities so that all women can make their own decisions about their health care. Follow her on Twitter @julieburkhart.