The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Anti-Abortion Terrorism Chalks Up Another Success

The measure of terrorism's success

The measure of terrorism's success

The Tiller family has announced that it is closing Dr. Tiller’s clinic. The terrorists have won, and that assassination has succeeded in doing what it was meant to do. I’m sure the murderer is very happy tonight.

The bottom line on right wing terrorism against abortion rights is that it’s succeeding and has been for some time. Take a good hard look at the chart at the top and try and tell me otherwise. And when it comes to late term abortions, well, Tiller was one of the very few who still provided the service. According to Tiller, speaking in March before his assassination, he was one of only three doctors left in the US doing such abortions. Now there are two. If those numbers are right, one third of all abortion doctors doing these abortions were just killed.

In the aftermath of Tiller’s death, I heard a lot of progressives talking about how the anti-abortion folks were losing. The bottom line is that they’re winning. It is harder to get abortions than it was 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 25 years ago. Abortion access peaked in 1982 and has been declining ever since. Consider that the US population has increased by approximately 30% since 1982.  At the same time the number of providers has dropped by over a third.

Now, most types of abortion violence had been in a slow, long term decline (the exception is burglary) so there’s certainly some reason for optimism. At the same time I strongly suspect that anti-abortion violence will rise, along with other types of right wing terrorism, during Obama’s administration.

The larger point is simpler. It’s harder to get an abortion than it has ever been since Roe vs. Wade, because there are just less doctors who perform abortions. Until more doctors step up and start providing abortions, especially late term abortions, this will continue. It’s hard to blame doctors for not being willing to provide abortions. Not only could you be killed for doing so, your family will be stalked and perhaps harmed, your clinic will be burglarized, you will be subject to constant legal harassment and your life will, in general, be made a living hell along with the lives of your family, friends and associates.

It’s a lot to ask of someone. But this comes back to the truth of rights. You have no rights that people aren’t willing to suffer and die for. Rights that someone won’t put their life on the line for will be taken away by people who are willing to resort to intimidation, violence and to push for laws which take those rights away.

So the questions, then are these:

1) Where are the doctors who are willing to risk their lives, the lives of their families, and to endure constant harassment to ensure that women keep this right, not just in theory, but in practice?

2) Where are the mass of people who will provide money, aid, and physical protection to the doctors who put their lives on the line? Yes, they exist even now, but obviously there aren’t enough of them, because the number of abortion providers keeps going down.

Is this a right you’re willing to risk your life to keep? If enough people don’t answer that question yes, then you will continue to lose it.

Chart Source

Cross posted at Crooks and Liars.


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  1. Thanks for this clear and accurate assessment.

    Coming face to face with devastating failure feels miserable….but wishing the failure away is psychotic.

    Hope your reality-based overview frames pro-choice activists’ strategy.

  2. a new secret system of service delivery for late term pregnancies. The key word is “secret”. Close the two remaining clinics. Design “clinics on wheels” similar to the portable gynaecology unit called “A-portable” used by “Women on Waves”. Instead of installing the unit on a ship, use a commonly used truck for camouflage. Station enough of these units throughout the country. Develop an elaborate system to discourage detection – be constantly on the move. (Maybe the CIA can help?). Encourage the two remaining physicians to retire and recruit new abortion providers who are to remain anonymous at all times. These physicians can be flown to wherever their service is required. Have women escorted to the clinic.

    Anyone has a better idea?

  3. Add “What’s needed is” to beginning of above comment.

  4. Jim

    Ian, I see the fight for women’s reproductive rights as part of the fight against fascism and for a cooperative society. Women as part of the working class are being attacked on many fronts. Women without health care can not pay for an abortion and if we don’t get a single-payer universal health care plan that covers abortion, then low-income, poor, working-class women will be especially penalized.

    The anti-abortion terrorists are one of the groups vying for ideological control of the displaced masses; they represent a larger movement to make fascism an acceptable solution to our current problems. Yes, I am willing to put my life on the line to fight against these terrorist (and all fascists.) I also think many more will be willing to join as soon as they see themselves as part of a class defending the erosion of all their rights.

  5. Punisher

    The pro-lifers are such terrorists that this is the first murder of an abortion doctor in more then ten years. Funny, you forgot to mention that in showing the decline in abortion rate in that timespan.

    Funny a handful of abortion doctors are killed in 36 years since Roe v Wade total in all fifty states (that is like 1/200 murder rate per year) and the whole pro-life movement gets branded as terrorists. In the meantime, in clinos, you have babies’ brains punctured in the name of choice. What does that make the whole pro-abortion movement when it has 49,000,000 blood on its hands?

    There is reason why murders of abortion doctors are as rare as I show- pro-lifers consider murder in any form, be it of the unborn or of abortion doctors, as equally wrong.

  6. Punisher

    By your logic, that makes abolitionists terrorists for the actions of the few like John Brown who murdered slaveowners and those on the side of slavery. After all you are willing to indict a whole movement on the action of the few.

    By your logic, every time a Christian or military person is killed, liberals who say hateful things about either is responsible for their deaths and thus equally guilty of terrorism.

    Or should we also point out liberals constantly say terrorist acts are NOT characteristic of the Muslim faith, though these acts happen on much more alarmingly rate in countries where Muslims live in large numbers every year?

    Why the double standards?

  7. Ian Welsh

    Here’s a chart of anti-abortion violence.

    There are some pro-life types I have some respect for. Those who were against the Iraq war, and against torture. Pope John Paul II, for example. If you’re pro-life, be pro-life. If you follow Jesus, follow the entire path, not your chosen few laws. Are you for looking after the prisoners and the poor? Will you be able to look Jesus in the eye and know that what you have done to him is what you will be judged on? Perhaps you can, but too many in the pro-life movement seem to care more for the lives of the unborn than for those who are born. Too many kissed Bush’s butt when he wanted to go to an illegal war based on lies; when he tortured, and when he imprisoned people he could not prove were guilty.

    Constant demonization of abortion doctors as mass murderers and calling abortion the equivalent of the holocaust has consequences. One of those consequences is that someone will take you seriously, and take the law into their own hands. After all, if you truly believe it’s a second holocaust, well, what wouldn’t you have done to stop Hitler? To stop the holocaust?

    The consequence of forbidding abortion, moreover, will be deaths. The deaths of many women, either from complications of their abortions, or from back alley abortions and attempts to abort themselves. It was like that before Roe, and if Roe is repealed it will be like that again.

    Except, of course, for the wealthy, who will just cross the border to Mexico and Canada and get their abortions.

    As for Islam, I spoke against the Taliban, and Saudi Arabia long before Conservatives noticed they were nasty regimes. But the one has little to do with the other, because someone else engages in barbarities does not mean that we shouldn’t criticize our own, who we have much more influence over.

  8. Ian Welsh


    Good idea, though perhaps the reverse. Make every hospital offer it, and as such it would become very difficult for violence and intimidation to be used against either the doctors or the patients.

  9. adrena

    What you’re saying makes sense, but why aren’t these procedures done in a hospital already? If a few religious zealots make it impossible for women to obtain a late term abortion, should the government not step in to ensure this legal service remains available to women? What’s the holdup?

  10. Jim

    We have to jump through hoops to get on an airplane. Take off your shoes, scan all your luggage, scan your body, etc. When women wanting a legal abortion try to enter the legal clinic to obtain one, protesters can attack them physically. Why won’t the government provide the same protection to stop terrorists from attacking legal abortion clinics as they do to stop terrorist from attacking airplanes? I am with Adrena: “What’s the hold up?”

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