Being pro-choice has been a major part of my identity for as long as I can remember. I have vivid memories of being in my eighth grade social studies class, passionately arguing for clinic access, unable to understand why anyone would think they have the power to dictate what women should be able to do with their bodies. This is an idea that has been a central part of my personal politics and understanding of the world up through the time when I began to wear the “feminist” label. But it was not until only recently that I fully grasped what abortion providers and their clinics face.
It was during my college’s Women’s History Month programming that I first learned about clinic violence. As part of a series of films on abortion and pro-choice activism, our Gender and Sexual Diversity Center screened After Tiller, a 2013 documentary that seeks to follow and understand the lives of the last four late-term abortion providers in the United States, who live under a constant stream of death threats following the murder of Dr. George Tiller in 2009. The film’s strength comes from its humanization of abortion providers. Not only does it portray them as individuals working to make a difference in people’s lives, but it shows the violence they have faced, the safety measures they now use, and the concern of their families.
In a PBS press statement from the filmmakers, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson stated, “Reality is complicated. Yet when it comes to the abortion issue in America, we are often presented with two very different, black-and-white versions of what is right and what is wrong – no exceptions granted. As a result,” they said, “the national shouting match over abortion has become increasingly distanced from the real-life situations and decisions faced by those people most intimately involved – the physicians and their patients.”
This speaks directly to what After Tiller is all about: at the end of the debates and the policies, there are people whose lives are at risk.
After seeing the film, I started my own research, wondering what abortion clinic violence looked like today. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project answered many of my questions. As of 2014, nearly one in five abortion clinics faced “severe violence,” in the forms of blockades, bob threats, death threats, stalking, and more. Worse, these forms of violence double when a crisis pregnancy center is nearby.
Access to abortion is one of my core beliefs as a feminist, as a woman, as a student, and as a person. This access is diminished when abortion providers are too frightened to promote their clinic or are unable to do their work effectively due to the fear and intimidation of anti-choice protesters. Clinic access – and therefore the safety of abortion providers – needs to be protected and promoted.
For more information about how your campus can become involved in clinic access work, check out our Adopt-A-Clinic program.