Abortion Providers Speak Out About The Bill That Calls Them Murderers

Anti-abortion legislators have long had a flair for the dramatic, but Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk may be the grand prize winner in the timing category. Silk’s Senate Bill 1118, which would unequivocally make abortion illegal and providers subject to a first-degree murder charge, was introduced just days before the annual observance of National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers.

Every March 10, the abortion provision community and supporters mark the date when Dr. David Gunn was murdered in 1993. Gunn was shot three times in the back arriving at his clinic when a man who had been outside, purportedly praying for his soul, stepped out of the group of picketers and opened fire. Anti-abortion protesters were angered that the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act just a few months earlier meant they could no longer block doors, chain themselves to entrances, or intentionally use force to intimidate and/or interfere with patients and staff entering reproductive-health clinics nationwide.

Since Gunn’s assassination, seven others have been murdered by anti-abortion extremists: Dr. George Tiller, Dr. Barnett Slepian, Dr. John Britton, security guard Robert Sanderson, receptionists Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, and clinic escort James Barrett. According to the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), nearly 68% of reproductive-health clinics nationwide now experience frequent and regular anti-abortion activity — a spike chronicled by lawyer-authors David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon in their book Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism.

Pair this increase in provider targeting with the explosion of abortion restrictions at the state level — almost 400 anti-abortion bills were introduced and 47 passed last year alone — and even a clearly unconstitutional law like SB 1118 can’t be taken for granted. Even if the Republican leadership refuses to bring it to a vote and/or it never passes, elected officials writing and backing legislation that explicitly calls abortion providers murderers lends legitimacy to the fringe element of the “pro-life” movement. Apparently, now it’s not enough to restrict or even try to outright ban abortion; they need people to pay for the sin of providing health care.

Page four of Silk’s bill to make abortion an “unlawful act” explicitly states: “A person commits murder in the first degree when that person performs an abortion.”

Happy Abortion Provider Appreciation Day!

SB 1118 goes on to use its explanation of the scope of the rewritten statute to codify personhood into law: “Abortion means the use or prescription of any instrument, medicine, drug or any other substance or device to intentionally kill an unborn human being.”

Multiple states are already punishing pregnant people via “fetal assault” laws; as written, SB 1118 would allow for the increased prosecution of anyone who ingested a substance an overzealous prosecutor could claim caused a miscarriage or injury to a zygote or fetus.

A related bill in the Oklahoma House — HB 2797, or the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act” — would go further than just outlawing abortion; it would appropriate funds to implement a program in high schools to teach that “life begins at conception.” The sexual misinformation class would be run by the state Department of Education and would “establish, operate and maintain a public information program to educate the public about the humanity of a child in utero.”

Rep. Ann Coody, author of HB 2797, told the local news that the bill was introduced because “there is only one sure prevention of pregnancy, and that’s not to cause it in the first place. The killing of a human being is murder, plain and simple.”

These bills are over the top even for some self-identified “pro-life” activists. Their primary concern is that SB 1118 would end in-vetro fertilization in Oklahoma — not that people seeking abortion could attempt to self-terminate and end up injured, or that extremists could feel emboldened into taking action.

Facing threats against their lives and a constantly shifting set of unnecessary regulations that make their jobs nearly impossible, abortion providers continue to get up every day and go to work. Why? As Dr. George Tiller said: “Women need abortions and I’m going to do them” (with thanks to the documentary After Tiller).

No provider appreciation would be complete without pausing to honor the memory and legacy of Tiller, who was gunned down in his church on May 31, 2009 in Wichita, Kansas.

“Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives,” said Tiller. “Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women” (with thanks to NNAF).

This sentiment is echoed again and again by the brave abortion doctors who choose to be public advocates as well as health-care providers. In the face of mounting threats, and on this day designed to honor them, I spoke with providers to talk about why they keep going and the importance of the work they do.

Dr. Willie Parker explained his motivation for the Physicians for Reproductive Health “Why I Provide” project:

“If they can go through all of that [picketers and obstacles from unnecessary regulations] to get there — to access this care — I just want to make sure that there’s somebody’s there to provide it. For me, I became uncomfortable not providing abortions when I know what women face.”

Dr. Pratima Gupta practices in San Francisco, where she’s also an advocate and volunteer working to expand access to care and sexual-health education. She has spoken and written about the current climate of hostility around reproductive health, and makes no effort to hide the fact that she’s “infuriated by the spiteful policies” legislators pass regularly.

“As an abortion provider, I would like to emphasize to legislators that I save women’s lives and protect families,” Gupta told The Establishment. “These extreme laws are being developed by politicians to end women’s constitutionally protected right to abortion. I practice medicine; politicians should not. These bills are dangerous for women and families since they reduce access to legal health services and may force women to take matters into their own hands.”

Dr. Nancy L. Stanwood, an abortion provider based in New Haven, Connecticut, worries that the continuing prevalence of bills like SB 1118 and HB 2797 will only lead to increasingly unsafe conditions for physicians and patients.

“Inflammatory bills that seek to demonize and stigmatize the caring physicians who provide abortion care only increase the risk that such physicians are the target of harassment and violence. Such bills do not improve the health and lives of women,” Stanwood told The Establishment.

She went on to address the stigma, expressing a desire for those proposing and passing abortion restrictions to recognize not just the rights, but the humanity of all involved.

“The most important fact that such misguided legislators need to know is that women who have abortions and the dedicated physicians who provide abortions are thoughtful, compassionate, moral humans who are deserving of respect and dignity,” said Stanwood.

You can show your support on National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day through the 1 in 3 Campaign’s “Send A Postcard To Your Local Provider” project. Heather Ault of 4000 Years for Choice designed the postcards, and for provider safety, the link automatically sends the card of your choice and a note to the physicians in your area.

Posting your support publicly as well does more than just let abortion providers know they’re appreciated; countering outrageous legislation like SB 1118 is best done by ending stigma and making it clear to legislators that public opinion has reached a tipping point. So, do your part to make it safe for abortion providers to do their jobs — because that essential, humane work is critically under siege.