March 10 was set aside in 1996 as the National Day of Appreciation for Abortion Providers to commemorate the 1993 assassination of Dr. David Gunn, the first provider murdered by an anti-abortion extremist. This month, and especially today, we pause and honor the men and women who put their lives at risk to make reproductive choice a reality.
Unlike other health care professionals, abortion providers face unique challenges, which often include harassment, intimidation, vandalism, and in some cases violence. Since 1977, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) has been compiling statistics on violence against abortion providers and has documented seven murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 175 arsons, and thousands of incidences of picketing and harassment. In addition to dealing with hostile protesters at their facilities, many providers have been picketed at home, or had inflammatory flyers distributed to their neighbors and family members.
Often at great risk to themselves, abortion providers remain dedicated to protecting the lives and health of women by providing them with quality reproductive health care. There aren't many professions that would require a person to deal with such threats and harassment, and the men and women who brave this path are truly heroes.
While major acts of violence have decreased in recent years due in part to the passage and enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, and improved law enforcement response in the capture and prosecution of anti-abortion criminals, the threat of such violence remains. Just this past December, several of our members in New Mexico were victims of arson and vandalism, with one clinic suffering severe smoke and fire damage that forced them to permanently move to another location in order to continue to care for women.
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In response to the violence, the New Mexico House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution in January, "condemning violence directed at abortion and contraceptive clinics and commending law enforcement for its work to end the violence." The resolution went on to commend federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies on their collaboration, investigation, and quick response in arresting two suspects in connection with the arsons and vandalism. An identical resolution has also been introduced in the state Senate.
It is important that communities, legislators, law enforcement, and the courts send a clear message that violence against abortion providers is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. We cannot allow anti-abortion extremists to take the law into their own hands to promote their personal, political agendas.
Today is a day that we remember the seven individuals tragically murdered by anti-abortion extremists: Dr. David Gunn, Dr. John Bayard Britton, James H. Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Leanne Nichols, Officer Robert Sanderson, and Dr. Barnett Slepian. These individuals paid the ultimate price and their memories inspire us as we continue working to protect a woman's right to choose abortion care.
NAF represents health care professionals at clinics, doctors' offices, and hospitals, who together care for more than half the women in the U.S. and Canada who choose abortion each year. Please join us in supporting the men and women who dedicate their lives to providing women with quality reproductive health care by signing NAF's petition to show your appreciation for abortion providers.