The Dangerous Complacency of Victory

Merle Hoffman

The worst years of abortion clinic violence occurred during the Clinton presidency. Without a "friend in the White House," will anti-abortion extremists ratchet up violence against clinics again? Hoffman, an abortion provider, shares her fears.

In the midst of shared elation over the election of Barack Obama
— the transcendence of the moment, the breaking of the racial barrier
and a new puppy in the White House — I remember that
complacency can result from victory.

the election, I have heard many people say, "Now, I don’t have to worry
about the Supreme Court," as if women’s reproductive
freedom will be secure because there is a "friend in the White House."
But the Supreme Court is far from the "Holy Grail" of abortion rights.

we can look forward to the appointment of Supreme Court
justices that are less likely to overturn Roe than McCain’s
choices would have been. But we have to be continually vigilant about
the guerilla tactics that may make Roe irrelevant, if not non-existent.
There can be no rest for those who work for reproductive justice and
for millions of women living in terror and danger in this country and
around the world.

I mark the firebombing of Bill Baird’s clinic
in 1979 during Jimmy Carter’s presidency as the beginning of radical
anti-abortion violence. Since then, I (and other providers) have been
living in a state of existential dread because there is nothing like
the threat of an unexpected, violent death to focus your mind. Since
the first bombings in 1977, that’s always been possible. Some of the
most difficult political times for reproductive rights, and me
personally, occurred during the Clinton years. Violence of all kinds
against abortion clinics was high.

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While Clinton was President, there were 84 abortion clinic bombings. The first murder occurred: Dr.
David Gunn was shot to death by Michael Griffin. In fact, all of the
murders of abortion clinic providers occurred during the Clinton

What the National Abortion Federation (NAF) terms as
incidents of "extreme violence" reached 53 in Clinton’s tenure, while
there were only six during the Bush presidency.

It was during the Clinton years that I bought a shotgun and a handgun and learned how to use them.

was in 1994 that defrocked Rev. Paul Hill gunned down Dr. David Gunn’s
successor, Dr. John Britton, in Pensacola, killing him and his
bodyguard, James Barrett, and injuring Britton’s wife, June.

And it was in 1994 that federal marshals were stationed at the clinic where I work, Choices, for three months and other clinics around the country in response to the Pensacola killings.

I sat down to write this, an "alert" from NAF flashes on my screen. I
haven’t seen one of these in a while, but I am not surprised at its
content. It states that with the election of Barack Obama, all abortion
providers should immediately do the following:

  • Review
    security protocols with staff and make sure contact information for
    federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies is up-to-date.   
  • Keep lines of communication open and ensure that staff members report any suspicious activity
  • Make sure staff members responsible for opening and closing
    know how to respond if they notice something unusual or out of the
  • Take note of any change in protesters,
    including new or different protesters and any significant change in
    their numbers or the frequency of their demonstrations.
  • Make sure all security equipment (including alarms, cameras, lighting, recording devices, etc.) is in working order.

now, you may ask, while the majority of the country is awash in
jubilation at the election of a pro-choice progressive president?

there is nothing like the feeling of resentment and powerlessness to
fuel the fires of rectitude and righteousness of the right.

Because now is the time for potential aggressive and fatal activism to rise from the anti-abortion movement.

lost their "friend in the White House" may lead to the same ingredients
that were present during Clinton’s terms — feelings of frustration,
alienation, disengagement from the power structure, marginalization,
anger and hopelessness. They are the perfect cocktails to drive some on
the right to radical action.

Obama, being eminently reasonable,
will search for "common ground" on this issue, as on others, in an
attempt to bring unity. Many on the right will take some comfort in his
description of sexuality as "sacred." But can there really be common
ground with individuals who would deny women the right to some forms of
birth control, which they continue to describe as chemical warfare and
seek to criminalize doctors who perform abortions?

So as I take
a moment — just a moment — to share the joy and expectation of this
extraordinary historical time, I know that my battles continue and, in fact, some
may have only just begun.

This article was first published by On The Issues magazine.

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