Come Together to Prevent My Murder

Jen Boulanger

There can be no common ground unless all parties are truly safe.  The pro-life movement must reject violent acts and violent messaging and the Obama administration must be more proactive in addressing violence against clinic workers.

In my 15 years as the executive director of the Allentown Women’s Center, a reproductive health care facility located in northeast Pennsylvania that also performs abortions, I have never felt more vulnerable.  In the weeks since the murder of Dr. George Tiller, I have witnessed first hand an upswing in aggression and violent rhetoric by protestors; they’ve become more emboldened. After Dr. Tiller’s murder, mainstream pro-life organizations issued statements condemning acts of violence, but more needs to be done by the pro-life movement and by the Obama administration to reign in the rhetoric and identify those prone to violence.

This is a foundational common ground issue. No shared path can be discovered unless all parties embarking on it are truly safe.  The pro-life movement has a deep interest in eliminating violent people from within its ranks and violent rhetoric from its messaging. These elements are corrosive and serve to alienate the majority of pro-life Americans who are peaceful and want to work through legal means. The Obama administration has an immense common ground opportunity at this very moment. He needs to take seriously the statements of nonviolence that pro-life groups released and build upon those pledges. Reasonable Americans on either side of this issue are united in their desire to fight this form of domestic terrorism that threatens the lives of healthcare providers and the legitimacy of the pro-life establishment. We all have a stake in this; that’s where the most potent common ground is discovered. Unless the Obama administration makes nonviolence a priority and works with peaceful pro-life groups toward that goal, I fear we will witness more violence and terrorism by those claiming to act on behalf of the pro-life cause.

Like Dr. Tiller, I have been called a baby murderer, and other chilling things including “the bride of Lucifer.”  My husband and I have been told, “a family that kills together goes to hell together.” The physician who works at my Center and I get picketed at our homes monthly by a member of the Army of God, an organization that supports the use of violence to stop abortion and glorifies those who commit acts of murder.  People calling themselves “Lehigh Valley Pro-Lifers” have targeted my mother – sending her hate mail shaming her and accusing her of raising a bad Catholic.  I have been told by someone from this same group that I am going to die soon.

And while the news crews that covered the Tiller murder have now packed up and moved on, aggressive protesting in the weeks since the murder of Dr. Tiller has escalated. My abortion provider colleagues from across the country have noticed this alarming trend.  Since Dr. Tiller’s murder, the threats and violent rhetoric have gotten much worse. On the day of Dr. Tiller’s funeral, one of our volunteers was asked, “How do you prefer to die, by knife or by bullet?” A week later, a protester told me, “Abortionists were executed after World War II by the Nuremburg Trials” and posed this rhetorical question, “You know what Von Brunn did at the Holocaust Museum?”  This protester’s son, who has picketed the clinic since he was a small child (he is now in his early twenties), has made a point of mentioning ammonium nitrate, which is used in making bombs, to us while protesting on several occasions.  

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This is not “sidewalk counseling” designed to persuade women from choosing abortion.  It is terrorism designed to intimidate, threaten and harass clinic workers.  Comments like these made to anyone would be considered threats – but when made outside of abortion clinics, they are also violations of the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) law. The protesters know this and that they are thumbing their noses in the face of federal law is a sign to law enforcement that not enough is being done to protect those who work at abortion clinics.

As we have seen with violent incidents in the past, such as the maiming of a nurse and murder of a security guard in Alabama, the murder of two receptionists in Brookline Massachusetts, and the murder of a clinic escort in Florida, extremists target not only the doctors, but everyone who helps provide women with abortion services including volunteer escorts, security guards, clinic staff, administrators, and their family members. Local law enforcement and the Justice Department must recognize that doctors and clinic staff need protections and that often it’s the staff to whom the aggressive protesting and verbal abuse is most directed. Given the history of murder of and violence against clinic staff, as well as doctors, when clinics are put on high alert and federal marshals are dispatched, the protection they offer should take into account, among other factors, who at the clinic is most targeted by protesters.

The recent rise in hateful rhetoric is not only poisonous but also contagious. Recently, we have seen protesters who were at one time peaceful become more aggressive and angry. Unhinged people, like Scott Roeder, are attracted to the high vitriol –it helps them justify to themselves their violent acts. The majority of pro-life groups maintain that these acts of vigilantism are made by lone assailants and are not condoned by their own members.  Yet at our clinic, peaceful protesters demonstrate side by side with the extremists.  Pro-life groups and individuals that truly abhor the violence against reproductive health care providers need to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people among them who are masquerading as pro-life sympathizers in order to justify killing people. Those who protested with Scott Roeder knew of his violent tendencies and that he supported violence against abortion providers. More red flags could have been raised about him to local law enforcement had a determined anti-violence effort been underway.

As we have seen in the past several years, just because a pro-life President or Congress is in power it has little to no effect on reducing the number of abortions.  In fact, anecdotal evidence (it will be several years until actual data is compiled) indicates we are now witnessing a surge of abortions as a result of the “pro-life” Bush administration’s failed economic policies.  Yet the anti-abortion extremists seem to be under the impression that because we have a pro-choice President their values are somehow more threatened and that they have no recourse except by becoming more aggressive.  Pro-life political leaders have the power to change this.  Taking part in common ground efforts that are solution-oriented is the first step.

I see a great opportunity for both sides of the issue to come together with the Obama administration to take action to prevent future violence.  It is time for mainstream pro-life groups to step up and promote reasonable dialogue and stop the hateful rhetoric.  At the same time, President Obama must also do more than just say he is outraged by Dr. Tiller’s murder.  He can work with his administration to put forth new and improved legislation that addresses the weaknesses of FACE, protects free speech, and provide local law enforcement with the ability to act quickly when protesters break the law which is often the first warning sign that violence might follow. The Obama administration needs to immediately convene pro-life groups, the Justice Department, pro-choice groups, abortion providers, and anti-violence experts to formulate a tangible plan before someone else is murdered.

There are effective solutions that both sides can agree to including safety zones around the entrances of clinics that allow patients and workers to enter and exit buildings and parking lots safely.  Pro-life advocates can agree to assist law enforcement in identifying sociopaths like Scott Roeder, who have no qualms breaking laws.  Restrictions on home pickets could be put into place that help protect providers who have been targeted outside of their homes.  An alert system can be put in place so that authorities can act quickly to apprehend those who break laws designed to protect clinic staff and preempt any further acts.  And FACE legislation can and must be improved so that there are clearer guidelines and more strict enforcement.

Dr. Tiller’s murder could have been prevented.  My murder can be prevented. President Obama, I need your help.

News Law and Policy

Anti-Choice Group: End Clinic ‘Bubble Zones’ for Chicago Abortion Patients

Michelle D. Anderson

Chicago officials in October 2009 passed the "bubble zone" ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support.

An anti-choice group has announced plans to file a lawsuit and launch a public protest over Chicago’s nearly seven-year-old “bubble zone” ordinance for patients seeking care at local abortion clinics.

The Pro-Life Action League, an anti-choice group based in Chicago, announced on its website that its lawyers at the Thomas More Society would file the lawsuit this week.

City officials in October 2009 passed the ordinance with nearly two-thirds of the city aldermen in support. The law makes it illegal to come within eight feet of someone walking toward an abortion clinic once that person is within 50 feet of the entrance, if the person did not give their consent.

Those found violating the ordinance could be fined up to $500.

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Harassment of people seeking abortion care has been well documented. A 2013 survey from the National Abortion Federation found that 92 percent of providers had a patient entering their facility express personal safety concerns.

The ordinance targets people seeking to pass a leaflet or handbill or engaging in “oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person in the public way.” The regulation bans the use of force, threat of force and physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere any person entering or leaving any hospital, medical clinic or health-care facility.

The Pro-Life Action League lamented on its website that the law makes it difficult for anti-choice sidewalk counselors “to reach abortion-bound mothers.” The group suggested that lawmakers created the ordinance to create confusion and that police have repeatedly violated counselors’ First Amendment rights.

“Chicago police have been misapplying it from Day One, and it’s caused endless problems for our faithful sidewalk counselors,” the group said.

The League said it would protest and hold a press conference outside of the Planned Parenthood clinic in the city’s Old Town neighborhood.

Julie Lynn, a Planned Parenthood of Illinois spokesperson, told Rewire in an email that the health-care provider is preparing for the protest.

“We plan to have volunteer escorts at the health center to make sure all patients have safe access to the entrance,” Lynn said.

The anti-choice group has suggested that its lawsuit would be successful because of a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled a similar law in Massachusetts unconstitutional.

Pam Sutherland, vice president of public policy and education for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune back then that the health-care provider expected the city’s bubble zone to be challenged following the 2014 decision.

But in an effort to avoid legal challenges, Chicago city officials had based its bubble zone law on a Colorado law that created an eight-foot no-approach zone within 100 feet of all health-care facilities, according to the Tribune. Sidewalk counselor Leila Hill and others challenged that Colorado law, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it in 2000.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”


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