Emptying the Threats

Peg Johnston

The kind of coordination that New York State has effected with law enforcement and abortion providers should be happening in every community and every state.



nobody dies today

none of you would like
to end up an abortion

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not now


death is just around the


This threatening note came
by fax to my office recently. The two of us staffing that day were alternately
amused and annoyed. Amused at the mix of bad Hollywood dialogue, melodramatic
anti- abortion rhetoric, and the “poetic” phrasing. Annoyed that
the fax used up 17 pages of paper, one word per page. It did not occur
to us to be afraid.


It is my practice, after 28
years of this nonsense, to preserve all my energy for my work with women
and to give none of it to those who want to distract me or scare me.
I am sure the more security minded of my colleagues would call me a
curmudgeon in this regard. At our clinic, we once had a large banner
made up that said, “Please don’t feed the protesters.”


Still, on this day, I remembered
that a very nice police officer stopped by to tell us that he was watching
out for us. A week or so later, he brought two FBI agents who were on
the NYS Anti-Terrorism Task Force and who assured us that they were
available to us “anytime.” The NYS State Police called us with a
similar message.  So, I called him and left a message on his voicemail,
expecting he might get back to me the following Monday.


He called me back almost immediately
and, interestingly enough, he was just leaving the first conference
of police agencies—local, state, federal AND abortion providers. They
had invited me, but well, I was helping patients that day.


What happened next was the
fantasy of every abortion provider: the people who are supposed to worry
about threats and terrorism were doing their jobs, so that I could do
mine. I know this sounds trivial, but for decades we have had to become
our own security experts, we have been ignored, we have been accused
of causing our own problems, we have had to recruit our own volunteer
“escorts” just to get people in the door, we have had to identify
protesters, track down their “priors,” act as prosecutorial advocates,
deal with anthrax threats, spot suspicious packages, unglue locks, escort
the bomb dog around, and other things you never want to imagine.


And, suddenly, when we are
almost beyond caring, we are not alone. Even for a curmudgeon like me,
this is momentous.
The kind of coordination that
NYS has effected with law enforcement and providers should be happening
in every community and every state. Right now, in Charlotte NC a very
scary and threatening man by the name of Flip Benham is allowed to harass
and intimidate doctors, staff, and patients with impunity. In Allentown,
a protester by the name of John is stalking clinic workers and harassing
women. The police there are overwhelmed and hamstrung by the legal maneuvers
of the radical fringe. I could go on and on. (Or, you could see it for
yourself here.)


The Abortion Care Network is
calling for a commitment to “Safety First,” a concerted effort to
do what NY has done in creating best practices for law enforcement.
Abortion providers must be at that table and feel that it is worth calling
their local police, secure in the knowledge that they are sharing intelligence
with state and federal agencies. “You can call any of us,” all of
the law enforcement agents kept telling me. “We talk all the time.”


This is amazing. I know for
certain that it is not happening everywhere. There needs to be a national
initiative to engage abortion providers in discussions with all levels
of law enforcement. We will be glad to let the cops do their job and
let us get back to ours. 

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