Commentary Violence

Trump Is Inciting Violence Against Abortion Clinics

Karen Middleton

The president's incendiary tweets about a recent U.S. Senate vote represent an escalation in anti-choice rhetoric that could lead to more violence against abortion providers.

President Trump’s tweets this week about the defeat of a misleading anti-choice U.S. Senate bill were irresponsible and dangerous. The tweets, far from being scientifically or medically accurate, were intended to incite extremists.

This type of rhetoric, absurdly charging that Democratic lawmakers “don’t mind executing babies AFTER birth,” could lead to more attacks and violence against abortion providers, staff and patients—violence that has increased since Trump took office. This isn’t the first time the president has accused his political opponents of “executing” babies. 

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) has kept close track of anti-choice threats and violence, which have seen a massive uptick since Trump won the 2016 election: “With anti-abortion extremists feeling emboldened by the current political environment, NAF members reported an escalation of hostility and targeted activity in 2017. Trespassing more than tripled, death threats/threats of harm nearly doubled, and incidents of obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to more than 1,700 in 2017,” according to an NAF report released last year. “We also continued to see an increase in targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls, clinic invasions, and had the first attempted bombing in many years.”

In response to the president’s Twitter tirade and legislative attacks, people who have had abortions later in pregnancy are sharing their stories. These are personal, profound, sometimes tragic, sometimes hopeful accounts. But we should not need to compel people to share their stories—unless they want to—in order to protect access to abortion care. We need to elevate the experience and wisdom of those who have had abortions to educate everyone. And we need to respect, not vilify, the providers who offer much needed medical care to so many.

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In Colorado and around the country, we have seen shootings, fires, bomb threats, and a steady stream of menacing protesters making the lives of patients and providers difficult. In November 2015, three people were killed in an attack on a clinic in Colorado Springs; the attacker, who repeated rhetoric from an anti-choice propaganda campaign at his court hearing, has still not gone to trial. Whether these domestic terrorists were encouraged from a pulpit, a podium, or Twitter, we should take the repetition of dangerous rhetoric and its potential impact seriously. So should the president of the United States.

The vast majority of people in the United States—more than seven in ten—support the constitutional right to choose abortion established in Roe v. Wade. That number is even higher in Colorado, where I have worked to advance abortion rights. And the 2018 midterms reinforced this notion by sweeping a wave of pro-choice legislators into office, even in supposedly purple districts. In my view, this wave was a direct repudiation of the attacks on women and their health care we’ve heard for the past two years. Pro-choice candidates did not run on abortion, but they didn’t run from it, and those candidates won across the country.

With their power slipping at the grassroots level, reproductive rights opponents are getting louder, more frenzied, more extreme, and more determined to use access to abortion care and peoples’ lives as a political football. We’ve seen this with the lies and attacks on the legislation in Virginia and New York intended to remove barriers to care. We saw it with Trump’s call in his State of the Union address for a ban on abortion care after 20 weeks, and with the Senate bill on Monday opposed by major medical organizations.

The increasingly extreme and violent language around abortion has a desperate quality to it. If anti-choice activists were serious about reducing the abortion rate, they would join with us on policies that are proven to work: comprehensive sex education and access to contraception. They have refused. Every. Single. Time. Because this is not what the anti-choice movement is about. It is about demonizing patients, controlling women, and intimidating doctors out of providing safe and compassionate health care.

Abortion is a part of health care. Period. The notion of separating it from the range of care, and weaponizing it against people, has become extremely dangerous. I recognize that the particulars of a medical procedure are something many people do not wish to think about or discuss. This discomfort has been successfully exploited by anti-choice organizations for years. Consider, for a moment, any other medical procedure. If you are not the patient accessing that procedure, do you truly believe you can or should weigh in when a doctor and patient discuss options? Would you want government to get between you, your doctor, and any other medical decision—especially one with a significant effect on your life? Is there any other answer than “no”?

We need to lean in to, not run away from, the belief that abortion is a social good. We need to ensure pregnant people have access to abortion care. We need to lean in to the idea that physicians and patients know best, not politicians. We need to fight back against medically nonsensical, artificial, and dangerous restrictions on abortion care. This is not the time to turn away, but to lean in and remind leaders like Trump that “no means no.”

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