Politics

After 30 Years of Turning Abortion Clinics Into War Zones, Now You Want “Civility”?

Interesting feedback!

Two people hold up a sign that says "Repro Freedom for All!" as another person speaks into a mic on a suburban street
Abortion rights activists protest near the house of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on Sept. 13. Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

Protesting at her neighbor Brett Kavanaugh’s house has been a monthslong commitment for Lacie Wooten-Holway. The 39-year-old teaching assistant and mother of two had been showing up outside the justice’s home, with a sign, often alone, for the past few months because, as she told the Washington Post, she felt that Kavanaugh should know how his neighbors feel about abortion rights.

After it was revealed that the Supreme Court plans to overturn Roe v. Wade, many more people joined her. Protesters have also gathered outside the homes of Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts.

Advertisement

With the crowds came the press coverage, and with the press coverage came the blowback.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, tweeted chidingly about the protests, attributing the scolding to the president himself. The Washington Post editorial board weighed in to say, “Leave the justices alone at home.” And many people tweeted similar sentiments to that of Bill Kristol, the neoconservative writer, who wrote: “Please don’t protest at people’s homes. Please don’t intrude on people attending their houses of worship. Organize politically, be civil civically.”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Demanding civility from those you seek to oppress is absurd. But considering the anti-abortion movement has, for decades, turned the front door of an abortion clinic into a war zone, it’s the height of hypocrisy.

Advertisement

At Metropolitan Medical Associates in Englewood, New Jersey, where I volunteered as a clinic escort for six years, protesters would stand right by the front doors, pointing their cellphones at patients walking in while screaming “You’re a murderer!” into a bullhorn. Some of the protesters would write down the license plate numbers on the cars of my fellow clinic escorts and sometimes those of patients. I have been smacked in the face, elbowed in the ribs, and sexually harassed by anti-abortion protesters while volunteering as a clinic escort.

My experience isn’t unique.

In my book Bodies on the Line: At the Front Lines of the Fight to Protect Abortion in America, I trace the unique history of clinic escorts—volunteers who walk patients past abortion clinics— and the harassment and violence that have happened outside of abortion clinics for decades. Bianca Cameron-Schwiesow, one such volunteer in Montgomery, Alabama, shared with me how she and her family were harassed at their own home after she became a clinic escort. Her son, who has autism, was accosted as he walked to the park by an anti-abortion protester who drove by screaming, “Did you know your mother’s a murderer? Did you know your mom’s going to burn in hell for all eternity?”

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

No one in local law enforcement was concerned about Cameron-Schwiesow’s experience. She said they told her to “get another job.”

Eleven abortion providers and clinic staff have been murdered by anti-abortion terrorists since 1994, including Dr. Bart Slepian, who was shot and killed in his own kitchen after returning from synagogue, and Dr. George Tiller, who was gunned down while serving as an usher in church.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Anti-abortion protesters have harassed the children of abortion providers at their own schools and harassed the landlords of abortion clinics. Recently, anti-abortion fanatic Lauren Handy and her co-conspirators were charged with violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act after they invaded an abortion clinic in D.C. The FACE Act, enacted in 1994 with bipartisan support, made it a federal crime to block access to or intimidate someone from entering a reproductive health clinic. Handy was later found with five fetuses in her own home, which her radical anti-abortion organization later claimed was a fraction of the more than 100 sets of fetal remains they allegedly took from a medical waste company departing from an abortion clinic.

Advertisement
Advertisement

This isn’t an issue of the past. Operation Save America, a spinoff of the fanatical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue that blockaded clinics, laid siege to EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2017—cutting off access and supplies. Since 2010, death threats and physical threats of harm, as well as instances of assault and battery, have been steadily climbing at abortion clinics. In 2020 alone, there were five reported instances of arson at abortion clinics.

Advertisement
Advertisement

How’s that for “civility”?

This is the reality of anti-abortion aggression. But that isn’t what Bill Kristol is concerned about, or what the U.S. Senate, faced with the end of Roe, has decided to take up. Instead, it’s the peaceful protesters gathering outside of Brett Kavanaugh’s and Samuel Alito’s homes. It’s that an abortion rights supporter wrote in chalk on the sidewalk in front of Susan Collins’ Bangor, Maine, home, “Susie, please, Mainers want WHPA —> vote yes, clean up your mess”—arguably the nicest protest message ever written. In response, according to the Bangor Daily News, Collins called the police. The police!

Advertisement
Advertisement

This week, a bill to grant security to the families of Supreme Court justices passed the Senate with unanimous support. On its face, the bill may seem reasonable, but juxtaposed with the peaceful protests in conservative justices’ neighborhoods, it frames protesters as malicious and a potential threat to the justices’ safety. This is patently absurd. The real threat to the health and safety of Americans isn’t someone holding a sign with a uterus that says “Don’t tread on me” outside of Samuel Alito’s house; it’s Samuel Alito himself.

Advertisement

If the focus is on the lack of civility of the protesters, then it isn’t on the great injustice about to be done by eradicating the guaranteed right to an abortion. What a simple, seamless way to detract attention from the contents of the leaked ruling: a frivolous conversation about civility and norms. Those who are engaging in this either aren’t able to reckon with what is about to happen, and to whom, or they don’t care. Overturning Roe v. Wade is as draconian as it is unpopular, and it will hit marginalized women the hardest. Hearing righteous howls of anger outside of their homes is, quite frankly, exactly what the Supreme Court justices deserve.

The real norm that’s being shattered isn’t a protest in the suburbs outside the homes of those in power. It’s what those in power are about to do to our own homes.

Advertisement