Although right-wing media have denied the severity of anti-choice violence against abortion providers and clinics, a Mother Jones report on the closure of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton, WI, demonstrated the widespread impact such threats are having on access to reproductive health care.
On August 22, the Appleton, WI, Planned Parenthood clinic was forced to close its doors due to security concerns -- leaving “any patient who does not live in Madison or Milwaukee” without a nearby provider, according to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin director of government relations Nicole Safar.
Mother Jones’ Becca Andrews highlighted the major role the financial demands of protecting the clinic from a rising tide of anti-choice violence played in state Planned Parenthood officials’ decision to close the Appleton facility.
In July 2015 the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released a series of deceptively edited videos alleging wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood employees. According to the National Abortion Federation, in 2015 there was a “dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder” against abortion providers, “which coincided with the release of [CMP’s] heavily-edited, misleading, and inflammatory videos beginning in July.”
As Andrews noted, this upward trend of violence ultimately “culminat[ed] in the Colorado Springs clinic shooting,” where gunman Robert Lewis Dear was accused of killing three people and injuring nine more. Prior to the November attack, the FBI had warned of a possible uptick in violence against abortion providers, including the possibility of “lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement."
In spite of this, right-wing media have not only carried water for CMP’s discredited allegations, but also largely dismissed concerns about the severity of clinic violence prompted by their release. For example, on the June 21 edition of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly downplayed the dangers of clinic violence, claiming he was unable to remember a time when “a Christian blew up an abortion clinic.” In December 2015, Fox News contributor Erick Ericson wrote that he was surprised “more Planned Parenthood facilities and abortionists are not being targeted” and suggested that such violence was only “getting rarer.”
The Appleton clinic had actually already “experienced violence” prior to CMP’s attempted smear campaign, as Andrews explained. In 2012, “anti-abortion activist Francis Grady threw a homemade explosive device through a window and damaged a small exam room” at the Appleton clinic. But the clinic re-opened after this 2012 attack; it was the Colorado Springs shooting -- and the resulting security concerns -- that spurred it to close its doors permanently, as the costs of “providing more security” were simply too high, Andrews reported.
In a statement to The Associated Press, the chief operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, Chris Williams, explained that because of the building’s size and age, the clinic “was just not going to be able to meet the more stringent and scrutinized approach” developed by Planned Parenthood in the wake of the Colorado Springs attack. In an additional statement to The Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Williams noted that although the Appleton clinic wasn’t subject to a specific threat at the time of its closure, Planned Parenthood deals with “constant threats” against its affiliates across the country.
Along with underscoring the severity of anti-choice violence, Mother Jones’ Andrews also outlined the consequences the closure of the Appleton clinic would have on reproductive health care access in the state. She wrote:
The closure means women will now have to drive 200 or 300 miles to one of the other Wisconsin Planned Parenthood clinics, or go as far as Chicago or Minneapolis. Another option would be in Marquette, Michigan, where a single Planned Parenthood-affiliated physician provides abortions, but the scheduling is infrequent and can be unpredictable.
Planned Parenthood’s Safar echoed this sentiment, noting that due to Wisconsin’s stringent anti-abortion restrictions and a critical shortage of providers, “there is a great need” for abortion access. She said that even with clinics in Appleton, Madison and Milwaukee, “many women” were “having to go somewhere else.”
This blog has been updated for accuracy.