Anti-abortion harassment and violence against providers, clients, and patients are unfortunately commonplace. Following the release of a draft opinion from the Supreme Court that indicates the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade is imminent, right-wing media have remained willfully obtuse about the long history of anti-abortion murders and attacks (that they, in part, contributed to) in order to substitute their own narrative about supposed violence on the left.
Since Politico published the leaked draft opinion on May 2, right-wing media’s strategy has involved ignoring both the realities of what a post-Roe world would mean and the utter unpopularity of the Supreme Court’s potential decision. Instead, right-wing media have claimed that the real story is that the draft opinion leaked from the Supreme Court -- describing the leak as worse than terrorism or the insurrection on January 6. Not content with just one ridiculous distraction from reality, right-wing media are also ignoring decades of anti-abortion violence to fearmonger about supposed violence from the left.
In the days following the publication of the draft decision, right-wing media have slammed protests in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., with one Townhall headline proclaiming:
And The Daily Wire engaged in some hand-wringing:
Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade summed up abortion protests across the country as, “This is the left's warning: ‘Do what we say, or we will burn your country down.’ It's not an exaggeration. Many of them have taken to social media to threaten exactly that.”
Former Fox host and current radio host Todd Starnes tweeted:
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board went further, writing, “We hate to say this, but some abortion fanatic could decide to commit an act of violence to stop a 5-4 ruling. It’s an awful thought, but we live in fanatical times.”
The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro tweeted:
In 1993, an anti-abortion extremist assassinated Dr. David Gunn outside his clinic in the first known murder of an abortion doctor in the United States. Since then, anti-abortion sentiment has contributed to 10 other deaths, as well as numerous injuries to providers, patients, and their families.
In 2009, anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller while Tiller was attending church. Before Tiller's assassination, then-Fox host Bill O’Reilly had openly bullied Tiller on his program. According to Rolling Stone, “O’Reilly had waged an unflagging war against Tiller that did just about everything short of urging his followers to murder him.” After Tiller’s assassination, O’Reilly claimed he only “reported accurately” on Tiller. (O’Reilly was later ousted from Fox due to reports of sexual harassment.)
In 2015, Robert Dear opened fire in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three and injuring at least nine more. After the attack, Dear reportedly said the phrase “no more baby parts” as an explanation, likely referring to an oft-repeated right-wing media talking point based on discredited undercover videos from the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress.
The most recent data from the National Abortion Federation on anti-abortion violence in 2020 shows (emphasis in original):
- Abortion providers reported an increase in death threats and threats of harm, rising from 92 in 2019 to 200 in 2020.
- We saw a 125% increase in reports of assault and battery outside clinics with members reporting 54 incidents, rising from 24 in 2019.
- Internet harassment and hate mail and harassing phone calls rose once again this year. Providers reported 3,413 targeted incidents of hate mail and harassing phone calls, rising from 3,123 in 2019.
- There was a slight decrease in the reported number of picketing incidents in 2019, which is likely due to a decrease in anti-abortion protester activity in some locations at the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Providers still reported 115,517 incidents in 2020—which far exceeds any other year since we began tracking these statistics in 1977 except for 2019 when there were 123,228 incidents reported. Picketing is also an area where we expect there was underreporting in our 2020 data.
- NAF members reported an escalation in aggressive behavior from protesters during 2020 so although there was a slight decrease in picketing, the activities were often more intense and disruptive.
Make no mistake -- protests on the left will continue if the Supreme Court’s draft opinion becomes reality, and those protests are unlikely to be peaceful 100% of the time. However, right-wing media’s promotion of violence on the left as the boogeyman in this fight willfully ignores both decades of anti-abortion violence and their own role in contributing to it.