After Trump administration officials faced protests at restaurants in light of the administration’s policy of separating families at the border, The Washington Post’s editorial board called on readers to “let the Trump team eat in peace.” Arguing for “civility,” the editorial board asked, “How hard is it to imagine, for example, people who strongly believe that abortion is murder deciding that judges or other officials who protect abortion rights should not be able to live peaceably with their families?”
For abortion providers, patients, and clinics across the country, it’s certainly not “hard to imagine” the inability to “live peaceably." Pro-choice providers and patients are routinely targeted with death threats, harassment, and even assassinations at clinics and in their homes.
Since 1993, at least 11 people have been killed in attacks on abortion clinics, including abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in 2009. Tiller’s murder was fueled in part by rhetoric like that of former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly attacked him as “Tiller the baby killer” and suggested that “there's got to be a special place in hell for this guy.” As ThinkProgress’ Tara Culp-Ressler explained, abortion providers often feel “under siege” and live “in a state of heightened fear and anxiety because targeted harassment follows them everywhere.” Providers have described abortion opponents picketing their homes and their children’s schools. For example, the anti-abortion group Operation Save America is known for distributing flyers to providers’ neighbors with identifying pictures and home addresses under the headline “KILLERS AMONG US.”
Abortion clinics and those who staff and visit these centers also face constant harassment. In a 2018 look at anti-abortion extremist harassment of abortion providers the previous year, the National Abortion Federation found that “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.” There was also a continued “increase in targeted hate mail/harassing phone calls, and clinic invasions,” as well as “the first attempted bombing in many years.” Low-income patients, in particular, often face heightened harassment because they may be able to come to clinics only on weekends -- “peak hours for protesters” -- to avoid missing work.
In 2018, there have already been several documented incidents of anti-abortion violence and harassment, including one in which an anti-abortion activist was “charged with sending a series of online death threats to Chicago-area abortion clinics” and another in which a person “deliberately crashed a stolen truck” into a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Jersey. In the last two years, anti-abortion protesters have also engaged in several so-called “Red Rose Rescues,” in which protesters illegally enter clinics to harass patients inside.
Prior to the attack by an anti-abortion extremist on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in 2015, the FBI released a warning about an “uptick” of attacks on abortion clinics following the release of the Center for Medical Progress’ deceptively edited videos targeting Planned Parenthood. CMP’s discredited videos also likely endangered the lives of the providers they showed -- all of whom were filmed without consent.
In a manner of speaking, the Post’s editorial board was right. It’s not hard to imagine anti-abortion extremists harassing abortion supporters -- because that’s something providers, patients, and supporters have endured for decades.