Come Together to Prevent My Murder


In my 15 years as the executive director of the Allentown Women’s Center, a reproductive health care facility located in northeast Pennsylvania that also performs abortions, I have never felt more vulnerable.  In the weeks since the murder of Dr. George Tiller, I have witnessed first hand an upswing in aggression and violent rhetoric by protestors; they’ve become more emboldened. After Dr. Tiller’s murder, mainstream pro-life organizations issued statements condemning acts of violence, but more needs to be done by the pro-life movement and by the Obama administration to reign in the rhetoric and identify those prone to violence.

This is a foundational common ground issue. No shared path can be discovered unless all parties embarking on it are truly safe.  The pro-life movement has a deep interest in eliminating violent people from within its ranks and violent rhetoric from its messaging. These elements are corrosive and serve to alienate the majority of pro-life Americans who are peaceful and want to work through legal means. The Obama administration has an immense common ground opportunity at this very moment. He needs to take seriously the statements of nonviolence that pro-life groups released and build upon those pledges. Reasonable Americans on either side of this issue are united in their desire to fight this form of domestic terrorism that threatens the lives of healthcare providers and the legitimacy of the pro-life establishment. We all have a stake in this; that’s where the most potent common ground is discovered. Unless the Obama administration makes nonviolence a priority and works with peaceful pro-life groups toward that goal, I fear we will witness more violence and terrorism by those claiming to act on behalf of the pro-life cause.

Like Dr. Tiller, I have been called a baby murderer, and other chilling things including “the bride of Lucifer.”  My husband and I have been told, “a family that kills together goes to hell together.” The physician who works at my Center and I get picketed at our homes monthly by a member of the Army of God, an organization that supports the use of violence to stop abortion and glorifies those who commit acts of murder.  People calling themselves “Lehigh Valley Pro-Lifers” have targeted my mother – sending her hate mail shaming her and accusing her of raising a bad Catholic.  I have been told by someone from this same group that I am going to die soon.

And while the news crews that covered the Tiller murder have now packed up and moved on, aggressive protesting in the weeks since the murder of Dr. Tiller has escalated. My abortion provider colleagues from across the country have noticed this alarming trend.  Since Dr. Tiller’s murder, the threats and violent rhetoric have gotten much worse. On the day of Dr. Tiller’s funeral, one of our volunteers was asked, “How do you prefer to die, by knife or by bullet?” A week later, a protester told me, “Abortionists were executed after World War II by the Nuremburg Trials” and posed this rhetorical question, “You know what Von Brunn did at the Holocaust Museum?”  This protester’s son, who has picketed the clinic since he was a small child (he is now in his early twenties), has made a point of mentioning ammonium nitrate, which is used in making bombs, to us while protesting on several occasions.  

This is not “sidewalk counseling” designed to persuade women from choosing abortion.  It is terrorism designed to intimidate, threaten and harass clinic workers.  Comments like these made to anyone would be considered threats – but when made outside of abortion clinics, they are also violations of the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) law. The protesters know this and that they are thumbing their noses in the face of federal law is a sign to law enforcement that not enough is being done to protect those who work at abortion clinics.

As we have seen with violent incidents in the past, such as the maiming of a nurse and murder of a security guard in Alabama, the murder of two receptionists in Brookline Massachusetts, and the murder of a clinic escort in Florida, extremists target not only the doctors, but everyone who helps provide women with abortion services including volunteer escorts, security guards, clinic staff, administrators, and their family members. Local law enforcement and the Justice Department must recognize that doctors and clinic staff need protections and that often it’s the staff to whom the aggressive protesting and verbal abuse is most directed. Given the history of murder of and violence against clinic staff, as well as doctors, when clinics are put on high alert and federal marshals are dispatched, the protection they offer should take into account, among other factors, who at the clinic is most targeted by protesters.

The recent rise in hateful rhetoric is not only poisonous but also contagious. Recently, we have seen protesters who were at one time peaceful become more aggressive and angry. Unhinged people, like Scott Roeder, are attracted to the high vitriol –it helps them justify to themselves their violent acts. The majority of pro-life groups maintain that these acts of vigilantism are made by lone assailants and are not condoned by their own members.  Yet at our clinic, peaceful protesters demonstrate side by side with the extremists.  Pro-life groups and individuals that truly abhor the violence against reproductive health care providers need to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people among them who are masquerading as pro-life sympathizers in order to justify killing people. Those who protested with Scott Roeder knew of his violent tendencies and that he supported violence against abortion providers. More red flags could have been raised about him to local law enforcement had a determined anti-violence effort been underway.

As we have seen in the past several years, just because a pro-life President or Congress is in power it has little to no effect on reducing the number of abortions.  In fact, anecdotal evidence (it will be several years until actual data is compiled) indicates we are now witnessing a surge of abortions as a result of the “pro-life” Bush administration’s failed economic policies.  Yet the anti-abortion extremists seem to be under the impression that because we have a pro-choice President their values are somehow more threatened and that they have no recourse except by becoming more aggressive.  Pro-life political leaders have the power to change this.  Taking part in common ground efforts that are solution-oriented is the first step.

I see a great opportunity for both sides of the issue to come together with the Obama administration to take action to prevent future violence.  It is time for mainstream pro-life groups to step up and promote reasonable dialogue and stop the hateful rhetoric.  At the same time, President Obama must also do more than just say he is outraged by Dr. Tiller’s murder.  He can work with his administration to put forth new and improved legislation that addresses the weaknesses of FACE, protects free speech, and provide local law enforcement with the ability to act quickly when protesters break the law which is often the first warning sign that violence might follow. The Obama administration needs to immediately convene pro-life groups, the Justice Department, pro-choice groups, abortion providers, and anti-violence experts to formulate a tangible plan before someone else is murdered.

There are effective solutions that both sides can agree to including safety zones around the entrances of clinics that allow patients and workers to enter and exit buildings and parking lots safely.  Pro-life advocates can agree to assist law enforcement in identifying sociopaths like Scott Roeder, who have no qualms breaking laws.  Restrictions on home pickets could be put into place that help protect providers who have been targeted outside of their homes.  An alert system can be put in place so that authorities can act quickly to apprehend those who break laws designed to protect clinic staff and preempt any further acts.  And FACE legislation can and must be improved so that there are clearer guidelines and more strict enforcement.

Dr. Tiller’s murder could have been prevented.  My murder can be prevented. President Obama, I need your help.

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  • jodi-jacobson

    This is a stunning article.

    I agree strongly that the Administration must be doing more and now.

    The fact is that you and others are carrying the entire burden of providing essential health care to women and their partners, and are at risk. You are beyond brave.

    Thank you for all you do and I personally will write to the White House to ask what they are doing about this now.

    With all best wishes,
    Jodi Jacobson

  • invalid-0

    …Thank you for the work you do. And a huge thank you for your provider and all your staff who keep their chins up and still decide to go to work, even under these circumstances. Thank you.

  • invalid-0

    Perhaps because I live near Wichita I’m seeing a different element of the “pro-life” groups. Clearly the ones I see are aggressively pro-war, homophobic, incredibly abusive, vitriolic. They stalk clinic personnel as a matter of custom. If you’re suggesting that the leaders of these groups can be outreached in a plea for decency and rationality, I think you’re dreaming.

    I attended some constituent meetings in Oklahoma a few months ago. In an impoverished state, in a country where our infrastructure is crumbling, our industrial base disappearing, our prisons bursting, what were the main issues brought to both members of houses of the legislature and congressional staff?

    It was “2nd Amendment rights” and embryonic stem-cell research.

    One person after another “testified” that they were against such research and a couple even said that if they were disabled from a condition such as a spinal injury, they would refuse any intervention that had been developed as a result of stem cell research.

    These people are being driven by endless harangues from pulpits and the demogogues on Fox “News” and similar programs. This is the “Obama is a Muslim” crowd. They generally, I believe, cannot be reached through appeals to decency and reason. There is no reason they will abandon a strategy that has earned them a flood of contributions from the deluded.

    I note also that Operation Rescue, which gave succor and comfort to the assassin Roeder, is now claiming that its “volunteers” are being “threatened” and its building is being “vandalized.” The very people who fomented the violent atmosphere that took Tiller’s life in the vestibule of his church are pretending to be, and are even deluding themselves into thinking they are the victims of the very violence they’ve propagated.

    It is no coincidence that the OR zealots are joined by others of their ilk, such as the Phelps family’s Westboro Baptist Church, famous for their disruptions of slain GIs’ funerals with their “God Hates Fags” signs. They screamed alongside members of defrocked pastor Mark Holick’s Spirit One Christian Center, which was equally homophobic and represented Operation Save America in Wichita.

    http://cache.daylife.com/imageserve/02BhcK0f5ieno/610x.jpg

  • invalid-0

    Jen,

    Excellent article! I am passing your plea for safety along on Facebook and to my private list in an attempt to educate and to grow the needed momentum for action on the logical law enforcement steps toward a safer environment for clinic workers that you have outlined above.

    Love & Blessings to You, Your Staff & Clinic Workers Everywhere.

  • invalid-0

    This needs to be spread to all. The message Jen says is real and alarming.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you for keeping the accountability of the Obama administration in the spotlight. I have worked (and continue to work) at several abortion clinics throughout Pennsylvania. We need absolute and tangible support from at a federal level, and we need it now. I’ve repeatedly heard of the danger your clinic faces in Allentown. I cannot thank you enough for remaining steadfast and continuing to provide the phenomenal women’s health services that Allentown Women’s Center is renowned for.

  • invalid-0
  • colleen

    Ihis link leads to a site attempting to link the pro-choice community to all manner of violence including the rape of teenaged girls by prison guards and the murder of pregnant women by their boyfriends.

     

    This appears to be the sole contribution to this ‘common ground’ thread by the anti-abortion community here on RH, a community which has never demonstrated the slightest reluctance in commenting here before. Indeed some of them do so using several handles  I think it is or should be clear that the ‘pro-life’ folks aren’t, in general,, opposed to violence  and indeed embrace it as an effective way to accomplish their ends.

     

     

     

     

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • invalid-0

    I supplied this link, colleen. You see my full name below. I am a non-violent pro-lifer. I don’t know any of the violent variety but I know they are out there. Unless you can disprove the information on abortionviolence.com I think it would be fair to acknowledge that there is some violence on the pro-choice side as well. I have been lurking (and posting occasionally} on the RH site for a couple of weeks and I appreciate the mostly civil discourse. I truly hope that there are some gains to be made. I am disappointed, however, in the general attitude that the pro-choice community regards the pro-life community as violent. It simply is not true. Yes, there are some radical fools that claim to be pro-life, but they are not pro-life if they perform any acts of violence. Furthermore, these radicals are despised by pro-lifers as much as you despise them. If you continue to claim that the violence only comes from pro-lifers and deny that pro-choicers also are responsible for some violence how can we progress toward good common ground?

  • jodi-jacobson

    Yours and Jan’s reports are frightening….

     

    what can we do to help? what should the administration be doing specifically that they are not now doing and what efforts are underway to encourage them to do so?

     

    best wishes, Jodi Jacobson
    direct email: jodi@rhrealitycheck.org

  • colleen

    Unless you can disprove the information on abortionviolence.com I think it would be fair to acknowledge that there is some violence on the pro-choice side as well.

    Fair? Well, no. How dare claim that men who murder their pregnant girlfriends and wives or prison guards who rape the women in their care and then try to pressure them into abortions are ‘associated with’ the pro-choice movement? Your claim is pathetic, reprehensible and completely indefensible.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • colleen

    I’m sorry, I forgot to answer your question

     If you continue to claim that the violence only comes from pro-lifers
    and deny that pro-choicers also are responsible for some violence how
    can we progress toward good common ground?

     I claim that the violence is one way because it is true.

    As for ‘common ground’ with someone trying to make the case that men who murder their pregnant wives are in any way associated with the pro-choice movement, why should any of us bother with someone that shamelessly dishonest? 

     

     

     

     

     

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • invalid-0

    The facts are there. There is a great deal of violence against pro-lifers. It does go both ways. Perhaps we can agree that the violence on both sides is committed by those not truly representing their cause.

  • invalid-0

    I didn’t claim that all such violence is associated with the pro-choice movement. Dr. Tiller’s murder was not associated with the pro-life movement.

  • jen-boulanger

    There are Catholics who agree that the pro-life messages need to be less hateful and violent.

     

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/time-find-new-way

  • invalid-0

    with you. They should not be hateful and violent at all. I dream of the day when the pro-life movement is not needed. To quote Father John “My hope and prayer is that all of us — “Pro-lifers” and “peaceniks,” “liberals” and “conservatives,” “left and right,” — can become Sermon on the Mount people and learn the Gospel truth that killing is never justified, that abortion and murder and war and nuclear weapons and violence of all kinds are wrong, that all of us are summoned to an entirely new way of life, a life founded on the wisdom of Jesus’ nonviolence.”

  • invalid-0

    Jim Grant seems unaware of the most fundamental fact that we call ourselves pro-choice because we support a woman’s right to choose. A woman who is forced to have an abortion she doesn’t want is just as violated as one forced to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. I cannot imagine any pro-choicer disagreeing with this. Perhaps he has been misled by the anti-choice (and utterly false) assertion that pro-choicers are somehow “pro-abortion” and think any abortion is a good thing. Choice is what we support, Mr. Grant, not abortion.

  • invalid-0

    ..your position and extrapolate from it that you would agree that it is better to not need an abortion at all, i.e., in an ideal world there would be no unwanted pregnancies.

  • invalid-0

    Jen, thank you for your constant courage and commitment. It is horrifying that you have to fear for your life and that there has been so little concern by law enforcement. I cannot think of the protesters as “pro-life”, they are just not ever going to trust women to make the compassionate choices sometimes necessary.

  • invalid-0

    Yes, I do agree with that. In fact, I have said it myself many times. However, we live not in an ideal world, but in the real world, so that is the world we have to deal with.

    Since only someone completely out of touch with reality would think people are going to stop having sex for reasons other than procreation, prevention of unwanted pregnancy has to focus on making contraception widely available, teaching its proper use, and, not least, teaching responsibility for its proper use. That said, since no currently available method is 100% effective (read the fine print), access to abortion for those who choose it will also be necessary for the foreseeable future.

  • invalid-0

    Jim: Readers and posters here are not stupid, so please don’t assume we are. Dr Tillers murder was very much associated with the Pro-Life movement and just because you state “pro-choice violence” doesn’t make it true. We’re not idiots, except for me in that I’m actually responding to your trolling.

  • invalid-0

    Gordon, I believe we are very close to an understanding. The abortion issue really boils down to how to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

  • invalid-0

    The abortion issue really boils down to how to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

    We have a winner! Now you know (one reason) why pro-choicers are so keen on comprehensive sex ed and easing access to contraception/protection. As much as we defend access to abortion, we want to equip people with what they need to avoid needing it in the first place. Along with other not-so-nice things like STDs.

    Now, the question that’s really going to bake your noodle is, what’s the deal with the people who condemn abortion, but also condemn comprehensive sex ed and contraception? They’re not going to stop people from having sex, but they sure can make it harder to have sex safely. It’s almost like they want more abortions to happen, despite what they say. So what’s up with that?

  • http://www.consistent-life.org/ invalid-0

    I do think it takes people on both sides of the issue acknowledging that some who are on their side are violent. Just recently in Chico, California someone tried to run down a peaceful pro-life protester with their car. See a report from the mainstream media on that. Pro-life groups recently report an increase in death threats against them.

    I do think that pro-choicers and pro-lifers can work on a common ground that no one on either side should be responding to those on the other side with violence or threats of violence. Those on both sides will have to drop a posture of denial that anyone on their side is to blame in order for that to work.

    The fact is that America is a very violent society. H. Rap Brown said, “Violence is as American as apple pie.” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Both were correct, and these facts have not changed since the 60’s when these statements were made. The U.S. is not only the #1 purveyor of state violence, but also has one of the world’s highest murder rates.

    So I see this in a broader context of trying to work against America’s addiction to violence – an addiction which marks Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, as well as pro-choicers and pro-lifers.

  • invalid-0

    but your insistence that Tiller’s murder is associated with the pro-life movement is your association and nothing more. Roeder is a murderer who is anti-life, not pro-life.

  • invalid-0

    The contraception question is a tough one on which to find common ground. It’s going to take a lot of time.

  • colleen

    The contraception question is a tough one on which to find common ground.

     

     Common ground with who? Because for most Americans it’s not a difficult question, indeed there is no ‘contraception question’.at all. 72% believe that contraceptives have improved our lives (with 10% believing the opposite). Indeed, even amoungst Catholics 78% believe that Catholics should be allowed to use contraceptives. This website has botyh polls. All you need to do is rin a search for ‘birth control’.

    I can think of no political or practical reason to find ‘common ground’ with men and women who feel they have the right to question other people’s use of effective contraception. It’s a waste of time and will accomplish nothing, that train left the station about 50 years ago.

     

     

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • invalid-0

    You are quite right, Bill. Unfortunately, pro-choicers turn a blind eye to well-documented acts of violence and death threats against prolifers.

  • dltbhs

    I do not consider a man standing outside waving a sign with a (supposedly) aborted fetus at passing cars with children inside them to be a "peaceful" protester. Do you?

  • invalid-0

    There is much documentation that Roeder was protester at abortion clinics. Now would that make him prolife? Seems to me that Jim Grant needs to read the facts more carefully.

  • invalid-0

    Amidst the current socioeconomic and political crisis, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning about homegrown domestic terrorists including extremist prolifers. The media’s response failed women and doctors at reproductive health clinics nationwide when they focused solely on the umbrage that prolife organizations took with the portrayal of their work as terroristic. The media failed in bringing greater attention to the fact that this crisis will continue to produce frustrated men and women who kill through bullets and bombs. Scott Roeder is just one example where media failed. Portraying Roeder as a deranged loner, as mentally ill, depoliticizes his actions. It frames Dr. George Tiller as the vulnerable victim and Roeder as alienated person. The media failed to acknowledge that he acted on rational political and economic concerns, including speaking and acting against the laws of the land. Priming the public to see doctors as vulnerable to deranged acts suggests that these violent acts are isolated events. It also avoids the broader social and political contexts of an assassin’s desire for agency in a diminished public sphere.

    We need the media to speak out against crimes that violate public morality and order. We need the media to step up the coverage about women’s rights to reproductive health care including abortion. Women’s live depend on it.

  • invalid-0

    If you support abortions, why do you object to presenting the reality of the action?

  • invalid-0

    He killed. He is anti-life.

    • invalid-0

      Jim, ever since the late 1960’s when the anti-abortion movement finessed the argument about legalizing abortion, by rejecting the desgnation anti-abortion and appropriating “prolife”, “prolife” has only meant one thing — anti-abortion. It has not meant anti-death penalty, and it certainly has not meant opposition to killing those associated with the provision of abortion. The anti-abortion movement has consistently spoken out of both sides of its mouth since clinic violence began in the mid-70s. First they condemn violence, but it is always followed by the caveat that the violence against clinics and providers doesn’t compare in magnitude with the violence that takes place within abortion clinics. In other words, they condemn with faint praise. Jen Boulanger is clearly making the point that until your movement (which calls itself prolife) works to stop violence against abortion providers by changing the rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement, the very basis of working for common ground is futile.

  • invalid-0

    There’s a time and a place for everything, but trying to gross out random people is a pretty assholeish thing to do. That sort of ‘reality’ is unsuitable for public.

    • invalid-0

      …what an abortion really is.

  • adolmd

    Ms. Ranieri wrote a great comment!! it should be its own piece!

     

    anyway, Roeder had the phone # and name of an Operation Rescue operative on his dashboard at the time of the murder/arrest. He had called OR regularly to get updates on Tiller’s whereabouts. Did OR bother to report to the FBI about this person?  I think not.

     

    This is common ground where we need to come together. No violence is acceptable against anti-abortion or pro-Choice people. If either group’s members feel someone is weird/asking for strange info, a potential threat, etc. they should report to the FBI. Better safe than people dead/hurt. 

  • invalid-0

    I just want to thank you for your many years of work and love and dedication, as someone who may have been a direct recipient of it. I don’t know for sure if your clinic was where my partner and I went, but even if not, I’m glad there are other options in the area.

    A little over 6 years ago, my partner and I had a moment of ‘Once can’t hurt!’ egoism, with the predictable consequences. At the time, we were living hand to mouth with only one of us working, and a 3 year old son, with my mother having just died of very unanticipated pulmonary fibrosis. We were, emotionally, in a very bad place to be faced with the decisions we had to make.

    It was a hard time, and we considered every path we could think of. At one point, we were relatively sure we were going to go with the abortion option, and it was a hard and scarey decision to make. But we made an appointment, and went into the clinic to talk with one of their counsellors. Thankfully, it being a very cold winter (This would have been somewhere around January, if I recall), we didn’t have much in the way of ‘curbside counselling’ to worry about. There were maybe three people with signs out on the road, and they were more trying to keep warm than hassle anyone.

    And I will say that going there was the best decision we ever made. In the end, we did decide to keep the child, and have never regretted it (She will be 6 in September, and is amazingly bright and beautiful, and has an evil streak that leans towards world domination…). And not, as some might think, because we got there and were faced with the horror of abortion, or anything like that.

    No, from the moment we walked in the door, we were treated with love and respect. We were talked to like human beings facing a hard choice. The options presented were factual, gentle, and helpful. We couldn’t in any way have asked for more than we got.

    Those on the right would say, in fact, that we were treated in a way that encouraged abortion, becuase anything that doesn’t explicitly discourage it, encourages it. But for us, it offered a strength and support that we were having trouble finding on our own.

    And I know as well, if we’d chosen differently, that love, support, and strength would still have been there, and I cherish that knowledge. So, thank you. For all the people like us, and for all the people who had to choose differently, I will awlays fight for such safe places to exist.

    • invalid-0

      Thank you very much for sharing your wonderful story! I work for an abortion provider and we often hear back from women who appreciated the good, compassionate services they received when deciding what to do when they discovered that they were pregnant. Many of them decided to keep their pregnancies and are now mothers.

      As always, its all about choices.

  • invalid-0

    The media has been overwhelmingly pro-choice over the years. It’s hard to believe they missed Roeder as being a rational thinker. How do you know this?

  • invalid-0

    Beautiful ending to a difficult decision.