Emptying the Threats



nobody dies today

none of you would like
to end up an abortion

not now


death is just around the


This threatening note came
by fax to my office recently. The two of us staffing that day were alternately
amused and annoyed. Amused at the mix of bad Hollywood dialogue, melodramatic
anti- abortion rhetoric, and the “poetic” phrasing. Annoyed that
the fax used up 17 pages of paper, one word per page. It did not occur
to us to be afraid.


It is my practice, after 28
years of this nonsense, to preserve all my energy for my work with women
and to give none of it to those who want to distract me or scare me.
I am sure the more security minded of my colleagues would call me a
curmudgeon in this regard. At our clinic, we once had a large banner
made up that said, “Please don’t feed the protesters.”


Still, on this day, I remembered
that a very nice police officer stopped by to tell us that he was watching
out for us. A week or so later, he brought two FBI agents who were on
the NYS Anti-Terrorism Task Force and who assured us that they were
available to us “anytime.” The NYS State Police called us with a
similar message.  So, I called him and left a message on his voicemail,
expecting he might get back to me the following Monday.


He called me back almost immediately
and, interestingly enough, he was just leaving the first conference
of police agencies—local, state, federal AND abortion providers. They
had invited me, but well, I was helping patients that day.


What happened next was the
fantasy of every abortion provider: the people who are supposed to worry
about threats and terrorism were doing their jobs, so that I could do
mine. I know this sounds trivial, but for decades we have had to become
our own security experts, we have been ignored, we have been accused
of causing our own problems, we have had to recruit our own volunteer
“escorts” just to get people in the door, we have had to identify
protesters, track down their “priors,” act as prosecutorial advocates,
deal with anthrax threats, spot suspicious packages, unglue locks, escort
the bomb dog around, and other things you never want to imagine.


And, suddenly, when we are
almost beyond caring, we are not alone. Even for a curmudgeon like me,
this is momentous.
The kind of coordination that
NYS has effected with law enforcement and providers should be happening
in every community and every state. Right now, in Charlotte NC a very
scary and threatening man by the name of Flip Benham is allowed to harass
and intimidate doctors, staff, and patients with impunity. In Allentown,
a protester by the name of John is stalking clinic workers and harassing
women. The police there are overwhelmed and hamstrung by the legal maneuvers
of the radical fringe. I could go on and on. (Or, you could see it for
yourself here.)


The Abortion Care Network is
calling for a commitment to “Safety First,” a concerted effort to
do what NY has done in creating best practices for law enforcement.
Abortion providers must be at that table and feel that it is worth calling
their local police, secure in the knowledge that they are sharing intelligence
with state and federal agencies. “You can call any of us,” all of
the law enforcement agents kept telling me. “We talk all the time.”


This is amazing. I know for
certain that it is not happening everywhere. There needs to be a national
initiative to engage abortion providers in discussions with all levels
of law enforcement. We will be glad to let the cops do their job and
let us get back to ours. 

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  • claire-keyes

    As an abortion provider, one never knows who might be outside on the sidewalk when we come in to work. We never know if it’s going to be death threats to us, or simply quiet respectful prayer. We don’t know if someone will be praying for our redemption or predicting we will burn in hell.
    Our patients never know what to expect either. There might be 4 protesters or there might be 80. The protesters may be peaceful or really scary. Men from the lunatic fringe sometimes show up at our facilities or they may go to another clinic in town. As a patient, your car could be surrounded, prohibiting your exit, people screaming in your face, grabbing at you, or not. Yet we, and they, need to be prepared for any eventuality.
    That is why we count on police presence to maintain law and order. We and our patients, not to mention passersby who happen to be in the area, need to feel that our rights are being protected, that laws are not being flaunted. While abortion providers, proponents of the first amendment one and all, welcome freedom of speech, we do not welcome bullying, death threats, lies and fear mongering. Law enforcement, federal, local, state, all have their roles depending on the circumstances. Until recently we in Pittsburgh had good protection from the police but the absence of a commander in one zone has created a void in leadership resulting in confusion that the protesters are taking advantage of. I want to both commend those commanders who have trained their officers in the laws of the city and federal government but also lament the confusion, lack of response and lack of leadership resulting in areas without a commander.
    In addition, there have in the past been circumstances that required, all at the same time, the presence of city police, fire dept, bomb squad, public safety, city towing, US Marshalls. Training of the various units in joint sessions can be life-saving, avoid lapses in protection and help to maintain safety on our streets.

  • charlotte

    Peg Johnston’s wonderful article reminds us that it is not acceptable for good people who provide essential health services, and good women who seek them to have to defend ourselves. I am the Director of the Abortion Care Network made up of Independent Abortion Providers and Allies. We know all too well that for nearly 40 years there has been a well funded intentional campaign to harass and intimidate abortion providers, and to shame, silence, and demean our patients. We have worked hard to maintain an atmosphere of kindness and dignity in the face of hatred and violence of all kinds. But as long as we are isolated we can be bullied. ACN wants to invite America to know the true stories of abortion, and to remember that our patients are your mothers, your daughters, your wives, your sisters, and your friends. These are good women doing the best they can for themselves and their families. When we truly break the silence and ‘turn on the lights’ these predators will scatter. It’s past time. Charlotte Taft, ACN

  • kate-ranieri

    For over 5 years at the Allentown Women’s Center, I have observed the how the police, the courts and the City of Allentown respond to the protesters. In brief, they have ruled in favor of the protesters from paying $10,000 to 13 protesters in a frivolous lawsuit to failing to arrest when there are clear FACE violations. From my work as a video documentarian, through street-side footage and interviews with staff, I have to come to realize that the situation outside the clinic would not be acceptable anywhere else. Regardless of how you feel about abortion, no one wants to have screaming strangers shoving obscenely graphic images in your face. No one should be subjected to the threatening hate speech like calling patients and volunteers murderers, faggots or stiff-neck Jews. From the neighbors who live nearby to passing vehicles, the City has done nothing to stop the posting of obscene posters and banners, despite complaints from neighbors. It took a letter to the local paper’s editor with online comments to get the protesters to move off a busy street with their disgusting material depicting bloody, dead fetuses. In a recent turn of events, it took a Hispanic man, who the protesters feared to be a gang-banger, to take down their displays. This man and his children had to pass the banners strung up on white neighbors shrubs to get to the local McDonald’s. In what was undoubtedly a tipping point, he tore down all the posters and told two white protesters quite clearly that he didn’t want his children exposed to their disgusting posters. It’s been about 5 weeks now and the protesters have yet to resurrect their obscenities. All this with no thanks to the City or the police despite obscenities laws on the books. In fact, when the City Solicitor was asked what he will do about the potential dangers with the protesters, he said he would do nothing until someone was hurt. So the police are called but cannot make arrests without the Solicitor’s approval. It puts the APD in a difficult situation when they try to do their job. 


    What is especially troubling is that festering hostilities pose a significant threat for the safety of all. The deliberate indifference of the City toward women seeking legal, safe medical services is shameful. 

  • kate-ranieri

    We saw firsthand what happens when the protesters are outed by name in a public forum such as the Morning Call newspaper in the Lehigh Valley. A woman complained in an open letter to the editor about a handful of protesters who were displaying bloody images on Union Blvd in Allentown. While there were a handful of online respondents in agreement with the protesters’ tactics, the overwhelming majority of respondents not only agreed with the writer about the shameful displays but some even told the reading public who these people were by name. Eventually, Joyce Mazalewski, Mary Hartnett, Katie Teays, and Kathleen Mondak left their very public post on Union Blvd and crawled back to the side streets, defiling the neighborhood with their obscenities. Outing works sometimes. Of course, being white racists and being confronted by a Hispanic man (who they thought of as a member of a gang) and his small children, also works to see the protesters scatter. 

  • paul-bradford

    We know all too well that for nearly 40 years there has been a well funded intentional campaign to harass and intimidate abortion providers, and to shame, silence, and demean our patients.




    What you don’t point out, but what is extremely pertinent, is the fact that this ‘intentional campaign’ has done nothing to advance the interests of the unborn.  These protesters have not learned that it’s impossible to stop violence with violence.  Real help for those waiting to be born requires a depth of compassion and respect for all that the people you reference lack.  It’s truly impossible to be good to a child who’s that young unless you know how to be good to the child’s mother.


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • crowepps

    Certainly people who insist that they are ‘only’ exercising their right to public free speech to support their political/religious view shouldn’t have any problem with having their names publicly attached to those views.  So far as I am aware, there is no Constitutional protection of anonymity in expressing those views.

  • crowepps

    this ‘intentional campaign’ has done nothing to advance the interests of the unborn.  


    But these people were well aware ahead of time that illegalizing abortions wouldn’t stop them, and the concurrent resistence to sensible efforts (public funds supporting pregnant women or public efforts to educate about reproduction and birth control) makes it clear that they knew stopping abortion wasn’t possible.  The known fact that these tactics were failing and yet they continued for years makes it clear that the real goal was the pleasure of having a righteous EXCUSE to harass and intimidate others, to shame, silence, and demean women whose sexuality is ‘out of control’.

  • kate-ranieri

    Crowepps wrote the real goal was the pleasure of having a righteous EXCUSE to harass and intimidate others, to shame, silence, and demean women whose sexuality is ‘out of control’. 


    Examples are everywhere to support what you state is their goal. But I’d add that most if not all protesters are very conflicted and contradictory about sex.  I’ve heard protesters talk about the sexual act in profane language to patients and volunteers. One old man, noticing the cleavage of a patient, told her that she looked like she was all set up for breast feeding. Of course, they all talk about the uterus, the womb, as if it’s a public parking lot. Or I’ve heard comments like there’s no shame in being pregnant but there is shame if you got pregnant out of wedlock.  They contradict themselves all the time when the talk about offering help and hope without judgment to pregnant women and then also talk about abstinence until marriage or about the sins of birth control. 

  • rosemary

    Know that indeed there are other communities outside of New York who respond to the injustices by demonstrating it is "not acceptable for good people who provide essential health services, and the good women and their families who seek them to have to defend" themselves against terror and harrassment. We in the small City of Falls Church Virginia have a well trained, sensitive police force who take all our calls seriously, enforce their city ordnances and also work with a conference "task force" of police agencies—local, state, federal AND abortion providers to ensure safety and reproductive justice. Other communities who have this same experience must commend their law enforcement PUBLICALLY. But those other communities, like Manassas VA- just 20 miles from us – who instead have police forces who make the citizens endure the unchecked Allentown experience must speak out. Those who refuse to enforce the tranquility and safety of its citizens must be identified by name and outed for their lack of caring for their citizens. And those elected officials who foster the injustices must be held accountable.


    Falls Church Healthcare Center

  • kate-ranieri

    Peg mentioned John the protester who harasses clinic workers and clients. His name is John Dunkle. For clients who are attempting to enter the clinic door at the Allentown Women’s Center, John uses a small plastic megaphone to amplify his screams in women’s ears “Mommy, Daddy, please don’t let them pull my arms and legs off.” When I asked him why he did such a heinous thing to women, his response was simple. “I want her to remember this as the worst day of her life, like she’s walking into the gates of Hell.” That’s this self-proclaimed Catholic man’s video-taped response.

    I asked him if he thought it was effective. Following a long pause, he conceded that it did no good but that it might save his soul.

    And John is only one of the protesters at AWC who inflict emotional pain on women and their companions, all in the name of free speech and religious righteousness.

  • crowepps

    Following a long pause, he conceded that it did no good but that it might save his soul.

    I cannot imagine what possible reading of the Gospels would lead anyone to believe that it is possible to save one’s own soul by ensuring someone else has "the worst day of her life".  That is just truly mindboggling.  But then, this man does profess belief in a faith which believed that it was possible to save a person’s soul by burning them alive.

    As a matter of fact, some of them STILL argue that may be true.


  • prochoicegoth

    If only all counties and states had the cooperation of the police and their elected officials when it comes to protesters terrorizing women. These people abuse their right to free speech. Do they honestly think they’re making a difference? Do they think their god approves of their horrendous behavior? They’re scaring people away from their god and they’re making asses of themselves

    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • john-dunkle

    John Dunkle
    Yes, Dunkle, Dunkle. Thanks Kate. How will I ever become famous if not for people like you. I forgive you your hate-filled rants.

  • prochoicegoth

    I think it is you who needs to ask for forgiveness to the women you terrorize. You’re not doing your side any justice by your despicable behavior. You’re not "saving the baybees" with your disgusting fear-mongering towards women. Why do you hate women John? You don’t get laid enough? Is it really about saving the baybees, John? Or is it about punishing women who DARE to have non-procreative sex because you don’t get any so no one else should be able to? 


    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • john-dunkle

    John Dunkle
    Terrorize? Would that it were so. That would suggest they were afraid to carry out the killing. Annoy is more like it.
    And why "baybees"?

  • prochoicegoth

    Screaming in women’s faces, calling them derogatory names, shoving FAKE photographs at them, making them feel like utter crap for making a decision that has NOT A GODDAMN THING to do with you, that is terrorizing. You are a disgrace to the human species. 

    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • crowepps

    It’s possible that calling this creep out here just results in feeding his obviously massive ego and illusions of having some sort of power.  Women shouldn’t have to put up with sort of assault, and I agree with you that his aim is terroristic.   He admits that he is trying to terrify them into not getting abortions.  Obviously, since as he admits himself his methods fail, contact with his ‘sidewalk counseling’ is a closer equivalent to having a drunk in your subway car vomit on you.  The experience is revolting, but NOT life-changing or in any way a demonstration of ‘power’ on the part of the wino.


    The focus should be on getting laws passed to protect women from being harassed by mentally ill strangers who are attempting to demonstrate their illusory ‘manhood’ AND on getting the local authorities to enforce those laws.

  • prochoicegoth

    Women need to be protected from these maniacs. They abuse their right to free speech.  


    It’s pro-choice or NO choice.

  • ahunt


    Ya know…if I were a clinic escort, I would along take my sweet baby Great Pyr pooch, Norton…all 99lbs of respect-inducing canine, adding his mighty voice to the cacophony…

    Norton adores women…and women can’t resist him, (men…not so much, with the exception of BH and sons) and my guess is that women would find the PROTECTION bark infinitely less threatening than the bullhorn.

  • paul-bradford

    It’s not necessary to ‘read the Gospels’ in order to save one’s soul.  What you need to do is renounce violence and dedicate yourself to justice and compassion.  You can do this regardless of what you think about Jesus or God or the Bible or organized religion. 


    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • mechashiva

    Glad you understand how impotent you are. Honestly, I’d agree that most patients think people like you are inconsequential. Very few of my patients were ever really bothered by our protesters. Some were irritated, some were amused, but only a couple I can remember were angry and I can’t think of anyone who was made sad by things the protesters said. I certainly can’t remember a single instance of a patient choosing not to have an abortion based on anything protesters like yourself said.


    So yeah, you’re doing your very best to be a Bully For Jesus, and generally failing at it because no one actually gives a crap about what you have to say. Still, bullying is inappropriate, even if you don’t get the response you are looking for from your targets. Maybe your god can help you come up with more constructive avenues for saving your soul, since harassing strangers isn’t working out so well.

  • kate-ranieri

    Most who have witnessed Dunkle in action know he craves attention like an addict craves his next fix. If he can’t get it in a socially acceptable manner he does so otherwise. So, perhaps, Crowepps, you are right. Any light on him merely feeds his illness.

  • amanda-marcotte

    It’s obvious he gets off on scaring and intimidating women, and outing him is something he’s going to process as meaning that he’s effectively intimidated and scared women. But on the flip side, it helps for others to know that they will be held accountable for misogyny, and that we at least will not pretend that seething, screaming hatred of women is anything but what it is.

  • crowepps

    I agree with you wholeheartedly that he and similar persons need to be called out on their misogyny, and that seething, screaming hatred should be recognized for what it is, but using language that implies that his hatred has a disproportionate impact implies too much power.  Most of the women are not scared and intimidated, instead they are repulsed and disgusted.


    It might help to understand just how ineffective and powerless and threatened he must feel if the only way he can impact the world is to throw the equivalent of a toddler’s public hissy fit and try to drag total strangers into it with him.   That isn’t power – it’s pathetic.

  • kate-ranieri

    In my gathering of video footage for my documentary, I became so aware of the misogyny at Allentown Women’s Center that I came right out and told one of the anti-choicers, a Gerry McWilliams, that it seemed to me that he didn’t respect women. I should post on You Tube the video of his vitriolic response. After flipping the respect issue back on me saying that I didn’t respect women because I killed them in the womb, he continued, shrill-pitched, red-faced, about how he told the truth, how I couldn’t deny that he spoke the truth, ad nauseum. Of course, through the duration of his tirade, his right index finger, pointing at me, was about 12 inches away from my face. 


    The comical post script is that the following week, he added a bumper sticker to his big poster that he’d been carrying for years announcing help and a phone number. The bumper sticker read ProWomanProChild.  



  • emma

    My cat would be a fantastic deterrent to protesters. When she’s angry, she’s extremely vocal about it, and the effect can be bloody terrifying. She’s also an excellent judge of character and is a sweetheart to most people, but she knows an asshole when she sees, hears or smells one. She an ahunt’s dog would probably make an excellent team.

  • crowepps

    he continued, shrill-pitched, red-faced, about how he told the truth, how I couldn’t deny that he spoke the truth, ad nauseum.

    Consider how powerless and ineffective and unnecessary to society in general he must feel if the only option he can see to fix things is to attempt to make strangers stay pregnant by screaming abuse at women who ignore him.  Reminds me irresistibly of a 2-year old screaming on the kitchen floor, outraged that Magical Mommy won’t ‘make him’ happy.