The Burning of an Abortion Clinic on New Years Day and a Call to Action on Abortion Rights

On January 1st, at 1:00 in the morning, an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida was engulfed in flames. By all accounts thus far, this was a case of arson.

But chances are you have heard nothing about this.

The fact that there has not been a single politician commenting on this violent assault on an institution that is essential to women’s freedom and that this act of terror has not been picked up on in the national or mainstream media should only serve as a further wake-up call to those who care about women’s rights.

No one will defend women’s right to abortion and birth control but for the millions of us who refuse to see women enslaved. We must rely on ourselves, not on the Democrats or electoral politics. We must take to the streets and not go back home. We must resieze the moral high-ground, declaring: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology. We must be in the streets in DC on January 22nd & 23rd to stand up for abortion rights!

While no one was hurt in the fire, this fire will cripple an already-overstretched community of abortion providers to meet the very real and urgent needs of women in western Florida, Alabama and Mississippi for abortion care. This will cause tremendous suffering and unnecessary burdens on women who seek abortions. This will cause great financial strain on those who seek to provide abortions. And, this will – as it was undoubtedly intended to do – strike fear in the hearts of those most courageous individuals who knowingly risk their lives every day to provide women with this absolutely essential, completely moral, remarkably common, and medically safe procedure all across this country.

To be clear, this is NOT the first time an abortion clinic, its staff, or its patients have been the victims of extreme violence and it will not be the last.

In Pensacola alone, several clinics were fire-bombed on Christmas day back in 1984 in what those convicted described as a “a gift for Jesus on his birthday.” It was there that the first abortion doctor, Dr. David Gunn,was assassinated outside his clinic in 1993. In 1994, John Britton, along with his security escort James Barrett, were also gunned down. In Wichita, Kansas, as recently as 2009, abortion doctor George Tiller was murdered as he attended his church on a Sunday morning.

Already, people are rationalizing this violence and issuing threats like the following in online forums:

“Anyone that performs, supports, or participates in abortions should be given the death penalty. And lets nuke Iran while we’re at it.”

“These clinics, are going to be the target of ridicule as long as they are in operation. This clinic, should not be rebuilt, and any other abortion clinic should be shut down. Abortion is legal in the State of Florida but it is not a good idea for one to be operating in a town that obviously does not want it.”

“At least some little lives will be saved since the clinic is out of commission.”

But that is not the worst of it.

It is time we stop allowing the mainstream of the anti-abortion movement, and the mainstream of American politics (Republican and Democrat) to distance themselves from these kinds of acts and this kind of hatred of women.

The truth is, whether the restriction of women’s right to abortion is carried out through legal changes–such as “personhood” amendments, restrictions on late abortions, funding of fake clinics, etc.–-or whether this is carried out through extra-legal terror, they are all acts of violence against women.

Being expected by all of society to subordinate one’s life, ambitions, dreams and intellect to one’s biological ability to bear children – and having this expectation legislated through the most powerful and repressive state in the world – is enslavement. Whether this is done “legally” or through extra-legal terror doesn’t make one shred of difference in the lives of real women and of future generations.

In fact, these two different tactics – the legal and the extra-legal – work together. This is true whether those carrying out these different tactics recognize this or not. The kind of violence and terror that has been aimed at abortion doctors and clinics is fueled and unleashed by those in the “mainstream” who equate fetuses with babies and abortion with murder (which, again, both Republicans and Democrats routinely do – think most recently of the Democratic support for the amendment in Mississippi which almost granted full “personhood” rights to all fertilized eggs!). And when clinics are burned or doctors are killed, these “mainstream” opponents of abortion can appear “reasonable” and less extreme in pushing forward measures which will have a much more lasting and horrendous impact on even greater numbers of women.

The charred structure of the clinic in Pensacola, the shattered body of Emily Lyons (the nurse who was torn apart in the bombing of a clinic in Alabama), the assassinations of Dr. Gunn, Dr. Britton, Dr. Slepian and Dr. Tiller, the hatred and venom spewed at women who enter these clinics nation-wide is not different in any fundamental way from the violence that will be done and the oppressive terror that is being locked in place with every legal restriction on abortion.

Being forced to bear a child against your will is the enslavement of women. Bleeding to death from a perforated uterus because you cannot find access to a safe and legal abortion is just one result of this enslavement. Being arrested and held in jail for providing abortions to women in need–as has already happened now to several doctors legally–is the enforcement of this enslavement. Being arrested for self-inducing your own abortion–as has happened to women in several states, including very recently in New York City!–is more enforcement of this enslavement.

All of this is state-sponsored violence and it is just as damaging as any extra-legal violence against women and women’s clinics has been. The only difference is that it is viewed as “legitimate” by millions and it happens on a much grander scale!

Let the fire in Pensacola be a wake up call to us all. That, along with the countless other incidents of violence and terror against clinics and providers, is the true face of the anti-abortion movement.

Let the silence of both major ruling-class political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, about this terror–along with their continuous chipping away at this most fundamental right–confirm the need to rely on ourselves!

Without the right to decide for themselves when and whether to have a child, women cannot be free. If women are not free then no one is free.

There are millions of us. It’s time to stand up.

Join me and World Can’t Wait in DC on January 22nd for a program at Busboys & Poets for a panel, discussion and dinner on the anniversary of Roe V. Wade and join us on the steps of the Supreme Court to Stand Up For Abortion Rights in the face of the so-called “March 4 Life.” on January 23rd!!


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  • jason

    Your third paragraph is not accurate.  This story has been picked up in news outlets all over the country (print, TV, radio, etc).  Accuracy in advocacy is essential.  My google alerts counted over 700 (seven hundred) media hits.

  • freetobe

    and just now here and on alternet and care2 but all of this except for Rachel Maddow today.

    Pathetic right wing media they sure talked a lot about all the cars in parking lots that had been burned but not one peep on this!

    I agree we all need boots on the ground now and possibly for a long ,long time because these nuts are not going away. They want women to lose all their rights and they won’t stop until we do!

  • jennifer-starr

    That was the same place I heard about it too–on the Rachel Maddow show. You’re right–these nuts are not going away, and the media needs to start calling them out for what they are–they’re terrorists.  This is no different than the Taliban blowing up a movie theater or a school.  And the mainstream ‘pro-life movement’, with its lukewarm and half-assed ‘condemnation’ of their violence, tacitly encourages it. Women need to stand up. 

  • lisac

    The AP is reporting that the arsonist has stated that he bombed the clinic as a protest against abortion.

  • jamaal2012

    “Absolutely moral”?

    Who made you the supreme arbiter of morality for a diverse and pluralistic nation of 312 million people?

    Whenever anyone–left or right–claims exclusive ownership of what is “absolutely moral” for the nation, with rare exceptions, what is really happening is an attempt to seize power by fiat rather than do the necessarily hard work of democratic conversation and persuasion.

    And in that conversation, “abortion on demand and without apology” simply does not cut it. You have real democratic and grassroots work to do before you convince millions of your fellow citizens, women as well as men, of the justice of this position. They aren’t there yet.

    What happened in Pensacola, and what it represents, need to be central to our conversation, no doubt.

    But screeds like this are more about preening and parading one’s own righteousness in front of a sequestered crowd of like-minded believers than about persuading others, and thus actually making progress for the cause of reproductive freedom and health.

    What you’ve written, I am suggesting, isn’t political at all. It’s just vain.

  • jennifer-starr

    I’m sorry, but I fail to see what’s so ‘anti-democratic’ about standing up for our rights as women. What is actually anti-democratic is the firebombing of clinics, the stalking and terrorizing and  even murder of doctors and clinic staff– even demonstrating in front  of their private homes, harassing their neighbors  and posting their personal information online where any crazy nutjob can see it.  People who do this are in fact terrorists–and that’s about as anti-democratic as you can get.  Not this, and not us. 

  • freetobe

    speak for yourself. It is your kind with your kind of thinking that is trying to take the rights of every woman in America away. You people are dilusional to think you have the right to play king with womens lives and bodies based on fairytale stories of men writng about fairytale people in the bible or any other book. I do not beleive in the bible you cannot force anyone too and you cannot force a woman to carry a baby to term then have it and then be expected to care for it for life. What an whom do you even think gives you this right ? Who is playing God here? Certainly not women it is your groups who are playing God and you have NO RIGHT TO!

    You talk about conversation but there is no talking to your kind you are all about control. it may help your cause however if you started practicing what you preach by paying and raising all those wonderful fetuses you want women to produce- after they are BORN.

    According to recent polls over 60% of the american people support a womans right to chose.

    With your last sentence I detect jealousy of women.


  • colleen

    But Jennifer, we have  Jamal to stand up for the rights he thinks we should have.  We’re just women and if we understood what it meant to really be women we would be pleased with our various roles as masturbatory aides, incubation devices and the suppliers of endless, unpaid, thankless caregiving. Women and women alone are responsible for the raising of children and their financial support. The men, because they are made in God’s image, have more important things to do.

  • crowepps

    The majority of people want abortion to stay legal.

    The majority of people say in polls that they are satisfied with the Roe v Wade decision.

    When more restrictive laws like Personhood or not allowing abortions in cases of rape are put up for a vote, people democratically vote them down.

    The majority of people want birth control to be legal, and easily accessible, and cheap.

    The majority of people, and the vast majority of parents, want comprehensive science based sex education taught to students.

    And after ProLife has spent almost 50 years screaming and whining and demonstrating and committing arson and assault and murdering people, it’s STILL only about 15% of the population that actually wants all abortion abolished.