On May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder killed Dr. George Tiller, a late-term abortion provider, in Wichita, Kansas. By all accounts, Roeder waited in the pews of Tiller’s church, and then following service, he walked into the church foyer and shot him directly in the forehead. Roeder, who was staunchly anti-abortion, committed murder because of Tiller’s national prominence as an abortion provider. Now, eight years later, the country is recreating and expanding the same environment of extremist views that allowed for Tiller’s murder.
Since Trump came into office, his administration and the Republican-majority Congress have been on a mission to impede the rights of people — especially women, girls, and their providers — from accessing constitutionally protected health care services. Earlier this month, the House passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA) of 2017 which Trump vehemently supported. The AHCA disproportionately targets women: domestic abuse, rape, pregnancy, C-section, and maternity care can all be considered preexisting conditions. Less than two weeks later, Trump expanded the Mexico City Policy, also known as the Global Gag Rule (GGR), a death wish for women around the world seeking abortion services. The GGR, newly named “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance,” says that foreign aid can go only to organizations abroad that “neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” The rule could affect up to $9 billion in funding that is also used to combat health concerns like HIV/AIDS, Zika, and more.
Trump, an accused sexual assault perpetrator, has always promoted violence and hatred against women, including being able to access safe and legal abortions without criminal prosecution. During his candidacy, Trump said that women who seek abortions should be subject to “some form of punishment” if the procedure was banned in the United States. Trump eventually changed his mind (his fourth position on abortion in just three days) and claimed that only “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.” Nonetheless, this position still leaves abortion providers on the hook for performing a medical procedure that should be decided on by only a doctor and their patient. This kind of rhetoric would only embolden people like Roeder.
Allowing extreme policies against reproductive rights will increase the numbers of unintended pregnancies, which will increase the number of unsafe abortions. If pregnant peoples’ rights to immediate services are curtailed, this will undoubtedly cause a delay in options. As a delay continues, so does the potential for an unwanted pregnancy which could cause seeking a late-term abortion — the same abortions performed by the late Tiller. That, in turn, allows people — who are like Roeder — to effectuate their extremist views on those seeking healthcare services, including but not limited to abortion and family planning options.
Consider this: many people who work in the field of abortion are living in a state of heightened fear and anxiety because targeted harassment follows them everywhere they go, including in their private homes, at work, and in church. Anti-choice violence curtails women and young adolescents from receiving access to abortion services. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey, the first comprehensive nationwide survey of women’s health clinics, found that severe types of anti-abortion violence (e.g. clinic invasions, bombings, and death threats) continue to impact 19.7 percent of clinics nationwide.
The overall percentage of clinics impacted by threats and intimidation has increased dramatically in recent years, from 26.6 percent of clinics in 2010 to 46.4 percent in 2016. This increase should be of great concern, as in the past these types of threats have often preceded the use of deadly violence.
Tiller wasn’t the first abortion provider murdered. Dr. David Gunn, killed on March 10, 1993, and Dr. John Bayard Britton, killed on July 29, 1994, were also murdered by anti-abortion extremists. Since 1993, there have been 11 murders of doctors and clinic staff members due to their work providing access to abortion services. What’s more, 26 attempted murders have happened since 1991. These numbers do not include a deadly attack in November 2015 in Colorado Springs, where an active shooter killed three people and injured nine at a Planned Parenthood facility. This type of violence causes fear and can block access to sexual and reproductive health services. And it doesn’t just impact staff and doctors who perform abortion either; families are also targeted at work and school.
The book Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism describes how anti-abortion extremism should be considered domestic terrorism, after analyzing close to 100 interviews of people who were targets of anti-abortion extremism.
The Trump administration is not helping, with its rhetoric or its policies. What’s worse, the media often contributes to the toxic environment of extremist views regarding those who seek and provide abortion services. Trump’s conservative friends like Bill O’Reilly have contributed to the death of Tiller, and on the anniversary of his death, that must be acknowledged. Last month, after Fox News announced it would be parting ways from the station’s biggest star, Rolling Stone remembered just how much of a role he played in Tiller’s death. Once O’Reilly commented, “And if I could get my hands on Tiller — well, you know. Can’t be vigilantes. Can’t do that. It’s just a figure of speech. But despicable? Oh, my God. Oh, it doesn’t get worse. Does it get worse? No.”
Although O’Reilly arguably has less access to television now — because of his alleged sexual assault of several women — Trump and his unmitigated gall can still effectuate those viewpoints through his policies (and his tweets, of course). With such anti-abortion policies and rhetoric, Trump is undoubtedly ensuring that more Roeders will be on the rise.
Preston Mitchum is the Policy Research Analyst at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE). He is also a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with The Root and theGrio and has written for the Atlantic, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.