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Terrorism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” Due to political and popular uses of the term, the word “terrorism” usually evokes mental images of an Other, a non-white face speaking a foreign language, making threats from across an ocean. But when terrorism springs from the creation and manipulation of terror as an emotion, it’s important to also identify traditionally unrecognized acts of terrorism happening on American soil. How is terror being used to coerce and threaten individuals in the United States? When I pause to think about this, I am drawn to U.S. abortion providers and clinic employees. Terror is an emotion that has become all too familiar in these environments.
What provokes terror? The emotional and psychological attacks driven by clinic protesters and deceptive smear campaigners; the legacy of physical violence left by the numerous abortion clinic shootings and bombings since Roe v. Wade; the latest cyberattack by hackers seeking to invade and exploit the privacy of these clinic workers and medical professionals.
The discussion of terrorism in the United States rarely includes a reflexive look at domestic terrorism. But how can we not classify the killing, threats, and harassment targeted at clinic employees and abortion providers as terrorism?
This terrorism and violence is not new—it has gone on for decades. The violence is physical, as in the case of clinic shootings and bombings, but it is also psychological. Imagine being verbally harassed and aggressively accosted by protesters holding medically inaccurate, gory signs every day as you walk into work. Imagine discovering that your personal contact information, alongside your photograph, have been published online with an organization that vehemently wants to end the work that you do. The pro-life movement in America silently condones this violence by refusing to condemn violent extremists, instead choosing to enable them with compromisingly personal information.
It concerns me to see a movement supposedly preoccupied with the preservation of life simultaneously permitting stalking, threats, and harassment. These are forms of violence that jeopardize the lives of abortion providers and their loved ones. Scott Roeder, the murderer of Dr. George Tiller, said that the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue served as a source of information for him about the doctor’s private life as he plotted murder. Anti-abortion groups also stay silent on extremist groups such as Army of God, a terrorist group that hails murderers of abortion providers as “American Heroes.” Enabling militant extremists by publishing private information about providers and their family members is unconscionable. Why is there silence around extremism that promotes violence and terror against clinics and providers at work and at home?
In 2014, 51.9 percent of abortion clinics reported experiencing targeted intimidation and threats against doctors and staff, according to the National Clinic Violence Survey. This indicates an increase in militant literature featuring doctors’ and employees’ personal information and an increase in stalking of these doctors. What else could mean but a strong anti-abortion interest in terrorizing providers?
I was disheartened to see recent falsehoods about Planned Parenthood being spread by the Center for Medical Progress—then I was alarmed by the violation of privacy that hacker group 3301 undertook against over 300 Planned Parenthood employees. This violation is violence. It is intended to provoke terror among employees who have a right to privacy. Whether these hackers are explicitly linked to the Center for Medical Progress is still unclear. However, we do know that the cyber-attack was inspired by the media attention driven by false messaging promoted by anti-abortion groups in recent weeks.
The abortion debate should be based in compassion and reason. Terror should have no place in the conversation—yet ironically, anti-abortion leader Troy Newman compares the Affordable Care Act to the terrorism of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor on his blog, neglecting to mention the acts of domestic terror within his own movement.
As the videos attempting to smear Planned Parenthood’s reputation continue to roll out and anti-abortion groups continue enabling extremists, I look to Congress with mounting alarm. With providers constantly under attack on the ground, we cannot afford to lose federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which goes toward contraception, STI testing, and preventative examinations at affiliates across the nation.
Here are the facts: defunding Planned Parenthood has absolutely nothing to do with defunding abortion. Federal funding for abortion has been banned since the Hyde Amendment passed in 1976. Planned Parenthood is an organization that promotes the sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing of millions worldwide, providing comprehensive healthcare and education to its patients. Let’s call it like we see it. Let’s demand an end to the terrorism directed at abortion providers and clinic employees, and demand a reasonable and nonviolent climate for the three in 10 women who have abortions in the U.S. and their providers.
Brianna J. Suslovic ’16 is a joint social anthropology and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Winthrop House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.
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