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FEATURE | Spring 2015

Courage in the Face of Terror

Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism


Review by VANESSA C. ADRIANCE

LIVING IN THE CROSSHAIRS exposes the harrowing reality facing abortion providers in the U.S. To the uninitiated, that reality is shocking: a life of constant harassment and stalking, of hate mail and cyber-bullying and criminal trespass at their homes, of needing to don a disguise and bulletproof vest and do evasive maneuvers on the drive to work. Providing legal, safe abortions—or even working as a security guard or volunteer in a clinic that does so—means being the target of relentless and terrifying criminal acts.

Since 1993, eight doctors and clinic workers have been murdered; many others have been assaulted and maimed. Clinics have been burned down, providers’ children have been intimidated at school and doctors’ photos and names have appeared on WANTED posters distributed in their neighborhoods. It’s impossible to read this book without marveling at the courage and stamina these people exhibit in continuing to offer abortion care.

Law professor David Cohen and attorney Krysten Connon vividly illustrate the impact of this nationwide campaign of terror on its victims. A physician who helps women needing abortions in the mid-Atlantic and one South Atlantic state remembers hearing of the 1998 murder of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian, shot by a sniper through the window of his kitchen in Buffalo, New York: “I’m on the phone, and I’m probably starting to shake a little bit. Because we all have windows in our home…at that point I got on my belly and crawled around my home…Someone was out there, and we didn’t know who it was.”

Kitchen, workplace—to extremists, no place is sacred. Providers’ elderly parents have been tormented in their nursing homes. In 2009, Dr. George Tiller, a prominent provider who had long been a target of the extremists, was shot in the head on a Sunday morning inside his Wichita church’s foyer, where he had just finished his duties as an usher. Even children trick-or-treating at a provider’s home on Halloween have been harassed.

Even the everyday picketing of abortion clinics takes a toll, the authors point out. It has “serious effects on women seeking abortion, people providing abortion, the clinics and offices where abortion occurs, and the national debate on the issue.”

Cohen and Connon examine the many inadequacies of law enforcement’s current response to harassment of abortion providers, calling for additional responses from local law enforcement and extensively discussing the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. But they should also have added the importance of federal anti-terrorism, stalking and cyber-terrorism laws. The reality is that when providers must cross state lines to work, and when they and their families are menaced in multiple states by a nationally coordinated network of criminals, a concerted federal effort is essential.

Until targeted harassment of women’s health-care professionals is redefined as domestic terrorism rather than “protest,” and until it is prosecuted as such, neither abortion providers nor women’s constitutionally protected right to abortion will be safe.

VANESSA C. ADRIANCE is a litigation attorney in Los Angeles and on the board of governors of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles.

Reprinted from the Spring issue of Ms. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, Apple, or Android device, join the Ms. Community.

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