Before the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion in 1973, many women died of bleeding, tetanus or infections from botched abortions. Others survived, but lost their ability to have children because they had to have life-saving hysterectomies. As an emergency nurse, I witnessed these medical crises.
Women who had illegal abortions risked their lives — unless they had the money and connections to find doctors who would perform the surgical procedures safely. Some women turned to unsafe home remedies and self-induced abortions.
The women’s movement of the early 1970s fought for legalization of abortion, which gave women some control over their own bodies. After the high court’s decision, pro-choice advocates set up facilities where women could obtain safe abortions legally. Planned Parenthood became a major national provider of the procedures.
Planned Parenthood is a major health care provider for 2.7 million low-income women and men; many are African-American, Latina, youth, immigrants and women with disabilities. Their clinics provide reproductive health care, including contraception, prenatal care and abortions, as well as breast exams, Pap tests and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.
There has been a spate of attacks on women’s health clinics since a conservative anti-abortion group posted online highly edited, fraudulent videos in July, which falsely claimed Planned Parenthood profited from selling fetal tissue and committed infanticide in the process.
In July, a clinic in the Chicago suburb of Aurora reported an attempted arson. A month later, firefighters found a half-burned car at a new clinic’s construction site in New Orleans. Then, in September, a PP clinic in Pullman, Wash., was set ablaze, and later that month, a make-shift bomb was thrown at another PP facility’s window in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
In response to the attacks, pro-choice activists and clients delivered petitions headed “I stand with Planned Parenthood,” with 2.4 million signatures, on Sept. 29 to Congress. That day some 300 rallies and other events took place around the country supporting the organization.
Murders in Colorado
But the violence got worse. On Nov. 27, a “lone” white gunman, armed with an AK-47, attacked a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, Colo., killing three people and wounding nine others in a five-hour stand-off with police. He was not shot at or killed by police officers, who let him surrender. This is a very different scenario from how police treat African Americans in encounters, often shooting first, killing unarmed, innocent people.
Hours after the Colorado shootings, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, stated that “the federal government [should] call these attacks what they are — domestic terrorism.”
The next day, Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, put out a statement, which stressed, “Let’s be clear: This was an act of domestic terrorism. NOW calls for a full federal investigation into the shooter and any others who may be connected with his act.”
Yet, even before the bogus videos surfaced or the Colorado murders occurred, there has been a long history of violence against women’s health centers. The National Abortion Federation states “since 1993, eight doctors and clinic staff members have been murdered for working to provide abortion, most recently, Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, in 2009.” (slate.com, Oct. 19)
The Feminist Majority Foundation’s report in 2014, entitled “National Clinic Violence Survey,” said, “The percentage of women’s health clinics that received threats of violence doubled since 2010.”
RH Reality Check, a pro-choice website, said on Sept. 18 that “radical anti-choice activists are emboldened by GOP legislative attacks on reproductive rights.” These legal restrictions have severely impacted women’s access to reproductive health care in many states.
Texas laws now require abortion-performing clinics to unnecessarily meet the standards of ambulatory surgery centers and their doctors must have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Since most clinics did not meet these requirements, only 17 clinics now perform the procedures, while 41 facilities provided abortions in 2012.
In the coming year the Supreme Court will hear the case of Whole Women’s Health vs. Cole to decide the constitutionality of Texas’ laws concerning clinics which perform abortions. If the restrictions are upheld, seven more clinics will be forced to close there, with only 10 remaining open.
Olga Khazan’s Nov. 17 Atlantic article, entitled “Texas Women Are Inducing Their Own Abortions,” addresses how these laws affect women. It is based on Texas Evaluation Project surveys on the impact of state reproductive policies, conducted by the University of Texas.
The study reads, “Between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women between the ages of 18 and 49 have tried to end a pregnancy by themselves.” The most common method used is Misoprostol (Cytotec), a drug which induces medical abortion; it can be purchased without a prescription in Mexico.
The right-wing’s goal is to abolish women’s right to safe, legal abortion and several types of contraception, which they falsely claim are abortifacients (causing abortion).
The terrorism that is aimed at the Black Lives Matter movement and at Planned Parenthood is meant to intimidate activists and break their fighting spirit. But BLM and all the struggles against racism, sexism and the oppression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and queer people will continue. The fight for women’s rights — including for reproductive and other health care — is part of that struggle. The fightback against capitalist reaction goes on.
Eolis is a retired emergency department nurse/family nurse practitioner.