By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, Legislative Policy Counsel at Center for Reproductive Rights
A lot has happened since the House passed and the President signed long-awaited landmark health care reform legislation. While many are celebrating (the Vice President with his trademark colorfulness), other responses have been . . . less positive. In the last week, the windows of several Democratic party offices have been bashed in. An anonymous caller threatened Rep. Slaughter’s children – and the children of all House members who voted for health care reform – with sniper attacks. Someone went as far as to cut the propane gas line at Representative Tom Perriello’s brother’s house – after a tea party activist posted the brother’s address on the internet, thinking it was the Congressman’s. By mid-week, at least 10 lawmakers had reported security concerns. And the threats are continuing. Many Americans are shocked that a debate over expanding health care access has spiraled into death threats and vandalism. Rightly so. Violence has no place in our democracy. Unfortunately, the pro-choice community is all too familiar with these tactics as a response to the provision of basic healthcare. We’ve seen this playbook before. Last year, in the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller – the abortion provider who was gunned down one Sunday while serving as an usher at his church – the Center for Reproductive Rights put out a report documenting the harassment, intimidation, discrimination, and violence perpetrated against the brave men and women who provide abortions, or counsel women about their options, or check them in at reception desks. Not content with their victories in legislatures or at the voting booth, anti-choice extremists have long resorted to murder, bombings, arsons, and assaults. In 2008 alone, the National Abortion Federation compiled reports of 13 bomb threats, 8 clinic blockades, 19 stalkings, 193 incidents of trespassing or vandalism, and 374 incidents of harassing phone calls or hate mail, though the actual number of incidents for most categories likely goes underreported. Implied and direct threats to the family members of abortion providers is another favorite ploy. Anti-choice websites have provided information about providers’ children, including the routes that they use to walk to and from school. (Note that an anti-health care ad picturing Representative Steve Driehaus’s two young daughters specifically called out the reform bill as including federal funding for abortion. The sponsors of the ad have apparently apologized, but other healthcare opponents have posted his home address online and are planning to protest there.) Women who are brave enough to tell their abortion stories – to speak honestly and openly about the choices they have made and the difficulties they have faced – are also routinely harassed and demeaned. The Center recently worked with a woman who wanted to speak about how government restrictions prevent her insurance from covering her $9,000 abortion. The response? She received a threatening call at her work. Another woman, Angie Jackson, was advised by her doctors that continuing her pregnancy could threaten her life. She chronicled her abortion experience over twitter. What happened next? Death threats and FBI involvement in her security. Despite the fact that the health care reform legislation (and the accompanying Executive Order anti-choice Congressman Bart Stupak extorted from the White House) actually restricts access to abortion for millions of women, anti-choicers have been screaming bloody murder (not to mention “baby killer”), falsely claiming that the bill provides for federal funding of abortion. (We should be so lucky. For more on how the package signed by the President undermines access to abortion, see here, here, and here). Indeed, Rep. Stupak himself has received death threats as thanks for his efforts (talk about hard to please!). Apparently it’s gotten so bad that his wife has stopped answering the phone. Rep. Stupak – welcome to our world. This loss of dignity in our democracy and the tone of political disagreement matters. Whatever side you’re on regarding either the debate over healthcare or abortion rights, enough is enough. It is time for threats and harassment to end, and for responsible leaders to recognize that access to healthcare – including reproductive healthcare – is a fundamental right and not a cause for mayhem.
Blog originally posted at The Hill’s Congress Blog.