Sep 18, 2006
The last abortion clinic still functioning in the state of Mississippi has been under siege for months. The same extreme right-wing group that organized protesters to intimidate women entering the clinic also organized harassing of the doctor who works there. The protesters rang his neighbors’ doorbells, telling them they lived on the block of a baby killer. The owner of the clinic has seen 17 suspicious fires at abortion clinics she owns. A doctor who worked for one of her clinics was murdered by an anti-abortion activist. In fact, eight abortion providers have been assassinated since 1993.
Only ten years ago, there were six clinics still performing abortions in Mississippi. But the combination of protesters and anti-abortion state regulations closed them down. And the problem, of course, is not just in Mississippi.
In the year 2000, 87% of counties had no abortion provider, with none at all in 97% of the country’s rural counties, and the situation is undoubtedly worse today. In that same year, eight states had five or fewer abortion providers for the whole state.
The ink had barely dried on the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, when Democratic Senator Frank Church proposed an amendment to a funding measure, which the Senate quickly passed and the House ratified with the support of most Democrats and Republicans. It allowed medical providers (including not only doctors, nurses and other support personnel, but more importantly, the owners of hospitals and clinics) to “opt out” of performing abortions or sterilizations if these medical procedures violated “their moral or religious beliefs.” Very quickly, 46 of the 50 state legislatures passed similar “refusal” statutes. It has since proved to be the basis for the single biggest restriction on abortion.
Such a limitation has never been set on other medical procedures – at least until a similar “opt-out” was extended to pharmacists whose “moral” standards are violated by dispensing birth control medication.
Almost immediately, Catholic hospitals moved to take advantage of the opt-out. Four of the ten biggest hospital chains and health care systems are owned by or are under the control of the Catholic church. Regardless of what doctors working in those hospitals might have wanted, they were prevented from carrying out abortions because the Catholic church refused to let them do it. But publicly funded hospitals and clinics also followed suit in one state after another, as politicians intervened.
The legal provision letting big hospital chains and clinics “opt out” is what opened the door for violence and intimidation to be carried out against individual doctors and small clinics that continue to provide abortions. These clinics and doctors became targets for the “right-to-life” zealots – for whom murder, arson, disfigurement and psychological harassment are all justified by their “mission from God.”
In addition to eight abortion providers murdered, attempts were made on the lives of 17 others. There have been more than 4200 violent attacks on clinics reported to the police: bombings, arson attacks and assaults. In other words, pure terrorism.
Speaking at a 1993 camp organized in Indiana to train religious zealots how to attack women’s clinics, Randall Terry, the head of “Operation Rescue,” had this to say: “I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good.... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a Biblical duty; we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want pluralism.” At another session, speaking of doctors who perform abortions, he commented: “Intolerance is a beautiful thing. We’re going to make their lives a living hell.” (Both of these comments were reported in the Fort Wayne, Indiana News-Sentinel.)
If these religious forces succeed in imposing their agenda on the whole of society, they will take us back to the period before Roe v Wade, when, according to figures supplied by NARAL (the National Abortion Rights Action League), there were almost as many abortions performed annually as there were in the years after the Court’s decision. Legal or illegal, there have been around a million abortions performed year after year, but with this difference: more than 90% before 1973 were illegal, most of those performed under unsafe conditions. Obviously estimates of illegal abortions can only be educated guesses. But what has been documented are the 350,000 women a year who arrived before 1973 in hospital emergency rooms as the result of botched abortions, and the number of women who died each year, ranging from nearly 1,000 to as many as 5,000.
Pretending to speak for “life” is nothing but a cynical ploy by religious zealots who are ready to leave a trail of dead female bodies in their wake.