Anti-choice activists have long referred to those who provide abortions as the weak link in the chain when it comes to stopping legal, safe procedures. Safe abortion as a legal right only exists for as long as there is someone to offer a termination and a place where that termination can be done. That was the thinking that led to the 80s and 90s “rescue” movement, a campaign of turning clinics into scenes of blockades and chaos, or trying to harass doctors out of the business by targeting their homes or blocking their cars so they couldn’t leave for work.
Those days are mostly behind us thanks to the FACE Act (The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) as well as blowback from the increased anti-abortion extremist violence that culminated in the murder of providers and clinic workers. However, other means of intimidating and pressuring those associated with abortion still remain, and in some places are increasing.
The change? Although providers are still the primary target for these campaigns, those who are on the periphery of abortion provision are increasingly being drawn into the mix as well. The reason why is simple: while an abortion provider sadly expects the harassment and is prepared to see it as a cruel and unfortunate part of the job but not enough to stop performing abortions, those who aren’t actually providers are far more inclined to see being associated with abortions as not worth the effort.
We’ve already seen this tactic used in states like Mississippi and Ohio, where a desire not to get pulled into the fight over abortions has kept a number of hospitals from offering admitting privileges to the states’ abortion providers. Other states, such as Alabama, have seen examples of hospitals who employ doctors who have offered to provide back up assistance in the rare case of an abortion complication face increased scrutiny and even public protests.
It’s with these cases in mind that Indiana’s SB 292 is such a threat to the right to a safe, legal abortion. Heavily supported by Indiana Right to Life (IRL), which claims the bill is a necessary piece of transparency in the medical profession, the bill would require any person providing an abortion to also give out the name and contact information for the local doctor who has agreed to treat any complications from an abortion. IRL claims it both proves that doctors do have back ups and allows patients to know who may be treating them in case of unforeseen circumstances.
It also, inevitably, would provide the group with a list of doctors that they and other abortion opponents can contact to try to coerce out of providing back up care.
There would definitely be precedent. In Huntsville, Ala., an anti-choice group announced plans to protest a hospital for continuing to employ a doctor who provides follow up care to doctors performing abortions in local clinics. In Mississippi, one physician lost his Medical Board appointment because he provided admitting privileges for the only abortion clinic in the state − this despite the fact that he himself didn’t perform the abortions.
Pressure can be placed just as heavily on those who simply have business relationships with providers. In Maryland, a landlord saw his sixth grade child protested at her school, as anti-choice activists tried to pressure him out of renting to Dr. Leroy Carhart, a move they thought could stop that clinic from operating. The owner of Dr. Mila Means office in Wichita, Kan., was threatened with protests if he allowed the physician to perform first trimester abortions in her private practice. Means herself later received a letter to her home address saying that anti-choice terrorists knew her car and she should check it for explosives.
The treatment of Means is the clearest example of the lengths that could be taken to pressure doctors involved with abortion. Pressure and harassment can come in a variety of forms, as well. Chicago’s Dr. Cheryl Chastine has been under a variety of harassment and pressure, both emotionally and financially, since she began offering her services in Kansas. She has said that the attacks just make her more resolved to continue her work, but would someone whose only involvement with abortion involves simply being on call to provide back up care feel just as dedicated to that work?
What SB 292 as it was written would do, in real terms, is turn doctors into targets, giving anti-choice activists a clear list of who to apply pressure on if they want to make safe abortion inaccessible. That the state politicians would work with these anti-abortion groups to provide them with that list is abhorrent.
SB 292 appeared to have been scuttled in a committee last week, but has suddenly reappeared for meeting on Tuesday morning. There is hope that the section that will provide back up doctor contact information may be pulled, and hopefully that is the case. Otherwise, whatever harassment, coercion or even potential violence that occurs as a result of the bill should rest on the heads of every state legislator that votes it through.
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