Violent Rhetoric Has Consequences—Just Ask Abortion Providers

With the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that affirms women’s right to choose abortion, approaching tomorrow, National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta calls civil dialogue a national responsibility.

I was saddened and disturbed on January 8th when I heard the news about the shooting in Tucson that left six people dead and 14 others injured, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. As the coverage began to focus on possible political motivations for the attack and the influence of violent rhetoric, I couldn’t help but think about the parallels between this tragic event in Arizona and the senseless murders of eight abortion providers and clinic staff, including my friend Dr. George Tiller.

NAF’s Mission: Ensuring Safe, Legal, Accessible Abortion Care

• NAF is the professional association of abortion providers in North America—including clinics, doctors’ offices, and hospitals who together care for more than half the women who choose abortion in the United States, Canada, and Mexico City each year.
• NAF sets the standards for quality abortion care in North America through our evidence-based Clinical Policy Guidelines. NAF ensures compliance with the guidelines by conducting member quality site visits.
• NAF provides ongoing accredited continuing medical education in all aspects of abortion care.
• The toll-free NAF Hotline (1-800-772-9100) provides callers with options counseling; unbiased, factual information about abortion; limited financial assistance; and referrals to providers of quality care.
• NAF works with members and law enforcement to ensure the safety and security of abortion providers and their patients.

Both Congresswoman Giffords and Dr. Tiller were gunned down in public. Congresswoman Giffords was interacting with her constituents at a “Congress on Your Corner” event and Dr. Tiller was ushering at the church where he and his wife had been active members for more than 20 years. Both of them were shot in the head at point-blank range, and both incidents caused our nation to examine the prevalence and effect of violent political and ideological rhetoric.

Unfortunately, this discussion is not new to the abortion provider community. Since 1993, there have been eight murders and 17 attempted murders of physicians and clinic staff.

Abortion opponents have a long history of using violent rhetoric to attempt to justify their crimes and incite others to violence. They regularly refer to abortion providers as “murderers” in interviews and articles and utilize imagery associated with murder such as “wanted” posters and “hit lists” in their campaigns to end legal abortion. Unfortunately, instead of marginalizing these extremists, other opponents of abortion have picked up on this dangerous rhetoric to advance their political agenda.

The devastation this rhetoric can cause has been keenly experienced by the abortion provider community.  In late 1992, Michael Griffin, who had no history in the anti-abortion movement, became involved with a local anti-abortion leader who took him under his wing and mentored him by showing him graphic anti-abortion videos and involving him in efforts to target a local clinic where Dr. David Gunn worked.  Earlier that year abortion opponents had distributed western-style “wanted” posters featuring a picture of Dr. Gunn, his home phone number, and other identifying information. In 1993, Dr. Gunn became the first abortion provider to be murdered; shot to death by Griffin in Pensacola, Florida.

Following the murder of Dr. Gunn, anti-abortion extremists publicly advanced the idea that the murder of abortion providers was “justifiable.” Paul Hill appeared in media outlets, including the nationally televised Donahue show, calling for the execution of abortion providers. In fact, he was so well-known for making such inflammatory statements that reporters often asked him, “If you believe so strongly in killing doctors, why don’t you do it yourself?” One year later, Hill acted on the violent words he had been preaching when he shot and killed Dr. John Bayard Britton and volunteer escort Lt. Col. James Barrett, and injured June Barrett, in the driveway of a Pensacola, Florida, abortion clinic. Hill’s ideas were carried forward by others including James Kopp, who unsuccessfully attempted to use a “justifiable homicide” defense during his trial for the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian in Buffalo, New York.

Scott Roeder, convicted last year for the murder of Dr. Tiller, also testified in court that his actions were justified and made repeated unsuccessful attempts to use a so-called “necessity defense.” Prior to murdering Dr. Tiller, Roeder had been in contact with others who advocated using violence against abortion providers, and was influenced by the media and what he watched on TV. He testified in court that he converted to Christianity as an adult after watching conservative programs like “The 700 Club.” Roeder stated that he believed Dr. Tiller was a murderer, a belief advanced by Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly referred to Dr. Tiller on national TV as “Tiller the Killer.”

Violent rhetoric can clearly influence individuals to retaliate against not only abortion providers, but also, like Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner, against government authority and government officials. Some, like Scott Roeder and Eric Rudolph, target both.  Roeder was a member of the Montana Freeman Militia and Rudolph, who was convicted of murder resulting from a bomb he detonated in Olympic Park in Atlanta, also bombed two abortion clinics where one person died and another was seriously injured.

Perhaps Loughner has the most in common with murderer John Salvi. Like Loughner, Salvi was a mentally unstable loner in his early 20s with no association to any politically motivated group when he opened fire with a semi-automatic weapon in two Boston-area abortion clinics in 1994, killing clinic staff members Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols and injuring five others. After shooting Congresswoman Giffords, Loughner fired randomly into the crowd and killed six people including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. Salvi committed suicide in prison, and just hours before the shooting in Tucson, Loughner posted “Goodbye friends” on his MySpace page.

While some people purposefully use violent rhetoric to incite others to action in order to advance their own agendas, others do so without considering the consequences of their actions. In a civilized society, there is no room for political rhetoric or imagery that encourages and incites others to commit acts of violence. Those in politics and the media have a responsibility to use their influence to foster civil dialogue and debate.

This post first appeared on the site of the Women’s Media Center.

By Vicki SaportaBy Vicki Saporta


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle8 years ago

To justify "killing", as they call it, with killing, makes no sense. To kill an abortion provider or staff, is murder. He/she is a citizen. Women have the law on their side -- we may determine with our doctors, medical procedures. Fanatics make a lot of problems in the world, thinking EVERYONE must believe as they do. Live your own life, and leave others to live theirs.

Laurie C.
Past Member 8 years ago

We do not have the right to tell someone else what they wish to do with their bodies, if a woman decides to have an abortion, regardless of why, it's her choice. If we are to bring religious rhetoric into this, then the choice is between her and her God, and no one else has a voice in this. We need to stop meddling in the affairs of others. Using violent means of attacking those in favor or Abortion is the most un-christian thing I can think of. Jesus taught peace, compassion and understanding knowing full well that only God has a right to judge us - and he asked us to love one another, regardless of our differences.

Robert C.
Robert C.8 years ago

what about women who are raped by some psychopathic monster..bringing up the offspring of that nightmare would be very disturbing for the victim..

Jill M.
Jill Matthews8 years ago

What kind of question is "don't you love children". Pro choice woman are mothers so yes we love our children.

We believe in everything and it's the person's right to choose. You want to be a mom that is fine and if your not ready to be a mom that is fine decide you choose.

Abortion is safer that birth so the actual procedure is safe.

Maria K.
Mary K8 years ago

I can't support murders organized by "pro-life" - it's inhuman!But abortions are not less inhuman.It's seems strange to me that there are so many women in the USA willing to get rid of a child.You don't love children?!It isn't a question of religion - it's a question of ethics and a question of science.It has been proved for many times that abortions cause an irreparable injury to the woman's organism.And more than that abortion is a business-cosmetology,rejuvenation.Don't you remember it?Are you people of the 21st century or from the medieval times?I

Roxane Connor
Roxane Connor8 years ago

One clinic bombing resulted in a 6 month pregnant receptionist's death The bomber casually considered her "unborn" as collateral damage.
Several sites with abortion provider "hit list" post not only the doctors name and work address but home address and number,car make and model and license plate,the names and photos of family members including children and were they go to school.I don't see how this is "PROlife" or even remotely Christian.

Jill M.
Jill Matthews8 years ago

Just because you heard a heart beat doesn't mean it's alive. People on life support hearts beat, but one taken off life support they die...just like a 6 week fetus if they were taken out of you they would die.

You can't understand it because you have never been in the position or had a friend who was. It is only up to the person who is pregnant and being their for support is really all you can do.

With BC it is not covered and people can pay for it. If they do not have insurance it isn't possible for them to pay $30 to $50 a month. I can only what the IUD is without insurance.

Nikkole Sadler
Nikkole Sadler8 years ago

If abortion is not murder then what is it? I heard my son's heartbeat at 6weeks and got pictures from the ultrasound he was VERY TINY but he still had a STRONG heartbeat and i knew he was there to me a "fetus" is a baby i know not all agree but there are soo many different forms of birth control like the IUD's dose anyone know the percent of women who get pregnant while having one of those? I just dont understand why anyone would want to get rid of, abort, murder someone they created!

April Thompson
April Thompson8 years ago

Noted! Amen, to the poster who said stop asking the question, "What if your mother had aborted you?" You are right, then you wouldn't have consciousness and have no knowledge of not existing. Until a fetus can survive outside of the womb, abortion is not murder to me.

Kim B. C.
Kim B. C.8 years ago

I agree Sandra, prolife is pro women control.
Why don't we just donate all the unwanted fetus' to the prolifers who want to carry the fetus? The technology exists - that way they can really put their money where their mouth is!
But , really if you are male or too old to carry a fetus- I guess that leaves you out. Unless you are prepared take care of all the unwanted children or fetuses outside the womb-( we could freeze them all too for later -it's technologically possible) let women be in control of their own bodies.
The point is- if you won't do something to help, don't tell other people what to do with their reproductive rights. We all have enough to help each other if we would want to. The prolifers love to complain more than actually help someone.