Today, March 10, is a day of remembrance in the pro-life and women’s health community. It is the day abortion doctor Dr. David Gunn was fatally shot three times in the back by a protestor who disagreed with his profession in Pensacola, Florida. Gunn’s death happened 21 years ago — and it was in Florida, of course — but grave risks still follow women’s health physicians wherever they go.
As Tara Culp-Ressler writes for Think Progress:
According to media reports, a 31-year-old abortion protestor yelled “Don’t kill any more babies!” before opening fire at point-blank range. Gunn had been operating a clinic in Pensacola for just over a month before he was killed; it bore no signs advertising what type of services it provided.
We often think of the female body — and specifically our own access to safe and reliable healthcare — as the Gettysburg of the long and winding war on women. However, the doctors who perform these operations are also risking their own lives and the safety and sanity of their families in an ever-increasing hostile environment.
When it comes to choosing jobs, doctors who perform abortions are forced to consider the usual list of deciding factors like pay and upward mobility along with ‘Is the town big enough where people won’t recognize me by my profession in the grocery store?’ or ‘Is the anti-abortion sentiment in that city dangerous?’ If you're the only doctor who performs abortions in a rural area, people will come to know your face with the same familiarity, or disdain, as Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights, that's just the nature of small towns.
“There are big barriers for those in small communities. There’s a lot of fear for what someone might say to your family or your children,” Dr. Stephanie Long, a doctor from California, told Think Progress. “You’re not as anonymous as you are in a big city — if you’re walking into a town of 2,000, everyone knows who you are and recognizes you in the grocery store,” Long explained. “There’s a certain point along the path, when you’re picking different jobs, you realize that if you work at certain clinics, your name will be out there. You have to decide if you’re okay with that.”
Now as some states like Texas and Mississippi do their best to undo Roe v. Wade, some physicians feel they have truly become as enemy of the state as laws roll in restricting their ability to work. Restrictions abound, from the pressure to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals despite working from a clinic to enduring “undercover stings” where anti-abortion activists pose as a women in need, hoping to catch a worker bending the laws and then cry foul. Still, penalties for breaking the ever-growing number of anti-abortion tinged laws range from “thousands of dollars in penalties and decades in jail” so doctors must comply but it is an awful compromise.
“Every time I perform an abortion, I have to offer the woman the ability to see or hear the heartbeat of her ‘unborn human individual,’ which is what the law states it must be called,” Dr. Kate Davis, whose work in Ohio forces her to navigate several incredibly restrictive anti-abortion laws, told ThinkProgress. “I need to tell her the probability of this pregnancy going to term if she chooses to continue the pregnancy and doesn’t have the abortion. I need to do this both verbally and in writing. From my medical point of view, this is totally unnecessary. But I’m doing it so I don’t get fined, or charged with a misdemeanor or, heaven forbid, a felony.”
The fight for safe, reliable and affordable access to abortion and women’s healthcare isn’t just affecting the women politicians are so hell bent on denigrating, it’s also victimizing the doctors who’ve studied long and hard to do their jobs.