In the picture above this sentence, prosecutor Ann Swegle puts a finger to her forehead during her closing argument to demonstrate how Scott Roeder murdered Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, in the foyer of Tiller’s Kansas church in 2009. Tiller was the last abortion provider to be murdered by anti-abortion zealots, but he was the not last person to experience violence at their hands. In the aftermath of the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft to overturn Roe v. Wade, rightwing reactionaries are trying to rewrite the violent history of the anti-abortion movement.
Rebecca Mansour, senior editor-at-large at Breitbart, attempted to dress down “the left” who are rightly angry at the news that the Supreme Court wants to overturn the right to abortion in America. “The freakout you are witnessing from the left is very instructive. When Roe was handed down 49 years ago, pro-lifers didn’t riot, didn’t call for SCOTUS to be burned down, didn’t threaten the lives of justices, didn’t try to stack the Court,” Mansour wrote on Monday.
Her post was just one in a string of right-wing commentators to suggest that the anti-abortion movement movement has always been peaceful, whereas abortion rights protesters are being “unhinged” and violent at the prospect of the end of legal abortion in America:
Don’t be fooled: Violence is the only thing the anti-abortion movement has ever known.
While the anti-abortion crowd didn’t burn down SCOTUS, they did burn down the homes of abortion providers and abortion clinics. And since 1977, there have been at least 11 murders and 26 attempted murders of abortion providers; there have been 42 bombings of clinics and homes; there were 194 incidents of arson, including burning down a Planned Parenthood clinic in Tennessee just this past New Year’s Eve.
The National Abortion Federation, which has the most extensive tracking system of these incidents, also reported “thousands of incidents of criminal activities directed at abortion providers” since 1977. This could mean shooting in Colorado Springs that left three people dead and wounded nine others, or the trespassing charges laid against anti-abortion protesters who invade clinics and harass patients and staff alike. In the past decade, there have been nearly 6,000 incidents of “trespassing,” including the people charged on suspicion of invading a D.C. clinic last October.
The anti-abortion movement has long peddled the claim that abortion is murder and should be avenged as such. One of the oldest anti-abortion groups had the slogan “If you believe abortion is murder, act like it’s murder,” adapted from zealot Randall Terry’s false belief that abortion is murder. In the 80s, anti-abortion demonstrators got creative, pouring glue into abortion clinics’ locks and further interrupting healthcare services by chaining themselves to clinic doors.
In the 90s, the Summer of Mercy protests started to gain steam. In 1991, Tiller’s Wichita clinic was targeted repeatedly because he performed late abortions. Thousands were arrested. (A Spring of Mercy protest in Buffalo was less successful.)
Anti-abortion believers are pro-violence. They are pro-violence in the real dictionary-definition sense of the word, aligned with people who commit bodily harm against providers and patients. They are also pro-violence in the rhetorical and more abstract sense, with an end goal to take away someone’s ability to regulate their own body—which we know, historically, leads to women dying from unsafe abortions.
In an update to her tweet thread, after massive backlash and mockery, Mansour tried to make sure readers knew she was talking about politics and respectability. “Update: Yes, I’m well aware that some violent fringe extremists targeted abortion providers. Pro-life leaders & activists denounced these criminal actions, and the criminals were punished according to the law. In other words, our legal system worked as it’s supposed to,” Mansour wrote.
But so often, anti-abortion believers weren’t quickly prosecuted. Eric Rudolph is best known for the Atlanta Olympic bombings, but when authorities didn’t catch him, Rudolph continued his rampage. Rudolph evaded capture for years. He went on to bomb multiple abortion clinics in the South, killing and maiming many people.
Mansour, Terry, Rudolph, and all their congressional counterparts are okay with anti-abortion violence, because it is a means to an end: control over everyone else.