The group behind that ad, Right to Life Michiana, publishes a list of abortion providers and where they work on its web site—a move that invites threats and harassment. In one instance, a doctor was alerted by the FBI of a threat to kidnap her daughter, The Guardian reports.
The RTLM site lists the names and educational backgrounds of abortion providers in South Bend, Indiana, under its “Take Action” section and a subsection called “Local Abortion Threat.” RTLM told The Guardian that the group published “publicly available information” and that it “does not condone or encourage harm, threats or harassment towards anyone.”
A doctor whose name was published on the RTLM site testified in an unrelated case about Indiana abortion restrictions last year that she traveled to the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in South Bend once a month to provide abortions. (The Guardian is not naming the doctor.) She said that Planned Parenthood told her the FBI had alerted them of a kidnapping threat made against her daughter online. The doctor said she temporarily stopped providing abortions at the clinic out of fear that the regular swarm of anti-abortion protestors might identify her.
The anti-abortion movement has long targeted abortion providers by stalking them and publishing information like their names, photos, home addresses, and license plate numbers. The first known abortion provider to be murdered was Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida, in 1993. In 2009, later abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was notoriously murdered in the foyer of his church. A gunman shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in 2015, killing three people.
Harassment and violence against abortion providers is on the rise: In its annual report, the National Abortion Federation noted that death threats and threats of harm to clinic staff more than doubled from 2019 to 2020, from 92 incidents to 200. NAF previously told Jezebel that its member clinics continued to report increases in violence in 2021 as anti-abortion activists are “emboldened by the Texas abortion ban and recent Supreme Court activity concerning abortion cases.” On New Year’s Eve, a Planned Parenthood health center in Knoxville, Tennessee, burned to the ground—it was later ruled as arson. In January 2021, someone had fired a shotgun at the front door of the same clinic.
RTLM believes that life begins at fertilization, or when a sperm fuses with an egg in the fallopian tube, which is about two weeks before someone would even miss their period and would ban all abortions. The group’s executive director told The Guardian in October 2020 that they support criminalizing abortion providers and would also like to criminalize discarding unused embryos created for IVF. (The 2006 ad Barrett signed when she was a professor at Notre Dame was sponsored by St. Joseph County Right to Life; that anti-abortion group has since merged with another and is now called Right to Life Michiana.)
When asked about the ad during her 2020 confirmation hearings, Barrett said “I signed it on the way out of church, it was consistent with the views of my church, and it simply said we support the right to life from conception to natural death.” She added later “I do see as distinct my personal, moral, religious views and my task of applying the law as a judge.”
The news that an abortion provider was threatened after RTLM published her name presents a bit of a problem for Justice Barrett’s “nice Catholic lady” image as we await the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mississippi abortion case that could overturn Roe v. Wade by the summer.
Barrett may have been installed on the court in part because, as a mother of seven children, who can question her stance that women don’t need abortion access to have careers? When she cites safe-haven laws that allow people to relinquish newborns as a reason abortion isn’t as necessary as in the past, she is the ultimate gaslighting girlboss, using her identity as a convenient shield—even a weapon. There’s a nonzero chance we’ll get an opinion gutting Roe authored by Barrett, and if it happens, we all need to remember that the effort to end legal abortion is inseparable from violence against abortion clinic staff and patients.
Update 1/14/22, 2:15pm: Sharon Lau, the midwest advocacy director for Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, provided the following statement to Jezebel:
Anti-abortion violence has never really abated, but it is now on the rise again, with the National Abortion Federation reporting an increase in vandalism, assault, death threats and stalking in 2020. Most recently, a clinic in Knoxville, Tennessee was destroyed by arson on New Year’s Eve. No one has been arrested.
We have long known that language matters. Anti-abortion extremists have tried to wash their hands of culpability when violent people take them up on their calls to action against abortion providers, by hiding behind their rights to free speech. That is exactly what Right to Life (RTL) Michiana is doing.
For years, Dr. George Tiller was targeted by anti-abortion extremists and the right-wing media. Bill O’Reilly consistently aired stories calling him “Tiller the Baby Killer” and “Tiller the Killer.” When Dr. Tiller was murdered in his church by Scott Roeder in 2009, O’Reilly took no responsibility for how his language and coverage played a role in the murder, but stood by his reporting and rhetoric.
It has also been well documented that Western Style “wanted posters” spurred violence against doctors who provided abortion care. Both Drs. Gunn and Britton were murdered following circulation of posters containing their names, photos and other personal information.
It is no surprise then, that abortion providers take these types of threats very seriously.
In fact, a physician who is listed on RTL Michiana’s site was the victim of a kidnapping threat to her child.
RTL Michiana is disingenuous to claim they mean no harm when they post physicians’ names and locations under the heading of “Take Action” and “Local Threat: The Abortionist.” They assert they are only sharing information that is publicly available, which may be true, but those public sources don’t come attached with a call to action, or the history of violence that has followed such posts.