Intimidating Abortion Providers Is Chillingly Effective

Illustration for article titled Intimidating Abortion Providers Is Chillingly Effective

This weekend marks the first anniversary of the murder of Dr. George Tiller. A recent report is further proof that it will be extremely difficult to fill his shoes.


A report in the September issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health indicates that ob-gyn residents who are trained in abortion "often do not ultimately do so."


The study involved indepth interviews with 30 graduates of residency programs that had been trained 5-10 years before in performing abortions. 18 said they'd planned on offering abortions, but only 3 did. They gave varied reasons, including

formal and informal policies imposed by their private group practices, employers and hospitals, as well as the strain that doing so might put on relationships with superiors and coworkers... Several physicians mentioned the threat of violence as an obstacle to providing abortions, but few considered this the greatest deterrent.

The authors conclude, "The stigma and ideological contention surrounding abortion manifest themselves in professional environments as barriers to the integration of abortion into medical practice."

Earlier this week, I attended a fundraiser for Trust Women, a PAC created to honor Dr. Tiller's legacy. Listening to Emily Lyons, a nurse who was severely injured by a clinic bomber in Birmingham, whose attacker coldly watched it happen, who has been hospitalized ever year since the 1998 bombing, it was hard to believe that violence wasn't a deterrent. A police officer also died in the attack. And though Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who also spoke, was matter-of-fact and cheerful, he has also been targeted by the anti-choice movement.


Trust Women, named for one of Tiller's slogans, was founded Julie Burkhart, who worked with Tiller for 8 years. Looking over the past year, Burkhart writes,

The climate in state legislatures was frustrating, to put it mildly. Both Kansas and Nebraska tirelessly worked to ban late termination of pregnancy, Oklahoma cranked out a plethora of punitive anti-choice bills and Utah sought to criminalize certain actions of pregnant women - these bills only scratch the surface of restrictive legislation proposed across the country.


Here's what she proposes:

The pro-choice community has to reevaluate the way in which we approach activism across the country, especially states that are all too often written off as "red" states or "fly over" states," when in fact, these are the areas of the country that need the pro-woman movement the most. We cannot abandon the women in any state, nor in any corner of this country if we're going to have equal rights for ALL women in this great nation.

The time has come for us, as a movement, in our own collective ways, whether it's through education or activism or political engagement, to meet the anti-woman forces on their "own" turf. We must not cede any section of this country.


Trust Women also works to defend the legal rights of abortion providers — that is, the ones who have decided to push past the obstacles and become them.

Obstacles to the Integration of Abortion Into Obstetrics and Gynecology Practice [Guttmacher]
Trust Women PAC [Official Site]
In Memory of Dr. Tiller: Reflections on the Death of An American Hero One Year Later [RH Reality Check]

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I'm currently a med student, and at the (non-religious) hospital my school is associated with, in Massachusetts, only two or three doctors of the many who are capable of providing their services are officially listed as abortion providers. Yes, there is a planned parenthood down the street, but abortion procedures are performed on a limited scheduled basis. My good friend, a leader in the med students for choice org, received hate mail ad threats on postcards at her own home, sent by an anti-choice group that looks up the contact information of medical students across the country, and does this. The two of us were recently discussing our potential interest in going into OB/Gyn (we're both MDPhD, so it'll be a while before we decide!), and we both acknowledged that we feel some sense of responsibility to go into OB/Gyn in part so that we can be abortion providers. That is not to say that I have a deep desire to perform only abortions...obviously for some it can be a difficult experience, emotionally and physically, and I can imagine that it would have a deep impact on me as well. However, I have always been strongly pro-choice and heavily invested in women's issues, particularly in regards to health care, and so I feel some sense of ethical obligation to act on these values and provide a resource (not just the procedure itself, but the counseling, availability of information and options, etc.) that is sorely lacking EVEN in the Great Commonwealth. The postcards my friend received definitely served as a strong reminder, as if Tiller's death wasn't enough, that the threat of violence is ever-present even in a place generally thought to be liberal, and that was truly scary.