Column: Why we might soon see a surge in antiabortion violence

Abortion rights demonstrators
Abortion rights demonstrators rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 4, 2020.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

In 2009, four months after Barack Obama, who supported abortion rights, was sworn in as president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, a religious zealot murdered the late-term abortion doctor George Tiller in the vestibule of Tiller’s church.

I have always believed those two things were related.

Generally, when the Republican Party has been in charge, antiabortion activists breathe a little easier, knowing women’s reproductive rights will be foiled at almost every turn.

Conservative Christians were able to overlook Donald Trump’s lack of ethics, morality and honesty because he shamelessly pandered to them on abortion. Although he was for abortion rights before he was against them, he called himself the most pro-life president in history. He was the first sitting president to appear at the annual March for Life in Washington.


More important, he appointed three Supreme Court justices and plenty of lower court judges who are known to be hostile to abortion rights.

As soon as President Biden was sworn in, the abortion landscape shifted. Days after his inauguration, he outraged abortion foes by taking steps to protect and expand abortion access. On Thursday, he rescinded the execrable “Mexico City policy,” a global gag rule that forbids international family planning organizations that receive American funds from even so much as discussing abortions with their patients, let alone performing them.

Biden has also expressed his opposition to the Hyde Amendment, which since 1977 has been renewed each year to bar almost all publicly funded abortions for low-income women.

“The Hyde Amendment is one of the most racist policies that have existed in this country in terms of the ability of women of low income to access all the reproductive healthcare services they need, including abortion care,” said Marcela Howell of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda in a phone call with reporters on Wednesday.

Abortion opponents, naturally, love it: “The Hyde Amendment has proven itself to be the greatest domestic abortion-reduction measure ever enacted by Congress,” says the website of National Right to Life. “There is abundant empirical evidence that where government funding for abortion is not available under Medicaid or the state equivalent program, at least one-fourth of the Medicaid-eligible women carry their babies to term, who would otherwise procure federally-funded abortions.”

Imagine celebrating forced childbearing. Don’t they write dystopian novels about that?

While violence against abortion providers waxes and wanes, it is an ever-present reality for those in the trenches. In 2019, according to the National Abortion Federation, antiabortion activists invaded clinics 19 times, more than double the number of invasions reported in 2018. Threats of violence and death also increased, from 57 to 92. Trespassing, hate mail and clinic obstructions and picketing were way up as well.

Based on the patterns of the past — all 11 of those who died in U.S. antiabortion violence were killed when Democrats were in the White House — I fear we are going to see a spike in antiabortion aggression and violence in the coming months. And I am not the only one.

“I don’t anticipate a reduction of violence,” said the Very Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, an Episcopal priest who is president and chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, which represents hundreds of abortion providers. “I have been in the movement for over 35 years, and I have watched this roller coaster, this increase in violence during Democratic administrations. It has to do with desperation and not feeling they can go through the regular channels — as you saw when they stormed the Capitol. It’s the same level of craziness.”

Many have noted the strong connection between the pro-Trump crowd that turned out on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, and the extreme Christian right.


“I wanted to be here because I feel like the Democrats are slapping our Creator in the face,” an evangelical Christian woman who attended Trump’s rally outside the White House told the Christian Chronicle. “Also, my Lord wants me here to fight for the unborn.”

Ragsdale believes the troublemakers were emboldened by Trump, his over-the-top rhetoric and embrace of violence at his rallies.

“There’s been a normalization of violence unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” said Ragsdale. “But that is small potatoes compared to what we are apt to see in the next four years.”

The newly conservative Supreme Court majority, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, showed its disregard for women almost immediately, ruling on Jan. 12 that women seeking medication abortions would have to pick up their pills in person, instead of receiving them through the mail, as you can with most drugs.

Given the two dozen or so abortion-related cases in the legal pipeline, it’s inevitable that the court will weigh in again, and probably soon.

The first case the court is likely to hear involves a Mississippi law that bans abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, long before fetal viability. The court will weigh whether or not the law imposes an unconstitutional “undue burden” on women.


Of course it does, though what the court will do is anyone’s guess.

“I don’t really feel I can predict what they will do,” said Ragsdale. “But it doesn’t look hopeful.”