Hey, Bart Stupak, How Does it Feel?

Dear Bart Stupak,

Welcome to the club.

I ran an abortion clinic for nine years and have defended clinics across the nation. I’ve worn a bullet-proof vest just to go to work. My car was routinely vandalized. My house was firebombed. I was stalked. I received so many telephone death threats—including one delivered to my kid when I couldn’t come to the phone—that I considered them routine.

And it wasn’t just me who was threatened. My son was shot at. My husband was routinely targeted. My kids grew up never opening or even touching any packages that came in the mail, dealing with harassment at Sunday school and elsewhere, and always watching their backs.

Now, Bart, you and other anti-abortion Democratic members of Congress have joined this club. You are on the receiving end of the thrown rocks, telephoned threats and ominous personal visits from people who, oddly enough, share your anti-abortion sentiments—they’re just mad about your vote for health care reform. So I thought I’d put my schadenfreude aside and offer you some advice.

First off, don’t expect anyone to get punished for their actions against you unless someone gets murdered. Sure, being a member of Congress means that law enforcement paid attention to the threats, and fast. That’s a definite bonus. Thanks to a wonderful woman on the local police force, I had some unofficial protection myself. But it took me years and a Democratic administration to get the federal government to respond. So having Obama in charge of the FBI and not McCain is definitely in your favor.

But when push comes to shove, I would be shocked if anyone was ever arrested, tried and convicted of carrying out a threat. All anyone has to claim is that the attack was really about free speech, and then you can kiss any legal protections goodbye.

And don’t expect the people who created the lynch mobs to show remorse or change their ways. There will initially be some quasi-apologies—Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he was speaking metaphorically when he called an anti-abortion Democrat who voted for the bill “a dead man”—but soon the leaders will claim that they had nothing to do with the poisonous atmosphere because you caused it. (Republican Whip Eric Cantor claims Democrats were “dangerously fanning the flames” by demanding his party condemn the violence and threats.) In fact, you and I both know our only crimes were exercising our constitutional rights.

Yes, Bart, you are in the same boat as many abortion providers throughout the nation—under brutal attack and threats simply for doing what you thought was the right thing. So I have to ask you: How does it feel?

How does it feel to have your life and the lives of those you love in danger from a band of filthy-mouthed, holier-than-thou thugs? How does it feel to know that nothing will make these bullies think twice about attacking you? How does it feel to know these people—people with whom you share beliefs—may stalk you forever?

Most of all, how does it feel to know you helped create them through your leadership against women in favor of the bishops, your support of the anti-abortion movement and your discounting of women’s lives and women’s choices? You stood silent while women were attacked and doctors were murdered; now they are coming for you. You should have spoken out, but you didn’t.

So welcome to the club and good luck, Bart Stupak. Let me know if you need tips on wearing a bulletproof vest.


P.S. I read a recent interview in which you said you suspected groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Right to Life and others were actually “just using the life issue to try to bring down health-care reform.” Gee, ya think?

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Jeanne K. C. Clark is Pittsburgh-based grassroots organizer, trainer, author, and media consultant for feminist, civil rights, LGBTQ, the environment and other social justice causes. For more than 30 years, Clark has created change and worked with the media across the nation. Clark coordinated media coverage for many major marches in DC since 1975, including the first-ever national abortion rights march, the 1975 Mother's Day of Outrage at the Vatican Embassy; the massive Marches for Women's Lives, framing the debate positively for abortion rights as a majority belief; and the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation. She coordinated media coverage for the National Republican Coalition for Choice at the 1992 Republican National Convention. On behalf of the Feminist Majority, she led clinic defense activities in Mississippi in August, 1994, successfully coordinating support for the state’s only physician performing abortions. She is currently director of communications for Citizens for Pennsylvanian’s Future (PennFuture). In 1988, Clark ran for public office, and her supporters threatened to send a fundraising letter that began, “Jeanne Clark is a fighter. Perhaps you’ve fought with her yourself.” It would have made a boatload of money.