On Wednesday, a review board in Florida denied parole to convicted murderer Michael Griffin, who fatally shot Dr. David Gunn outside of a Pensacola clinic in 1993.
Dr. Gunn’s murder was a shock and a blow to the reproductive healthcare community; he was the first provider to be killed by an anti-abortion extremist. As a young OBG/YN, Dr. Gunn established a practice in Brewton, Alabama because of the area’s high infant mortality rate and went on to pioneer a technique for safely delivering breach babies that providers still use today. Years later he traveled to multiple cities and states where patients were lining up for services that there was no doctor to provide. At the time of his death, he was working in a community experiencing just such a shortage of doctors.
“He and his partner desired to serve the under served. They wanted to save lives,” David Gunn Jr. said. “[My dad had] an understanding that patients in need of abortion services deserve a compassionate, patient, understanding, non-judgmental and empathetic doctor as much as those who do not.”
An onslaught of violence against providers commenced after Griffin killed Dr. Gunn, and in the years since ten other people have since been killed in acts of anti-abortion violence. Dr. George Tiller was shot and wounded in 1993 and shot and killed in 2009; Shelley Shannon, who was convicted for the first assassination attempt, wrote letters of praise to Griffin. Dr. John Bayard Britton and his volunteer clinic escort. Lt. Col. James Barrett, were murdered in 1994, as were Planned Parenthood clinic workers Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nicholes. In 1995, Dr. Hugh Short was shot in his home.
Other assassination attempts—as well as stabbings, clinic bombings, bomb threats, arson, harassment and intimidation—continued throughout the 1990’s. The passage of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act tampered, but has not stopped, the harassment and violence aimed at abortion providers. According to the 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey conducted by the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project, 34.2 percent of U.S. abortion providers reported “severe violence or threats of violence” in just the first half of 2016—the highest number reported since 1995.
The parole board’s decision was praised by reproductive justice advocates, who said Griffin’s release could have been dangerous to providers. Griffin, who shot Dr. Gunn in the back three times, has since publicly made ominous statements about providers and has been upheld as a hero by other extremists.
“Though it is unlikely that he will ever make it out of prison and kill again,” Lady Parts Justice League said in a social media statement, “Griffin emboldened a dangerous movement, dedicated to causing harm to those who provide abortion care. Now more than ever, we must stay vigilant.”