We Need Courageous Leaders Who Stand Up to Anti-Abortion Extremists

Anti-abortion violence has increased significantly since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Our political leaders must not cower.

Anti-abortion and abortion-rights supporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on May 21, 2019. (Anna Gassot / AFP via Getty Images)

A version of this article originally appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

While headlines focus on politicians’ efforts to ban abortion at the state and national levels, anti-abortion forces are also working at the local level to erode abortion access—even in deep blue states such as Massachusetts. In addition to pumping massive funds into anti-abortion fake clinics in blue states, they are also working to block municipal protections for abortion healthcare by using threats and legal intimidation.

Recently, in the progressive Western Massachusetts city of Easthampton, both the mayor and city council president—both Democrats that claim to support abortion rights—voted against an ordinance to protect access to reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care. The ordinance was supported by over 20 reproductive and trans rights groups in the community, who were perplexed and frustrated by their actions.

After a three-hour public hearing on July 5, a two-thirds majority of the Easthampton City Council passed an ordinance to ensure safe and fair access to legally-protected reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare services. The next morning, Easthampton Mayor Nicole LaChapelle sided with anti-abortion forces by vetoing the ordinance.

At an Aug. 2 hearing, the council considered a motion to override the veto. Many spoke in favor of the override. Only one person spoke in opposition: Easthampton Democratic City Committee chair Jackie Brousseau Pereira. Brousseau Pereira had not participated in any of the extensive public discussions of the ordinance over the previous year or communicated with advocates for the measure. Despite overwhelming community support for the override, Council President Homar Gomez sided with two other male councilors to uphold the veto.

How can we explain the behavior of Democratic leaders who profess to support reproductive rights but vote against reproductive and gender-affirming healthcare access?

I interviewed LaChapelle last February for a story on accountability measures for crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). I asked why she opposed an earlier version of the Easthampton ordinance. She told me she had received threatening letters from anti-abortion extremists across the country—including one soaked in blood. She gave other reasons for opposing the ordinance, but none resonated with statements and analysis of the leading reproductive healthcare organizations that support the ordinance. In fact, LaChapelle showed no desire to collaborate on modifying the ordinance to address her concerns. At the end of the day, were LaChapelle, Gomez and Brousseau Pereira intimidated by anti-abortion extremists?

Our political leaders must stand up to the intimidation tactics of the anti-abortion movement. They must not cower when faced with blood-soaked letters, condemnations to damnation or threats of frivolous lawsuits.

I attended the ordinance hearing on July 5 and was shocked by the threats and intimidation coming from the anti-abortion side. They called people supporting abortion rights killers and promised frivolous lawsuits. This behavior is part of a long-standing pattern of anti-abortion violence and intimidation against reproductive health advocates.

For over four decades, reproductive health providers and advocates have been under attack by anti-abortion extremists. The so-called “pro-life” movement has engaged in unrelenting violence at women’s health clinics since 1977, including 11 murders, 42 bombings, 200 arsons, 531 assaults, 492 clinic invasions, 375 burglaries and thousands of other crimes directed at patients, providers and volunteers. Just last month, a Planned Parenthood clinic in El Centro, Calif., that had faced anti-abortion opposition was burned to ground. These numbers do not include violence and intimidation directed toward politicians—like the bloody letter sent to LaChapelle.

University of Kentucky professor Carol Mason, author of Killing for Life, has documented deep ties between the January 6 insurrectionists and anti-abortion extremists.

“The same violent brew of paramilitary warriors, white supremacists, and Christian militants that we saw descending on the Capitol building merged to oppose abortion with lethal force decades ago,” said Mason.

Two recent reports reveal that anti-abortion violence has increased significantly since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

  • The National Abortion Federation’s 2022 Violence and Disruption Report documents a rise in violence against abortion clinics over the last year, including invasions with burglary (up 231 percent), stalking (229 percent up) and arson (up 100 percent).
  • The Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2022 National Clinic Violence Survey reports 69 percent of responding clinics experienced daily or weekly disruptive protests targeting their facility and almost a third of clinics surveyed (31 percent) experienced one or more types of severe violence and threats of violence in 2022. The violence reported in 2022 was the second highest in over two and a half decades.
(Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2022 National Clinic Violence Survey.)

Anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) are deeply connected to the proliferation of violence against reproductive healthcare facilities. Over two-thirds (67.4 percent) of abortion clinics report CPCs located near their facility. These anti-abortion centers not only confuse and deceive patients, they act as staging grounds and surveillance sites for anti-abortion protesters.

Legal harassment by anti-abortion groups is also increasing. Right-wing law firms that specialize in representing anti-abortion extremists are threatening lawsuits around the country, and working to intimidate municipal leaders out of protecting clinics and the communities they serve.

This happened in Easthampton. The Catholic Diocese sent a lawyer to threaten legal action at the July 5 ordinance hearing and lawyers from First Liberty Institute in Plano, Texas, and Massachusetts Family Institute sent a legal threat letter to the city council.

Our political leaders must stand up to the intimidation tactics of the anti-abortion movement. They must not cower when faced with blood-soaked letters, condemnations to damnation or threats of frivolous lawsuits. If we cave in to their tactics, we embolden them. Now more than ever before, we need courageous leaders at the national, state and local levels of government who will stand up to anti-abortion bullies.

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Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.