By: Maggie Olivia
The white supremacists who invaded and brutally attacked the nation’s capitol on January 6th followed in the footsteps of anti-abortion clinic protestors of past and present. In fact, white supremacists and anti-choice protestors are often one in the same.
Invasions and violence are increasingly common tactics among anti-abortion extremists— clinic violence saw a rapid uptick in 2016 following the election of #45 and went on to double from 2018 to 2019 according to the National Abortion Federation. Unsurprisingly, numerous long-time anti-abortion extremists have been identified breaching the capitol.
Acts of clinic violence are meticulous, strategic, and planned well in advance, much like the insurrection. Organizers and participants are prepared to deal with potential law enforcement interactions and almost never face consequences for harassment and other crimes. In 2016, a regular protestor at a St. Louis clinic was arrested and charged for making a bomb threat to an employee walking in to work. He was acquitted and remains a regular face at area clinics today– confident in his ability to get away with breaking the law.
In 1994, the Clinton Administration enacted the FACE (Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances) Act to protect patients’ rights to access their appointments. However, as many abortion clinic staff and volunteers with tell you, local law enforcement almost never intervenes with those who have violated the FACE Act. Law enforcement often allows violators to continue their action, sometimes offering sympathetic time-limits, and even offering statements of support. Those familiar with the abortion clinic landscape were not surprised to see Capitol Police opening doors, ushering forward, and taking selfies with insurrectionists. The Justice Department website lists only 13 prosecuted FACE complaints from 1998-2017.
Every morning that I drive on to the clinic lot for an escort shift, I am forced to confront the possibility that I will face unpunished violence at any point during the duration of my shift. The Criminal Investigative Division and Counterterrorism Division of the FBI released a joint statement almost exactly one year ago today detailing the anticipated rise in FACE Act violations and violent crime targeting abortion providers and clinics. They write, “actors motivated by pro-life extremist beliefs have historically and continue to perpetrate the most lethal attacks…” and are likely to increase during tumultuous legislative activities. They have yet to release a statement in regards to anti-abortion extremists since the attempted insurrection on January, 6th.
Last weekend, just days after white supremacists stormed the Capitol building, I was standing outside of a local abortion clinic with my fellow clinic escorts. There is a group of regular protesters who are there to deliberately confuse, harass, and take photos of patients coming in for their appointments. They even don signs that read, “check in here,” just outside of clinic property; particularly sinister in the era of COVID precautions when it seems reasonable to check in for an appointment outside of the building.
As I directed another patient toward the clinic, one of the protesters pulled down his mask to shout at me “Why do we have to be so divided?” I have been marinating on this interaction ever since, and I know the answer: violence.
There is no unifying with those who stoke white supremacy to incite violence for personal or political gain—especially now, as we hear calls from right-wing politicians to skip accountability and move right on to unity. The arms of white supremacy and the anti-abortion movement are interlocked. Like an abusive partner who asks why you had to make them do it, these groups gaslight, threaten, and harass anyone who puts their power and control into jeopardy.
The truth is: there can never be reproductive freedom until there is freedom from white supremacy. From the parking lots outside of abortion clinics, to the chambers of our government, we must be vigilant and active participants in dismantling its forces. Our reproductive freedom depends on it.