by Stephanie Hauer
“They’re so pro-life, they’ll kill you for it.”
Critics have lobbed this sarcastic line at pro-lifers many times, but it highlights a sad truth about our movement. Sometimes, in an effort to protect vulnerable lives, pro-lifers demonize the people on the other side. We can become angry, resentful, even aggressive. In other words, we echo the same violent dehumanization that we seek to protest in the first place.
Over the decades, abortion workers have faced countless threatened or real violent actions, some of which even resulted in deaths. Since 2010, three abortion workers were murdered, and nine others were victims of attempted murder. Among abortion workers, 259 reported that they received death threats or threats of harm, and 43 have received bomb threats (and one actual bombing has occurred since 2010). Also, 105,871 abortions workers experienced harassment online. And that’s just since the beginning of this decade—since 1977, the total number of reported acts of violence and disruption is greater than 570,000.
We, as pro-life people, cannot condemn the violence of drone strikes and war if we are setting off bombs ourselves. We cannot denounce the violence of euthanasia if we are shooting at people because of the building they’re inside. We cannot cry out for the dignity of all persons if we are undermining that dignity by harassing people from the sidewalk outside of an abortion clinic. Unless we are comfortable being hypocrites, we cannot defend the dignity of every person in every situation while villainizing the people who staff abortion clinics.
No matter what a person has done, they are still a person. They still have inherent dignity that can never be taken away from them. People who work in the abortion industry are unique human beings, and they too deserve to live a life free of violence.
I spoke with a woman who worked at a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis to hear more about the impact of violence on abortion workers. To preserve her anonymity, we will refer to her as DB.
SH: Did you ever experience threats or acts of violence because of your work in the abortion industry? Please describe.
DB: After a few weeks of being [at the clinic]... I decided to brave a walk to check out the surrounding neighborhood. I left the building and noticed a protester, “John,” was taunting the females going into and out of the clinic, saying things like “baby killer,” “you’re going to hell,” and “murderer.” “John” noticed me one afternoon and started launching personal verbal attacks at me, saying things such as “you’re guilty of killing babies” and “you’re going to hell for working at [the clinic].” He followed me around the corner to the café where I would get coffee/lunch; the whole time he was acting very aggressive, menacing, scary, and belligerent towards me. He was shouting “baby killer” at me as I tried to walk faster to get away from him. I cried all the way back to work because he was so scary, I honestly thought he was capable of physically hurting me.
I witnessed aggressive, confrontational, scary, loud protesters there every day. They would hang bloody baby clothes over the fence, [and] wielded signs that showed dismembered fetuses. They would harass the patients and workers relentlessly every chance they got: making threats, calling horrible names, and doing whatever they could to make us uncomfortable. My job was to answer the phones and I fielded strange calls almost every day with threats to expose the [clinic] workers, to make sure the community we lived in knew we were baby killers, to make sure our families knew what we were doing, and to just remind us we were damned and going to hell because we were taking part in killing babies.
SH: How did those experiences of violence affect you?
DB: The acts of violence, taunts, and threats deeply affected me because one of our doctors was followed home by protesters. I became obsessively paranoid about these people following me home, blowing up my home, telling my neighbors where I worked, putting signs in my yard… My imagination is so vivid, I thought they were capable of anything. I couldn’t sleep; I was up and down [waking up] all night long. I developed debilitating headaches, stomach issues, panic attacks, and paranoia. I was constantly in a state of hyper-awareness, nervousness, and anxiety, and I became isolated because I was so afraid of these protesters finding out my address and exposing me to my community. I spent the better part of a year being scared and constantly having to look over my shoulder because I always felt like one of them could be stalking me and waiting to do something horrible to me.
SH: Please describe some of your most memorable interactions with protestors.
DB: There were a group of young men and women who would cheerfully greet us every day going into and leaving from the clinic, [despite] rain or intense heat. This particular group of young people were peaceful, kind, not accusatory, non-threatening, [and] humble, and made me realize [that] not all the protestors were threatening and fanatical. I was especially impacted by a young woman. She would tell me I looked nice, have a nice day, please reach out to them if/when I decided to leave; [she] offered help and demonstrated the very definition of the word compassion.
Because of the patience, kindness, and humility of these young [people], I actually started to think about leaving PP for the first time. I was impressed by their devotion to the pro-life movement and impressed by their kindness. Because of them, I realized this job wasn’t the “right” place for me to be, it wasn’t a “career” for me; it wasn’t a place I could go to work and hold my head up high with pride and confidence. I felt genuinely moved and swayed by their kindness and the more I saw them, the better I felt about my commitment to find a way out of there as soon as I could.
SH: Why is it important for protestors to be a peaceful presence outside of an abortion clinic, rather than an aggressive or intimidating force?
DB: Not enough can be said to fully demonstrate or emphasize the importance of having calm, peaceful, prayerful protestors out on the sidewalk. PP is NOT a happy place to work, visit, or be a patient, [without] adding into that situation threats, shame, fear, violent pictures, and aggressive protestors screaming at them. From personal experience, having worked there and being a post-abortive woman, I can tell you that the walk into an abortion clinic is heartbreaking, overwhelming, so scary, and just humiliating. For me, the hate-filled protestors I witnessed [as both a patient and a] former clinic worker only added to my [already feeling] low, unloved, unworthy, and [isolated].
My biggest feelings are that if the “crazy” aggressive protestors really and truly value the sanctity of ALL life, then it’s a bad idea to dehumanize, bully, threaten, and judge the women who are walking into an abortion clinic. If women who are contemplating abortion are going to ever be positively impacted and convinced into choosing life for their preborn child, then the hate, threats, and aggression MUST STOP, because the lives of the innocent preborn depend on it.
SH: What are some actionable ways that pro-life protestors can respect the humanity of abortion workers while still advocating for the preborn lives at stake?
DB: Always remember that everybody is a person, no matter if we currently work at or have worked at PP. We have lives, families, feelings, emotions, and dreams and it’s not [easy] to work in such a negative, dark place.
Actionable ways of impacting workers who have become hardened from working in the industry would be to engage in polite conversation (while not expecting a response in return), being outwardly kind, demonstrating quiet compassion through giving out pregnancy resource literature, [and] making a positive impression on the workers and women going into and leaving the clinic by not wavering in kindness. What made the biggest impression on me was that even while I was indoctrinated into the PP way of thinking, the peaceful protestors treated me like a human being, they were kind to me, spoke to me like I was a normal person, and they did their best to befriend me in that horrible situation.
Publicly denounce crazy, unsafe, violent, scary behaviors exhibited by the aggressive protestors. Sometimes simply telling them to “stop it” on the sidewalk will be enough to stop the nasty, hateful behavior.
DB’s experiences are her own, but she is not alone. Countless other abortion workers experience similar situations all over the country. It is vital that we not let our exuberant advocacy for the preborn blind us to the needs of the people in front of us. Instead, we must empower abortion workers to leave the abortion industry, empower parents in crisis to seek life-affirming options, and celebrate the dignity of every human being, regardless of circumstance.