Forty-eight years ago, the Supreme Court recognized the fundamental freedom to abortion. But the promise of the Roe v. Wade decision has yet to be fully realized for so many. Black people, Latinx people, Indigenous people, people who are incarcerated, people who have immigrated, young people, disabled people, and people without financial security all continue to face barrier after barrier to accessing abortion.
For decades, anti-abortion extremists and white supremacists have worked hand-in-hand to further their racist, misogynistic agenda and prolong their power. Make no mistake, the violent attack on our nation's Capitol on Jan. 6 is the direct result of the anti-abortion movement fueling the flames of white supremacy and right-wing violence from the very beginning.
The white supremacists who invaded and brutally attacked the U.S. Capitol followed in the footsteps of anti-abortion clinic protesters of past and present. 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 as participants in the breach of 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 protester 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 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act — FACE — to protect patients’ rights to reach 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 suprised to see Capitol police opening doors, ushering forward and taking selfies with insurrectionists.
The Criminal Investigative Division and Counterterrorism Division of the FBI released a joint statement one year ago 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 Jan. 6.
Just days after white supremacists stormed the Capitol, I was standing outside of a local abortion clinic with my fellow clinic escorts. For 35 years, NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri has organized volunteer clinic escorts to offer a safe presence outside clinics that provide abortions. 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. NARAL Missouri volunteers escort patients from their cars, past these lines of protesters, and to the health center for their appointments.
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. And the promise of Roe can never be realized without the complete destruction of 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.