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Abortion is a legal, common, and safe medical procedure that one in three American women will undergo. Yet ever since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, anti-abortion forces have tried nearly every tactic to eliminate it. Legislative and judicial developments dominate the news, but a troubling and all-too-common phenomenon-targeted vigilante action against individual abortion providers-is missing from the national discussion, only cropping up when a dramatic story like the murder of an abortion provider pushes it to the forefront. Every day, men and women who are associated with abortion care are harassed, threatened, stalked, picketed, sent hate mail, and otherwise terrorized. Those who seek help from the law are sometimes successful, but not always, either because there are insufficient protections built into the law, or because law enforcement officials fail to respond. In Living in the Crosshairs, the voices of these providers are heard for the first time, through extensive interviews that David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon conducted across the country. Abortion providers are targeted at home, at work, or in community spaces; they can be harassed in person or online. Abortion opponents target not only the providers themselves but also may go after their families, neighbors, and others close to them. This kind of targeting happens anywhere in the country, not just in more conservative areas, and can victimize all providers, not just high-profile doctors. For some, being the victim of targeted harassment inspires significant fear and leads to changes in behavior; for others, it has become a normal part of life; and for yet others, it actively strengthens their resolve. The response of law enforcement at the federal, state, and local levels is spotty-though there are some strong laws on the books, especially at the federal level, abortion providers have had mixed experiences when it comes to legal recourse, and effectiveness varies. Drawing on ideas from the interviews, the authors propose several legal and societal reforms that could improve the lives of providers, foremost among them redefining targeted harassment as terrorism rather than protest. Living in the Crosshairs is a rich and humane portrait of women's health professionals who persist in their work despite harassment because they believe in what they are doing. These providers' voices have not been heard in recent debates, leaving the public with a deficient understanding of exactly how abortion is limited in this country, yet their experiences illuminate the truth of the issue and offer us a path to a better policy.
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Kommentar zu Nietzsches "Morgenröthe", "Idyllen aus Messina"

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LIVING
in the

CROSSHAIRS

•

L IVING
in the

C ROSSHAIRS

•

THE UNTOLD STORIES OF
ANTI-ABORTION TERRORISM

D avid S . C ohen

and
K rysten C onnon

1

1
Oxford University Press is a department of the University of
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© Oxford University Press 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in
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You must not circulate this work in any other form
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
ISBN 978–0–19–937755–8

1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
Printed in the United States of America
on acid-free paper

To Jennifer Boulanger

Cont ents

•

Preface ix
Introduction 1
		1.

Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

21

		2.

Where Targeted Harassment Occurs

		3.

Tactics of Targeted Harassment

		4.

Secondary Targets

5.

Providers’ Reactions to Targeted Harassment

57

75

109

		6. Prevention and Protection

123

147

7.

Six Stories of Law and Targeted Harassment

	; 	8.

Legal Responses to Targeted Harassment 205

		9.

Legal Reform

		10.

235

Why Abortion Providers Continue 269

Notes 285
Acknowledgments 309
Provider Index 315
Index 319
vii

173

Preface

•

Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures in the United
States, as three in ten women will have the procedure in their lifetime.
Every year, over one million women have an abortion. Since the US
Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973 and decriminalized abortion, there have been over fifty million abortions performed in the
United States. Although there is variation, women of all ages, religions,
races, socioeconomic groups, and family statuses have abortions.1
Not only is abortion one of the most common medical procedures,
but it is also an incredibly safe procedure in the United States. In fact,
abortion is much safer than childbirth. From 1998 to 2005, sixty-four
women died from a legal abortion out of over ten million abortions
performed; in contrast, over 2,800 women died from childbirth out of
thirty-two million pregnancies that resulted in live birth. The rate of
death of women undergoing legal abortion is fourteen times lower than
the rate of death from childbirth. Moreover, every significant complication associated with pregnancy is more common with childbirth than
with abortion.2
However, despite abortion being such a common and safe medical
procedure, individuals who provide abortion care cannot count on their
own personal safety, and partly because abortion providers are not safe,

ix

x

Preface

there are very few abortion providers in the United States. Because of
their work, abortion providers have been murdered, shot, kidnapped,
assaulted, stalked, and subjected to death threats. Their clinics have
been bombed, attacked with noxious chemicals, invaded, vandalized,
burglarized, and set ablaze. Individual abortion providers have been
picketed at home and have received harassing mail and phone calls.
Their family members have been followed where they work, their children have been protested at school, and their neighbors’ privacy has
been invaded. Partly as a result of this terrorism, medical facilities providing abortion services have decreased by almost 40% since 1982, 89%
of counties in the United States have no abortion provider, and only
14% of obstetrician-gynecologists perform the procedure.3
This book tells the stories of abortion providers targeted by
anti-abortion harassment in these extreme ways, explores how this
harassment seriously affects their lives, and offers suggestions as to what
the legal system can do about it.

Introduction

On Sunday, May 31, 2009, in Wichita, Kansas, anti-abortion extremist
Scott Roeder assassinated Dr. George Tiller. That morning, Dr. Tiller
was in his church foyer awaiting the beginning of services, having completed his duties as an usher. As the pastor began the music signaling the start of services, Roeder, who had been sitting in the adjacent
sanctuary waiting for Dr. Tiller, walked through the doors into the
foyer. He walked straight to Dr. Tiller, pulled a gun from his pocket,
pressed the barrel against Dr. Tiller’s forehead just above his right eye,
and pulled the trigger. Dr. Tiller dropped to the floor, dead from the
single gunshot.1
George Tiller was not the victim of a random act of violence; instead,
he was murdered because he had become one of the most prominent
abortion providers in the country. His medical practice started in 1970
when he took over his father’s family medicine clinic. Over the years,
Dr. Tiller’s practice grew to include abortion care, and he eventually
converted the general family medicine practice into a clinic that provided only abortion care.2
Dr. Tiller was at the center of the national controversy over abortion because of the particular nature of his clinic. As a result of both
Kansas law and Dr. Tiller’s compassion for patients in difficult situations, Dr. Tiller became an expert in late abortion. Like doctors in
other clinics, Dr. Tiller performed routine and less controversial abortions in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy; however, unlike
most other physicians, Dr. Tiller was both willing and able to perform
1

2

Living in the Crosshairs

abortions later in pregnancy. Women came to Dr. Tiller from around
the country for abortions because of extreme fetal anomalies and severe
maternal health complications that developed after the sixth month
of pregnancy. For these women, Dr. Tiller was both a compassionate
physician and one of their only options.3
However, to those who opposed abortion, Dr. Tiller became a
national symbol of everything wrong with a country that permitted
abortion. For instance, in the years preceding Dr. Tiller’s murder, Bill
O’Reilly, the nationally syndicated talk show personality and Fox News
prime-time host, railed against Dr. Tiller. O’Reilly mentioned Dr. Tiller
on his program twenty-nine times between 2005 and the month before
Dr. Tiller’s murder, repeatedly referring to Dr. Tiller as “Tiller the Baby
Killer.” O’Reilly accused Dr. Tiller of “operating a death mill,” “executing babies about to be born,” and “destroy[ing] fetuses for just about
any reason right up until the birth date.” In one particularly noteworthy rant, O’Reilly proclaimed, “If I could get my hands on Tiller—well,
you know. Can’t be vigilantes. Can’t do that. It’s just a figure of speech.
But despicable? Oh, my God. Oh, it doesn’t get worse. Does it get
worse? No.”4
As Dr. Tiller’s abortion practice gained prominence, both Dr. Tiller
and his clinic were the victims of many serious attacks and threats
at the hands of anti-abortion5 protesters. In 1986, Dr. Tiller’s clinic
was bombed, affecting two-thirds of the clinic structure and causing $100,000 in damage. In the summer of 1991, Operation Rescue,
a New York–based anti-abortion group launched in 1986,6 descended
on Dr. Tiller’s clinic and staged its largest protest ever. For six weeks, in
what Operation Rescue called its “Summer of Mercy,” hundreds of protesters repeatedly blocked the entrance to Dr. Tiller’s clinic. The massive
demonstration resulted in 2,700 arrests and culminated in a gathering
of 25,000 anti-abortion activists at the Wichita State University football
stadium.7
After the “Summer of Mercy,” the attacks on Dr. Tiller became even
more extreme. In 1993, Dr. Tiller was shot at point-blank range in both
arms while leaving his clinic for the evening. In 1998, Dr. Tiller’s clinic
received a letter warning that it would be the target of an anthrax attack.8
In 2006, Operation Rescue used an obscure provision of Kansas law to
convene a citizen grand jury and investigate Dr. Tiller for the death of

	Introduction

3

one of his patients; the grand jury investigation was short-lived and
did not issue an indictment against Dr. Tiller. Throughout the early
2000s, avowedly anti-abortion Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline led
multiple investigations into Dr. Tiller, his patients, and his clinic, none
of which resulted in any legal action against Dr. Tiller.9 Kline’s successor, Paul Morrison, filed nineteen misdemeanor charges against Dr.
Tiller in 2007, alleging that Dr. Tiller sought legally mandated second
opinions from a physician with whom he had a financial relationship.
After a widely publicized trial in early 2009, Dr. Tiller was acquitted of
all wrongdoing.10
Dr. Tiller also experienced attacks and threats that, although they
garnered less attention, nonetheless affected his day-to-day life. He was
the subject of repeated death threats, as were members of his family and
clinic staff. Old West–style “Wanted” posters with Dr. Tiller’s name,
picture, and personal information appeared throughout Wichita. The
signs offered a vague “reward” for Dr. Tiller. Anti-abortion demonstrators picketed Dr. Tiller’s home and stalked his wife. They also repeatedly showed up at Dr. Tiller’s church, harassing the congregants and
interrupting services.11
Dr. Tiller significantly altered his life to deal with the constant harassment and threats. He outfitted his vehicles with armored protection,
hired lawyers to protect him, and bought expensive bulletproof glass
and security systems. As a result of the threats, Dr. Tiller lived with US
Marshal protection at various times in his life. In addition, Dr. Tiller
wore a bulletproof vest to work, strategically took different routes on
his way to the clinic, and usually drove in the right-hand lane because
a security expert had told him this technique gave potential attackers
fewer angles of approach.12
Dr. Tiller’s experiences with these constant threats, harassment, and
attacks took place against a backdrop of increasing violence against
abortion providers in the United States. Starting in the 1970s and escalating through the 1980s, abortion clinics regularly suffered bombings,
arsons, and chemical weapon attacks committed by anti-abortion protesters. Protesters also developed intricate methods to physically blockade entrances to clinics, including chaining themselves underneath cars
and placing their heads in cement blocks deposited in front of clinic
doorways. Throughout the 1980s, anti-abortion protesters also targeted

4

Living in the Crosshairs

individual abortion providers by, for example, making death threats
against doctors and clinic workers.13
In the early 1990s, anti-abortion harassment escalated. In 1993,
Dr. David Gunn became the first abortion provider to be murdered by
an anti-abortion extremist. Dr. Gunn provided abortions in Pensacola,
Florida, and was murdered after anti-abortion protestors hanged an
effigy of him and posted “Wanted” flyers of him around town. In mid1994, Dr. John Britton and retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel James
Barrett, who worked as a volunteer escort for the clinic where Dr.
Britton performed abortions, were murdered in front of the same clinic
in Pensacola where Dr. Gunn was murdered. At the end of 1994, two
receptionists at different clinics in the Boston area, Shannon Lowney
and Leanne Nichols, were shot and killed in an attack that concluded
with the murderer driving to Norfolk, Virginia, and firing shots at a
clinic there. In 1998, a clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed,
killing Robert Sanderson, the clinic’s part-time security guard. Later in
1998, a sniper murdered Dr. Barnett Slepian by shooting him through
his kitchen window while he was preparing dinner. With Dr. Tiller’s
murder in 2009, the total number of confirmed abortion-related murders in the United States now stands at eight.14
These murders have not been the only incidents of violence against
individual abortion providers. Other providers have been kidnapped,
shot, bombed, and attacked. Scott Roeder existed on the fringes of this
violent anti-abortion movement in the years before he ultimately killed
Dr. Tiller. After flirting with the militia movement in the early 1990s,
Roeder began on his path of anti-abortion violence.15 In the mid-1990s,
he associated with several prominent violent anti-abortion activists and
threatened a Kansas City abortion doctor at his clinic. In 1996, police
found bomb-making materials in Roeder’s car, which Roeder admitted
he intended to use against an abortion clinic. He was convicted and
sentenced to twenty-four months of probation for using explosives, but
the Kansas Court of Appeals ultimately overturned the conviction.16
Roeder became more involved in the anti-abortion movement after
this incident. He began associating with Operation Rescue and posting
his thoughts about Dr. Tiller on various websites. In 2009, he was in the
courtroom during the trial over Dr. Tiller’s alleged relationship with a
consulting physician and reacted angrily when Dr. Tiller was acquitted.

	Introduction

5

Roeder picketed Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Wichita and demonstrated outside
of Dr. Tiller’s church on Sundays. In the weeks preceding Dr. Tiller’s
murder, Roeder twice vandalized a clinic in Kansas City, something he
had done multiple times before.17
After shooting and killing Dr. Tiller on May 31, 2009, Roeder was
quickly apprehended and brought to trial. At his trial, he attempted to
use a “necessity” defense, claiming that murdering Dr. Tiller was necessary to save the thousands of babies that he believed Dr. Tiller murdered with his abortion practice. The judge rejected this defense, and
the jury ultimately convicted Roeder of first-degree murder. Roeder
was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after fifty
years. A federal grand jury investigated whether Roeder conspired with
any individual or group to kill Dr. Tiller, but there is no public information about the results of that investigation.18
Dr. Tiller’s murder is the most high-profile act of anti-abortion
violence to occur since Dr. Slepian’s murder in 1998. As of the writing of this book, there have been no subsequent murders of abortion
providers. However, anti-abortion violence and extremism continue.
According to the most recent statistics available from the National
Abortion Federation, from 2010 to 2013 there were 9 attempted or successful bombings and arsons; 66 acts of vandalism; 425 incidents of
trespassing; 8 clinic invasions; 2 anthrax/bioterrorism threats; 14 incidents of assault and battery; 12 death threats; 18 bomb threats; 26 acts
of burglary; and 34 incidents of stalking.19
Targeted Harassment of Abortion Providers
Extreme forms of violence and aggression against individuals involved in
abortion care, like Dr. Tiller’s assassination, make local, if not national,
headlines when they occur. But these extreme examples hardly represent the full extent of the ways in which abortion opponents terrorize
providers. Other forms of harassment occur much more frequently but
go almost completely unnoticed in national headlines. While a media
outlet will occasionally feature an in-depth story about a particular provider and her day-to-day struggles dealing with harassment from abortion opponents, this type of harassment usually flies under the radar of
the national consciousness and discourse surrounding abortion. Based

6

Living in the Crosshairs

on interviews with abortion providers from around the country, this
book rectifies this missing element in the national story about abortion
by telling and analyzing providers’ stories of the targeted harassment
they face.
To the extent that people are aware of anti-abortion protest and
harassment beyond the high-profile attacks and murders, they are most
likely familiar with what this book calls general clinic protest. General
clinic protest can take many forms, but the most common type occurs
when abortion opponents protest in front of a clinic. They do so for
many reasons, including to express their opposition to abortion to both
clinic employees and passersby, to try to change the minds of women
entering the clinic so they do not obtain an abortion, to “bear witness” to what they believe is a mass slaughter, and to participate in the
national movement to end abortion.20
General clinic protest has serious effects on women seeking abortion, people providing abortion, the clinics and offices where abortion
occurs, and the national debate about the issue. These effects have been
well documented.21
This book is about something different, what we call targeted harassment of abortion providers. This term refers to acts of anti-abortion protest that are or are perceived to be specifically focused on individual
abortion providers. Two parts of this definition require explanation.
First, since targeted harassment of abortion providers is or is perceived to be directed toward individuals, this type of protest differs
from general clinic protest, which is focused on the clinic, the clinic’s
patients, or the larger issue of abortion, not the specific individuals
who work inside the clinic. Targeted harassment of abortion providers
also differs from anti-abortion rallies or political events that are focused
on the general issue of abortion. These categories are not hermetically
sealed as general clinic protest and political rallies can also target individuals, but the distinction is important.
According to data from the Feminist Majority Foundation, individualized targeting has been on the rise. In 2014, the organization
surveyed abortion clinics in the United States and found that there
are “significantly higher levels of threats and targeted intimidation of
doctors and staff than in prior years.” Moreover, “the overall percentage
of clinics impacted by these types of threats and targeted intimidation

	Introduction

7

tactics increased dramatically since 2010, from 26.6% of clinics to 51.9%
of clinics.”22
This increase is possibly explained by the fact that, as political scientist Alesha Doan has described, the people who work inside clinics are an effective target for anti-abortion protesters. Harassing them
“is relatively cheap to implement, generates publicity, and introduces
costs to clinic employees.” It can also produce “more immediate” results
than “long-term legislation aimed at incrementally restricting services.”
Moreover, abortion providers are nongovernmental actors who often do
not have the resources or political pull to effectively curb harassment and
are vulnerable because “they must contend with it on a regular basis.”23
Second, the targeted harassment that is the focus of this book
includes harassment against anyone who works in providing abortion
care. Some people within the world of abortion use the term “abortion
provider” to mean only doctors who perform the procedure. However,
we use the term more broadly to encompass the many people who work
to provide women a safe, caring, and medically-skilled environment
in which to have an abortion. This includes not only the doctors who
perform abortions but also referring physicians, nurses, physician assistants, administrative staff, counselors, clinic owners, security guards,
and volunteer escorts and supporters. All of these people have been the
subject of individualized targeted harassment by anti-abortion protesters. After all, in the brief account of abortion violence provided earlier, four of the eight murder victims were not doctors. These four—a
volunteer escort in Pensacola, two clinic receptionists in the Boston
area, and a clinic security officer in Birmingham—were all murdered
because of their role in providing safe and competent abortion care.
Their deaths, along with the targeted harassment experiences of providers who are not physicians, are no less important in understanding the
ways in which the lives of individuals involved with abortion provision
are affected by anti-abortion protest.24
Based on interviews with abortion providers from around the country, this book seeks to show that targeted harassment of abortion providers has been and continues to be a serious issue. It exists in a wide
variety of forms all over the country and can profoundly affect the daily
lives of abortion providers everywhere. Contrary to some commonly
held assumptions, this harassment is not a relic of some distant past, is

8

Living in the Crosshairs

not directed solely against high-profile doctors like Dr. George Tiller,
and is not limited to only the most conservative parts of this country.
Rather, it is a severe, ongoing, and nationwide problem that needs to
be addressed.25
Legal Response
In addition to highlighting abortion providers’ experiences with targeted
harassment, this book explores various legal responses to targeted harassment of abortion providers and ways to improve the law. Providers interact
with the law in various ways. In a country like the United States in which
federal, state, and local governments often tackle the same problems, the
legal response to the targeted harassment of abortion providers invokes
a patchwork of laws and people enforcing those laws. Even though law
alone cannot stop the targeted harassment and violence that providers
face, law can improve so that more abortion providers can perform this
legal and common medical procedure free of fear and harassment.
Law can address targeted harassment in many ways. Basic criminal
laws in every jurisdiction, such as laws that criminalize murder, arson,
burglary, assault, and trespassing, can be an effective response to targeted
harassment of abortion providers when that harassment constitutes a
crime and when the person responsible for the crime can be identified.
However, targeted harassment involving crime does not always end in a
conviction. For a variety of reasons, many crimes against abortion providers remain unresolved—the suspect is unknown, the police refuse to
take sides when the anti-abortion protester says one thing and the abortion provider says another, or the police have an attitude that pursuing
such crimes is not worth their time or that abortion providers should
expect to deal with anti-abortion crime specifically because they work
in abortion care.
Beyond run-of-the-mill criminal law, there are other ways that law
addresses targeted harassment of abortion providers. Perhaps the most
important law relating to anti-abortion protest is the Freedom of Access
to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). Signed into law in 1994, FACE is a federal law that prohibits using force, threat of force, or physical obstruction
to injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone trying to provide or access
reproductive health services. FACE violations can result in criminal

	Introduction

9

penalties or a civil lawsuit.26 In some circumstances, federal law also
provides protection for abortion providers from the US Marshals Service.
State and local laws also address targeted harassment of abortion providers. Some laws regulate how close protesters can stand in
relation to an abortion clinic, its patients, or its workers. Other laws
address protesting in a residential neighborhood, with some prohibiting it altogether and others regulating it, such as requiring protesters to
keep moving or to be there only during certain hours. Still other laws
give providers the option to sue protesters for violating their privacy
or harming them in other ways. Sometimes providers can also obtain
injunctions from courts to prevent these harms from happening again.
This mix of legal response is subject to the usual vagaries of the legal
system. Individuals within the legal system, from police officers to district attorneys to judges to politicians, are often constrained by time and
resources. Moreover, they may have their own prejudices about abortion that influence how they respond to any situation. Lawyers usually
cost significant amounts of money, which means it can be difficult for
an abortion provider to access help in navigating the legal system. And
all of this occurs against the backdrop of the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, which protects abortion opponents in certain
expressions of anti-abortion speech.
This description of the legal responses and issues related to targeted
harassment of abortion providers just scratches the surface of the complexities that will be addressed throughout this book. Collectively, the
abortion providers that we interviewed have experiences with almost
every avenue of legal redress for the harassment they face. Their stories
help inform the analysis in the second half of this book, which looks at
how the legal system’s different approaches work for abortion providers
and then shows that these systems can improve.
Current Significance
The two overarching messages of this book—that targeted harassment
of abortion providers continues to be a serious problem and that the
legal system’s response can improve—are important for several reasons. First, targeted harassment of abortion providers left unaddressed
by the legal system can drastically hinder abortion access. Many of

10

Living in the Crosshairs

the providers we interviewed told stories of colleagues they knew who
would not work in abortion care because they feared the possibility of
harassment.
A recent study by sociologist Lori Freedman bears this out. She
looked at the reasons why doctors who were trained in abortion in their
residency did or did not perform abortions in their practice. Freedman
came across several doctors who voiced concerns about targeted harassment. One doctor who had previously provided abortions stopped
doing so “because of the violence of the anti-abortion movement,
which she felt could put her family at risk.” Another doctor started a
job in a new medical practice soon after Dr. Slepian was murdered and
said, “[A]‌fter that experience . . . it wasn’t worth it. [It’s a] small town,
and I didn’t want to have to worry about all of that—you know, get a
[bulletproof ] vest and all that.” Freedman concluded that, although
fear of violence and harassment was not the most prominent reason
doctors did not provide abortion, it was a serious concern for some
doctors, particularly those in rural areas. Even though targeted harassment of abortion providers does not deter all providers, it does deter
some, contributing to the decreasing accessibility of abortion.27
Second, people providing basic medical services should not be
harassed for doing so, and law and society should understand the
nature of this harassment and respond by protecting providers. At
its most basic level, abortion is a medical procedure that more than
50 million women have obtained safely and legally since Roe v. Wade.28 It
is one of the most common procedures in the United States. Physicians
and others who provide abortion should not suffer threats, harassment,
intimidation, and violence for providing a basic and common medical service. The politicization and stigmatization surrounding abortion
do not justify terrorizing the lives of the people providing this legal
procedure. Moreover, harassment reaches beyond just the providers.
Providers’ neighbors and families, including young children and elderly
parents, often feel the brunt of the targeted harassment as abortion
opponents target them in an effort to coerce the provider. Very few
notions of justice would countenance this type of harassment in the
context of lawful medical care; yet despite the extent that anti-abortion
harassment permeates providers’ daily lives, few people and legal actors
understand the true nature of life as an abortion provider.29

	Introduction

11

Third, in the midst of the current “war on women,” it is important to understand yet another way that women’s rights are threatened
and how law plays a role. Women’s issues have dominated the political landscape in the early 2010s, from issues of pay equity to insurance coverage for contraception to the definition of “rape” to whether
immigrants and lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender people should receive
benefits under the Violence Against Women Act. Perhaps most prominent, though, have been issues of reproductive rights. Attacks on abortion have become commonplace in state legislatures. In fact, by a large
margin, states enacted more legislation restricting abortion in each of
2011, 2012, and 2013 than in any previous year (92 laws in 2011, 43 in
2012, and 70 in 2013 compared with the previous high of 34 in 2005).30
The current political climate places this book’s two messages in tension. On the one hand, understanding targeted harassment of abortion
providers is undeniably important so that people are exposed to all aspects
of this larger war on women. On the other hand, the argument that legal
responses can improve to address targeted harassment is a difficult pill
to swallow in an environment in which law is also being used to restrict
women’s rights, particularly around abortion and other reproductive
health issues. If the political system is currently using law to restrict access
to abortion, then how can we seriously hope that law can be used to help
abortion providers and, by extension, help the women who need access
to abortion care? There are two main responses to this conundrum.31
First, people providing medical care should never have to worry
about individual safety and security because of their work, even in an
environment seemingly opposed to abortion rights. Second, educating
the general public about the ways that abortion providers are harassed,
threatened, and terrorized could shift public opinion and encourage
legal responses that better protect abortion providers, thus improving
abortion access more generally. In other words, if people understood
the truly unsettling extent of the methods of attack in this war on
women, the entire war might not be so appealing.
This Interview-Based Study
This book delivers its two messages by presenting and analyzing original research drawn from interviews with abortion providers across the

12

Living in the Crosshairs

country. From the middle of 2011 through the beginning of 2014,32
we interviewed eighty-seven abortion providers about their experiences with anti-abortion protest and harassment. All but five of those
interviewed detailed experiences with targeted harassment. Of the
eighty-two who spoke about their experiences as targets, seventy-five
described experiences that occurred within ten years of the interview.
For a variety of reasons, including the privacy and safety concerns
at the heart of this book, we were not able to interview a random representative sample of abortion providers from around the country;
nonetheless, we culled a diverse cross section of abortion providers in
the United States,33 including physicians, other medical professionals,
staff, executive directors, and volunteers. We interviewed people who
were new to the field of abortion and those who had been working
in abortion for more than half a century. We interviewed people who
were young, old, and everywhere in between. We interviewed men and
women of various races, religions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.
The providers in this study have worked in the field of abortion in
thirty-four states. Some have worked in the same state for their entire
career, while others have worked in multiple states over the course of
their time as an abortion provider, often working in more than one
state at the same time. All of the providers worked in urban or suburban areas of various population sizes, which is consistent with the
fact that abortion clinics are concentrated in only 11% of the counties
in the United States.34 Nonetheless, the providers live in every type of
locale—from dense urban centers to suburban areas to rural farmland.
The providers also work or worked in a variety of abortion-care
settings. For many reasons that have been documented extensively,
abortion provision in the United States has moved away from the hospital setting and into separate clinics that specialize in abortion and
reproductive healthcare.35 Some doctors continue to provide abortions in hospitals or their own private practices, but most abortions
occur in specialty clinics. These clinics can be divided into roughly
two different types—those that are affiliated with Planned Parenthood
and those that are independently owned and operated. The people we
interviewed have provided abortions in all of these settings—hospitals,
Planned Parenthood health centers, independent clinics, and private
medical practices.

	Introduction

13

The interviews were structured, but open-ended. All but fifteen of
the interviews were conducted in person and at the provider’s preferred
location, mostly in providers’ places of business but also in their homes
or convenient public spaces. We approached each interview with general topics to address but did not use a rigid format to be followed
regardless of the responses. Rather, the interview subjects responded
and told their stories as they saw fit, and we then asked follow-up questions as necessary to make sure we covered all of the topics. The basic
topics we covered were providers’ experiences with protest generally
and targeted harassment in particular; their reactions to the harassment
they have experienced; interactions with law, if any; and the providers’
thoughts about their interactions with law. Given the nature of the
topic, the subjects’ varying approaches to being interviewed, and their
different depths of experience with the topic, the interviews ranged
from fifteen minutes to over two hours and revealed many unexpected
aspects of life as an abortion provider.
Also, given the nature of targeted harassment, we offered the participating providers confidentiality and anonymity. Because we did not
want this research to put any provider at risk, almost all of the names in
this book are fictional and almost all of the descriptions of the providers
are generalized and nonspecific.36 To the extent that providers’ stories
have details that could possibly identify them, such information has
been changed without any indication in the text that we have done so.
We have not altered the nature of the stories told here, only identifying
details.37
Participating in a study like this is risky for providers. A book detailing the ways that anti-abortion protesters harass abortion providers and
then analyzing the effect of that harassment could inspire other protesters to pursue new avenues of harassment. This is not a risk that we take
lightly, so we discussed it in detail with all of the people we interviewed.
Not a single person declined to continue the interview after discussing
this as everyone felt that the benefit of telling these stories and thinking
about how law can better respond to this harassment was of utmost
importance. The providers felt strongly that their stories needed to be
shared with the public.
Before each of the interviews, we discussed another major risk with the
providers. We warned the providers that talking about their experiences

14

Living in the Crosshairs

with targeted harassment could be emotionally difficult. For many people
we talked with, it was just that. They opened up to us about some of the
most difficult moments in their lives. They told us stories that they had
told very few others. They cried about personal memories and became
angry about the way they are treated. They trusted us with details of
moments in their lives when they felt vulnerable. They welcomed us into
their homes and offices, two places many providers vigilantly guard precisely because of the targeted harassment they face. Without any compensation in return, they were generous with their time and hospitality
in ways we never could have imagined. And all this openness, trust, and
generosity came to us even though we had not met most of the providers in person before the interview and had only corresponded with them
for a short time by phone or e-mail. The providers participated in this
manner because they trusted us to listen to their stories and use what we
learned from the interviews to improve their lives. We hope this book
does their trust justice.
Key Findings
This book has several key findings. These findings are explained in
detail throughout the book but summarized here to frame what will
come in the following chapters.
First, targeted harassment of abortion providers takes an incredible
variety of forms, from high-profile incidents like the murders described
earlier in this introduction to more routine and private events like picketing at someone’s home or church. The variety of harassment tactics
detailed in the interviews is staggering. In almost every interview, a different type of targeted anti-abortion harassment emerged. Many tactics
are repeated around the country, but many others are unique to particular individuals or locations.
Second, targeted harassment of abortion providers is ongoing and can
happen to anyone associated with abortion provision. This finding calls
into question many common misperceptions about abortion-related
harassment. Many people believe that targeted harassment is a relic
of a past when federal law was silent on the issue, Operation Rescue
was more active, and doctors were more frequently being murdered.38
These interviews show that this is not true; rather, targeted harassment

	Introduction

15

continues today and can be a major aspect of abortion providers’ daily
lives. While some of the stories in this book are from decades past, the
majority of the experiences told throughout these chapters are much
more current.
Moreover, many people believe that targeted harassment is a problem only for doctors and occurs only in the most conservative states or
locations in the country. In fact, many of the people we interviewed
expressed these beliefs. However, the stories in this book reveal that this
is not true. Doctors do experience a great deal of the targeted harassment that occurs, but so do nurses, counselors, administrative staff,
executive directors, volunteers, and others associated with abortion
provision. Targeted harassment is aimed at every type of provider all
around the United States, from populous liberal urban areas to remote
conservative rural areas.
The previously described murders illustrate these points. Of the
eight murders that are directly attributable to anti-abortion violence,
four have been of doctors and four have been of others who work at
clinics. With respect to political leanings and geography, five occurred
in Kansas, Alabama, and Florida, states generally considered more conservative, but three occurred in Massachusetts and New York, states
generally considered more liberal. The stories in this book are likewise
not tied to the general political leanings of a particular location.
Third, targeted harassment affects abortion providers’ lives in serious
ways and invokes a variety of reactions. Many providers report giving
the harassment very little thought and just accepting its effects and the
risks it poses as a normal part of life, like the everyday risk of being in
a traffic accident. Others report a variety of negative emotions, such as
being annoyed, angered, or frustrated by the harassment. Still others
report much more serious emotions in response, such as living in fear
or feeling terrorized.
Regardless of their specific emotional reactions to the targeted
harassment, abortion providers report that it often substantially interferes with their lives. Because of targeted harassment, directed at both
them and others in their profession, some abortion providers are
hypervigilant, alter their routes to and from work and home, hide their
identities, refrain from discussing their work publicly, and take other
measures to increase their sense of personal safety. The harassment

16

Living in the Crosshairs

affects providers’ personal relationships and home lives, affects their
non-abortion-related businesses, and threatens their long-term emotional health. Fearing the worst, some providers wear bulletproof vests
and carry concealed weapons.
Despite these negative effects, targeted harassment often strengthens
providers’ resolve as well as their commitment to providing abortion
care. Many providers remain motivated to stay in the field despite the
harassment because of their memories of a pre–Roe v. Wade era when
women were injured or even died from illegal, unsafe abortions. Only a
small number report thinking about leaving the work or actually leaving because of targeted harassment.
Fourth, law sometimes adequately addresses targeted harassment,
but it can further improve. Many abortion providers told stories of
law and law enforcement responding to targeted harassment in ways
that significantly helped their lives. Positive responses and interactions
occurred all over the country, not only in communities generally perceived as more supportive of abortion rights. The reverse was also true.
Providers had negative interactions with law and law enforcement all
over the country, not just in communities generally perceived as politically opposed to abortion.
Drawing from these stories, we ultimately propose several reforms.
We recognize that these reforms alone are not likely to end targeted
harassment, as legal reform cannot accomplish that by itself. But certain reforms can help, such as improving policing, adopting legislation that protects providers and punishes violations more severely,
improving providers’ access to and reception within the judicial system, and labeling targeted harassment of abortion providers as what
it is—terrorism.
Ultimately, the last of these suggestions may be the most important. Though many abortion-rights advocates and some anti-abortion
protesters have long used the term “terrorism” to describe the activities documented and analyzed in this book, it has not been universally adopted. In fact, in many contexts, it has been actively resisted.
For instance, in March and April 2009, the Department of Homeland
Security released two documents that included “anti-abortion extremism” within a larger discussion of domestic terrorism. As a result, the
department faced intense backlash. Because of the public pressure, the

	Introduction

17

department pulled both reports in May 200939—just weeks before
Dr. Tiller was murdered by anti-abortion terrorist Scott Roeder.
In light of the providers’ lived experiences that are analyzed throughout this book, the department was wrong to backtrack on this point.
Although there is no universally accepted understanding of terrorism,
one leading definition that most relevantly captures the concept is “the
deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the
threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.” Terrorist acts are
so unsettling because they have “far-reaching psychological repercussions beyond the immediate victim or target.”40
Scott Roeder’s murder of Dr. Tiller is an excellent example of how
terrorism works. Roeder shot and killed Dr. Tiller in the name of
anti-abortion activism. Through this single and deliberate terrorist
act, Roeder not only killed Dr. Tiller but also instilled fear throughout almost an entire field of medical professionals and volunteers.
Anti-abortion protesters exploit providers’ fear of extreme violence, a
rational fear based on past violent acts, such as Dr. Tiller’s murder, by
following providers home from work, screaming at them with their
private personal information, picketing their houses, or engaging in
almost any of the activities documented in this book. Although a particular action by an anti-abortion protester may not itself be violent,
its effectiveness is derived from the threat that it could escalate into the
violence to that other abortion providers have faced. As other scholars
have demonstrated, there are many objectives and motivations behind
the actions of anti-abortion protesters,41 but one of the central goals
is the political and social change of ending abortion. Deliberate creation of fear to enact change: simply put, this is a form of domestic
terrorism.
If these interviews and this book could help to influence people in
government, media, classrooms, and everywhere else to call targeted
harassment of abortion providers “terrorism” rather than “protest,” the
societal approbation that comes with such a term could influence some
people to stop engaging in this behavior. In the meantime, while we
are under no illusion that the reforms discussed in this book will put a
complete end to abortion-related terrorism, we do hope that these suggestions help diminish it while also helping to make abortion providers
feel safer and more comfortable providing lawful medical care.

18

Living in the Crosshairs

Roadmap
The structure of this book follows its two main messages—that targeted
harassment of abortion providers continues to be a serious problem and
that the legal system can do a better job of addressing it.
The first half of this book describes and analyzes targeted harassment of abortion providers and the effect that it has on them, starting
with Chapter 1, which has seven stories of abortion providers and their
experiences with targeted harassment. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 then categorically break down the different types of targeted harassment abortion providers have experienced by examining where it happens, how
it occurs, and against whom it is directed. These chapters present a
comprehensive look at targeted harassment, answering the question,
“What is the targeted harassment that abortion providers experience?”
Chapters 5 and 6 finish this portion of the book by looking at providers’ various responses to targeted harassment. Chapter 5 illustrates the
range of their emotional responses, while Chapter 6 details the ways
that abortion providers change their lives in response to targeted harassment. These two chapters answer the question, “How does targeted
harassment affect abortion providers?”
The second half of the book focuses on abortion providers’ experiences with the legal system. Chapter 7 starts by providing six stories of abortion providers and their experience with the law, and then
Chapter 8 breaks down providers’ different interactions with the legal
system. These stories are supplemented by publicly available resources,
such as cases and legislative responses to targeted harassment. Chapter 9
draws on the providers’ reactions and thoughts with respect to the legal
response to their targeted harassment and suggests reforms based on the
providers’ experiences.
The conclusion in Chapter 10 looks at reasons why abortion providers continue to provide abortions despite the terrorism they encounter.
Though some providers knew of people who had stopped providing
abortions because of targeted harassment and one of the providers we
interviewed permanently left the field as a direct result of the harassment
she endured,42 everyone else explained why they stayed in this profession: their commitment to their patients, their commitment to women’s

	Introduction

19

rights, their refusal to return to the days when women were injured or
died from illegal abortion, their refusal to let the terrorists win.
Easing this burden on these dedicated health care providers’ lives is
the reason we have written this book. No one should have to face this
terrorism and exhibit such extraordinary resolve just to provide women
with legal, safe, and basic medical care.

1

•

Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment
I often say that as an abortion provider, you lose your sense of perspective. You think
everybody has the FBI on speed dial on their phone. Doesn’t everybody have it on
their phone? You forget that it really is a very unique set of circumstances that you
work under.
—RACHEL FRIEDMAN

Eliminate the providers and you can have as many clinics as you want, but you won’t
have someone providing abortions.
—DUSTIN MENENDEZ

Abortion providers face risks in their lives that most people in
most jobs do not. Each of the stories below highlights different parts
of the life of an abortion provider who is targeted by anti-abortion
protest.
Taken together, the seven people featured here have dealt with arson,
murder, assault, stalking, home picketing, business loss, death threats,
community protest, religious and racial attacks, hate mail, and targeted
Internet postings. They have altered their lives because they are targeted
by anti-abortion protesters. Their families and neighbors have also been
affected by the targeted harassment in serious and life-changing ways.
They have all learned how to live with the risk that comes with their
profession, a risk foreign to most other people, especially most other
medical professionals. Yet, notwithstanding the widespread effects of
the targeted harassment, they all continue to work as abortion providers because they feel it is the right thing to do.
In other words, targeted harassment takes its toll on providers, but it
does not stop abortion. In fact, for some providers, targeted harassment

21

22

Living in the Crosshairs

increases their resolve and motivates them to continue. These seven
abortion providers tell this story.
Kristina Romero
Kristina Romero has worked in the field of reproductive healthcare for
over three decades. She started as a receptionist in a clinic that did not
perform abortions and is now a regional director for multiple clinics, a
small subset of which offers abortion services. Her clinics serve people
from urban, suburban, and rural parts of her politically conservative
West South Central state. Though Kristina is responsible for many clinics, her home base is a clinic in the same suburban college town where
she has spent her entire career.
Kristina did not experience much protest until the clinic began performing abortions in the late 1990s. Before then, the clinic where she
worked provided basic family-planning services and was rarely targeted.
“No protesting. Nothing. We were just providing family planning, and
the protesters maybe didn’t like that, but it didn’t motivate them.”
When the clinic decided to start offering abortion care, Kristina’s
nearly twenty years of peace and quiet working in family-planning clinics came to an end. Kristina’s “under the radar” clinic was transformed
into a focal point for local anti-abortion sentiment. The anti-abortion
protest was instantaneous: “When we did our first abortion, which the
protesters figured out before we were done with construction of the
clinic, they were outside waiting.” The new level of protest bothered
Kristina’s employees, and the first group of them, who had been working
with Kristina for years, could “only take so much” and eventually left.
Over time, the protesters began using tactics both to shame patients
and to target the clinic’s employees. The protesters stand at the entrance
to the clinic’s parking lot and badger the patients when they come
in. “They get screamed at. The protesters write down their license
plates. They send them cards. They make phone calls to their homes.”
Protesters also swarm the clinic and harass the people who work there.
“These window blinds,” Kristina explained while pointing to the huge
windows that surround the conference room table in one of her clinics,
“you can pull them down, you can look through them, and you could
find the protesters at the windows, looking in.”

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

23

Kristina herself has been and continues to be subject to targeted
harassment. When entering or exiting the clinic, the protesters use
Kristina’s personal information against her. “They call you by name.
They know your kids’ names. They know your mom and dad’s names.
They know where you go to church.” Kristina has also received cards in
the mail that describe what type of car she drives and where she drives
it. To Kristina, this information is proof that someone is following her.
One protester who frequently targets Kristina is a doctor who works
at a local hospital. Some of the nurses who work at the same hospital
as the doctor also work at Kristina’s clinic. When the protester-doctor
sees those nurses at the hospital, the protester warns the nurses that he
is keeping close tabs on Kristina. He has told the nurses that he knows
Kristina’s kids’ names and where they go to school and that he wants the
nurses to let Kristina know that he knows this information about her.
Protesters also individually target others who work with Kristina.
She and her coworkers regularly receive e-mail from protesters at their
work and personal e-mail accounts. “You’d be sitting there doing your
normal work and an e-mail from a protester pops up. That’s a little
freaky.” The protesters have even targeted a volunteer who works at
Kristina’s clinic. “She was in her eighties, it was her birthday, and the
protesters cut the heads off of a bunch of roses and put them on the
fence around her home with a card that said, ‘Hopefully you’ll have
another birthday and here’s your dead roses.’ ”
Kristina tries to be civil and ignore the protesters calling her name and
addressing her directly, but one day she found it hard to ignore them:
I came into work one day and there was this guy standing at the end
there. They like to hang on the fence. I told him to get off the fence,
and he yelled, “Suck my dick.” Of course, I went, “What did you
say?” Like an idiot. And he screams it again. I’m like, okay, he didn’t
really say that? But this guy would see me other places outside the
clinic and he’d walk by me and say, “I’m still waiting.”

Perhaps the riskiest part of Kristina’s job is when she drives the doctor to and from the clinic. Because of past violence against abortion
providers, the doctor does not drive directly to the clinic. Instead, the
doctor drives to another public location to meet Kristina, and then

24

Living in the Crosshairs

Kristina drives the doctor to the clinic in her own car. For extra security,
Kristina and the doctor vary the locations where they meet. Kristina
hopes that with this system in place the protesters do not see the doctor’s car, so they cannot use the car to discover the doctor’s identity or
follow the doctor. This system is not foolproof, and Kristina understands the risks. “That’s always that moment when your heart starts
beating a little harder.”
One of the more vocal protesters at Kristina’s clinic has followed
Kristina to a pickup location. On more than one occasion, the protester
was there with a camera. Kristina joked, “He’d always shoot, but he was
luckily shooting with a camera, not a gun.” One time, the protester
discovered that Kristina’s pickup location was going to be a grocery
store parking lot. The protester went into the grocery store and tried to
convince the store manager to take action because abortion providers
were in the parking lot. Luckily for Kristina, the manager did not heed
the protester’s request and instead called to Kristina to warn her about
what was happening.
Because of this protester’s attempts to follow her, Kristina has tried
even more deceptive measures, including using someone as a decoy.
“One time when we went to one of the pickup locations, there was
a decoy. I didn’t have the doctor. And the protester who had followed me was running through the parking lot down low with his
camera.” The decoy doctor yelled, “Some guy’s running between the
cars,” so Kristina drove to where the protester was running and pulled
up alongside him. Thankfully, the incident did not escalate. When
Kristina reached the protester he stopped and “just stood there with
his camera.”
Kristina has also been followed home. Sometimes when Kristina drives to
pick up the doctor, she leaves from her home instead of the clinic:
One day I left to pick up the doctor and I got to the corner of my
house and there’s a big picture of the doctor with a bullseye on him,
and every corner that I turned was another picture, so obviously
they’d followed me. And that was probably one of the creepiest days.
The pictures were all up the main street I travel on, all the way back
to my house.

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

25

The signs on Kristina’s route were similar to the signs that had appeared
before the murders of several of the doctors around the country—large
“Wanted” signs with the doctor’s name and picture.
Even though the signs showed the doctor’s picture and name, it was
clear to Kristina that they were targeted at her as well. The posters were
stuck in the ground all the way from Kristina’s house to the clinic. The
doctor would never see the signs; rather, the signs lined the route that
Kristina traveled. “It was for me to be scared. It was for me,” Kristina
said in recalling the signs. “There’s nothing in my experience with the
protesters that stands out more than that morning when I got up to go
get the doctor and saw the doctor’s picture all over town.”
This targeted harassment has taken a toll on Kristina and has affected
how she lives. She installed a security system in her house. When she
drives home from work, she consciously tries to take different routes
so that protesters cannot follow her and learn her routine. “It’s stressful. You get sick more. It gets into your head, it gets into your heart. It
gets to be really hard to take.” This perspective on life is one that most
healthcare providers would likely consider completely foreign to them,
but for Kristina, targeted harassment has become a normal part of life.
Kristina is concerned not only for her own safety but for her children’s
safety as well. As a result of the targeted harassment she faced, Kristina
moved her son from public school to a private school where the administrators were aware of her profession. “They knew not to let him go with
just anybody and that if somebody came to pick him up that wasn’t me,
they would call.” The school was supportive, and thankfully nothing ever
happened there, but Kristina’s children were affected. “They would get
scared. They would get upset at times when they’d hear or see things.”
Kristina is “totally aware” of anti-abortion violence elsewhere. Her
clinic started providing abortions not long after Dr. Barnett Slepian
was murdered by a sniper while standing in his kitchen in his home in
Buffalo, New York. Though Dr. Slepian’s murder happened far away
from Kristina, she thinks about it every day. “I cannot sit down at my
kitchen table without thinking of Dr. Slepian’s murder, because we
have a big backyard and I don’t have any coverings on my windows. It
goes through my head on a regular basis that there could be somebody
out there with a rifle.” When Dr. George Tiller was murdered in 2009,

26

Living in the Crosshairs

Kristina had a hard time dealing with it as well. “We had a memorial for
George in one of the cities nearby. I went to the funeral in Wichita, and
I think it’s hard to think that could happen to you. That was tough.”
As a result of anti-abortion violence around the country, Kristina
obtained a bulletproof vest. Kristina had been cautious in the past, but
“there was just a different reality when doctors started getting shot.”
Kristina wonders, though, whether it will make any difference. “I think
you can wear a vest, but most of us now think that they’re going to
shoot you in the head. Unless they’re shooting from a distance or something with a pistol, they’re going to walk right up and shoot you in the
head.” Kristina has not bought a gun, even though she has been told to
do so by others:
They wanted me to get a gun, but I would probably shoot one of the
protesters, and I’d be in jail. So I don’t want to have a gun. The most
I have is a baseball bat, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with
that. And I’ve had pepper spray, but I have asthma so I’m afraid I’m
going to shoot myself and then I’m going to be rolling around on the
ground. I’ll just take my chances.

Despite the harassment, despite being followed, despite the bullseye signs throughout her neighborhood, despite purchasing a vest and
considering carrying a gun, despite playing cat-and-mouse games to
transport medical care providers, and despite the toll all of this takes on
her children, Kristina continues to work in this field. “I finally just had
to get to the point where I asked myself, ‘Are you going to do this, or
are you not going to do this?’ If you’re going to do it, you can’t let them
run your life. You can’t let them dictate everything that you’re going to
do.” She copes by compartmentalizing her life and having other outlets
for enjoying life, such as her dog and her grandkids. Kristina does not
think it would be healthy for her to be consumed with the harassment
“24/7,” so she intentionally works to avoid feeling that way.
Ultimately, Kristina reflects very positively on her work as an abortion provider:
I never thought I would be doing this type of work, but it’s been the
most rewarding thing I’ve ever dreamed of doing. It hasn’t always

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

27

been easy, but you always get something back from clients and from
women and their stories. You know what the truth is. You know how
difficult this is for them. They know what’s happening. They’re not
idiots. They know that there is a pregnancy there, it will end, and
there will no longer be a baby. They cry and they’re sad and as long
as it’s legal, maybe even if it wasn’t, I’d feel a need or a want to try to
continue to do this work.

Kristina insisted that she will not back down because she is confident
she is doing the right thing. “If I quit, maybe there’s not somebody else
wanting to do it. I’m also stubborn. I’m a little pigheaded. I don’t want
them to win. I think what I’m doing is right. I think what we’re doing
is right. I think a choice is right.”
Rodney Smith
Rodney Smith has worked in abortion care for decades. He went to
medical school for general surgery while in the Air Force and then served
in the Air Force until the mid-1980s. When he retired from active duty,
he opened his own private general surgery practice. In the late 1980s,
Rodney started performing abortions part time for a West Midwest
clinic that was separate from his own practice; he has provided abortion
care in many different regions of the country ever since. Given the length
of time that Rodney has worked as an abortion provider, his stories with
targeted protest range from very recent to over two decades old.
Rodney’s first experience with targeted protest came as a result of the
regular large-scale protests outside of the clinic where he first worked as
an abortion provider. Two of the regular protesters were the parents of
Rodney’s son’s fiancée. When they learned that their daughter’s soon-tobe father-in-law was a doctor at the clinic, they forced her to move out
of their house and cut off their support. When the two were finalizing
their wedding plans, protesters made it clear that they planned to target
the wedding. The priest for the wedding threatened to call the police
if the protesters interrupted the services and told them, “If a priest has
you arrested, it’s not going to do your cause any good.” The priest did
not allow any protest but allowed the protesters to stand in an anteroom where they could see the services but could not be heard.

28

Living in the Crosshairs

By the early 1990s, the protesters started targeting Rodney in a much
more direct and violent manner. One day, Rodney was working at the
clinic when he received a call from a police officer who told him that
his house and barn were on fire. The fire was so large that an Air Force
plane flying over the scene saw the fire and reported it. Rodney said
that despite the call from the pilot, it took three calls before firefighters
appeared. By the time the firefighters arrived at the scene, the fire had
been burning for nearly two hours. Rodney and his family lost everything they owned other than what they were wearing at the time. They
lost their house, their barn, and three separate outbuildings. Their dog,
cats, and seventeen horses were killed. Thankfully, the human members of Rodney’s family were not injured because none were home at
the time.
Rodney was in disbelief when everything he owned was destroyed.
Before the fire, he did not think that anything like this could be possible. Looking back, Rodney remembers that the arson occurred on the
same day that anti-abortion legislation went into effect in his home
state. Rodney had testified against this law and thinks that the arson
occurred in response to his public opposition.
The authorities never caught the arsonist. Someone mailed a letter
postmarked the morning of the fire, justifying killing the animals on
Rodney’s farm because Rodney “murdered little children”; however,
the letter was untraceable. The investigation into the fire revealed that
it originated from thirteen different sites on Rodney’s property, but
beyond that, Rodney explained that the investigation was thwarted by
city incompetence or maliciousness. For example, rather than preserve
the crime scene for a full investigation, the city demolished the property the day after the fire. When the state fire marshal arrived, at first
he wanted Rodney arrested for destroying the crime scene. When he
learned city workers had done this at the behest of the chief of police,
the fire marshal left and the investigation ended. Rodney attributes this
mix-up to confusion between the city and county over responsibility
for fires as well as to his identity as an abortion provider:
I don’t think the abortion issue helped a heck of a lot either. And I’m
sure that’s why they pushed everything in a pile, so that there was no
way that anybody could be prosecuted. I mean, there’s just no doubt

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

29

in my mind about that. And the fact that the fire was called in by the
air force at 12:28, and they didn’t respond until five minutes after
two, when they finally got a third call from a passerby.

Rather than deterring Rodney, the fire that destroyed his home and
left him with nothing strengthened his resolve. “That was the last day
that I did abortions part-time. I quit doing the general surgery practice.
I went to the hospital and told them I was going to resign my privileges
on the staff there and I was going to travel and do abortions.” From that
point until now, Rodney has been a full-time abortion doctor who has
provided abortions in many different regions of the country for his own
clinic as well as other clinics that need his assistance.
The targeted harassment did not end with the arson. Immediately
after the fire destroyed their home, Rodney and his family rented an
apartment. The first weekend they were there, protesters broke into
their apartment and wrote all over the walls. Rodney’s new neighbors
identified the people who broke in, but the police never prosecuted
them. It was then that Rodney realized just how vulnerable he was as
an abortion provider. He likened his vulnerability to his time in the Air
Force during the Vietnam War when he knew that any day he could
be killed. Nonetheless, he found himself more committed to the cause
because of the high stakes.
In the 1990s when anti-abortion extremists started murdering doctors and clinic workers, it was obvious to Rodney that the anti-abortion
movement’s goal was to frighten everyone in the field into not working.
“No matter who you were, a nurse or a staff member or an anything, you
were vulnerable. If you can agitate or put fear into all the workers, you do
a lot more damage than if you just make the people at the top of the organization worried.” He understood this plan but insisted on continuing
“to help carry on the movement.” Though he recognized that the people
who opposed him “were crazy,” he was willing to live with the risk:
I’ve always said, if you work at the post office or the 7-11, you probably had a higher chance of getting murdered or shot in a robbery
than you do doing abortions. That’s probably still true today. Not
every career field has its risks, but many of them do, and if you
believe in what you’re doing, I think that it’s worth taking those risks.

30

Living in the Crosshairs

Over the years, Rodney has become more and more visible as an
abortion provider: he has been involved in high-profile court cases,
worked with other high-profile doctors, and become known as a doctor
with expertise in late abortion care. He has had several death threats,
mostly during the time of the fire and then again in the late 1990s.
Much more recently, a protest organizer told him, “You’re not going to
be here to do this much longer.” This comment may have referred to
Rodney’s age or to some sort of violent crime that the protester planned
to commit against Rodney. Either way, Rodney explained that he was
not going to take any chances, so he notified the FBI, federal marshals,
and local police, who investigated the comment.
Rodney’s involvement in high-profile court cases has also placed
him at the center of anti-abortion protesters’ attention. Rodney and
his lawyers have hired personal security to guard him during court
appearances and events related to the cases. The security could not
help him, though, in the US Supreme Court courtroom, where a few
years before we interviewed him, Rodney was physically attacked by
a protester:
He was wearing one of these very anti-choice T-shirts. He pulled a
chair up. There wasn’t even a seat there, but they let him bring a chair
up and sit in the aisle behind me on the right-hand side. And my
wife and I were sitting there. I thought that just seemed really strange
because nobody else was doing it. But the case was going on, and he
stood up and yelled some kind of a profanity at the Court; and he
grabbed me, pulled me off my chair, and knocked me to the ground.

While Rodney was on the ground, the protester pummeled him with
a chair. Luckily, the courtroom deputies were able to stop the attacker
before he severely injured Rodney. “The deputies immediately swarmed
all over the protester and arrested and took him out, and I had to go
fill out all this paperwork. We pressed charges and he was convicted.”
Rodney attributes the attack to the fact that the Supreme Court did not
allow Rodney’s private security inside. Rodney had been assured that
“nothing ever happens in the Supreme Court.”
In the 2000s, Rodney worked with another high-profile doctor
performing abortions in a very conservative West Midwest state. The

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

31

protesters there were relentless. Rodney stayed in the same chain hotel
each time he traveled to the clinic, and the protesters staged anti-abortion
demonstrations outside of the hotel. The protesters also wrote to the
hotel’s corporate headquarters saying they were going to protest all of
that chain’s hotels around the country. Eventually, the tactics worked, as
the hotel prohibited Rodney from staying there in the future.
The protesters have also targeted Rodney’s family. The day after
Dr. Tiller was murdered, someone called Rodney’s daughter in the
middle of the night and said, “Your mother and father were both just
killed.” For some reason, Rodney’s and his wife’s phones were not working that night, so their daughter could not contact them immediately.
She finally tracked them down through one of the women who worked
at their clinic, but for a period of time she panicked because she thought
both of her parents had been murdered.
Rodney started working for a clinic in a South Atlantic state about
a year before we interviewed him. Once Rodney started working there,
the protesters targeted the clinic in ways they had never previously
done. In the past, the clinic rarely saw protesters; now, the clinic is
under siege. Protesters appear in numbers approaching fifty or sixty,
and they show up all the time. They bought an office in the building
across from the clinic so that they can continuously monitor Rodney.
They come right up to the door and incessantly scream at Rodney when
he comes and goes from the clinic.
From his long career, Rodney is used to this type of verbal abuse and
sometimes reacts in kind. When a priest called him a murderer, Rodney
responded by calling the priest a child molester. When protesters told
Rodney they were praying for him, he responded, “You mean you’re
preying upon us. There’s a difference.”
Rodney also described his extensive experience with law enforcement. For example, within an hour of Dr. Tiller’s murder, US Marshals
were at Rodney’s clinic to protect him. Rodney explained that they
had a list of a small number of doctors around the country who they
believed were “significant risks.” Rodney had a full detail of marshals
protecting him for the next three months:
We didn’t get to drive anywhere. It was nice. I suppose you could ask
them to do anything and they would have, but it just was easier to

32

Living in the Crosshairs
stay home and call somebody and have them pick stuff up at the store
than to go out and go shopping or go out to dinner or anything. So
it was quite restrictive that way, but, again, it was quite reassuring to
have somebody that seemed like they cared. That was cool.

For reasons they never disclosed to Rodney, the marshals stopped their
detail after three months but restarted for another six weeks later in
2009. They ended their detail by the end of the year, but they still
check in with him almost every week to make sure that there are no
problems. He feels that the Department of Justice under President
Obama is “really very aggressive” with their counterterrorism efforts
in this regard. “They’ve told us about problems before we even knew
there were any plans.” Rodney appreciates all the work they are doing
to make him and others safe.
Rodney’s experiences as a target of this anti-abortion protest have
made him significantly alter his life. He does not eat at the same restaurants on a regular basis, and when he does go to a restaurant, “I try to
be in and out within 30 minutes so that if somebody sees me and calls,
before somebody else can be there, then we’re not there.” He does not
use his real name to make reservations. He has an arrangement with
airlines so that he can fly on a different flight from the one he reserved
without telling them ahead of time. The most important thing, according to Rodney, is to vary your routine so that there is no plan that others can discover.
When he first considered incorporating abortion care into his medical practice, Rodney discussed the risks with his family, but none of
them anticipated the extent of the crime and violence that would
occur. “When it got to the murders, I think I was surprised by that.”
Nonetheless, Rodney takes a very calculated view of the risk he faces.
He does what such as can to improve his security, but he also accepts
that life has risks and that targeted harassment is one of them:
Relatively, I mean, you can’t drive without being aware that something can happen. You know? And I think that my whole family
knows that something could happen because of the abortion issue,
but something can happen for a number of other reasons too. I think
I’m probably almost at as great a risk of a car accident or something

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

33

while working here as I am from the protesters here. It’s just a risk
that I have to take. Maybe ignoring it is my way of coping with it.

Looking back on his career, the only thing Rodney would do differently is that he would have started working in abortion immediately
after his residency rather than waiting fifteen years. He articulated a very
simple, yet powerful, reason for this and for continuing to work in this
field despite everything he and his colleagues have been through: “The
patients. It’s clearly the patients.”
Howard Stephens
Howard Stephens is an obstetrician-gynecologist whose original medical practice did not regularly include abortion, although he occasionally performed one if needed. After leaving his practice, he began
counseling part-time at a local abortion clinic and enjoyed the work.
“It’s something that is really necessary. People like me, somebody who
could sit and talk with somebody and be personable with them and
not judge them. They were going to get as personal care as they could
possibly get.”
A few years before we interviewed him, Howard became a full-time
abortion provider and has been doing it ever since. “I’ve been extremely
happy doing what I’m doing. Part of it is being able to provide a service
that I know is really needed.” When he switched to providing full-time
abortion care, Howard thought he would miss the gratitude that his
obstetrical patients would show after he delivered a child, but he gets
similar, if not more frequent, expressions of gratitude from his abortion
patients. Howard now works at and runs two clinics in two different
East Midwest states and performs abortions through about twenty-two
weeks of pregnancy.
After performing abortions for three years, Howard became the target of the local anti-abortion protesters. They started targeting him by
demonstrating outside of his house. At the first home protest, between
thirty-five and fifty protesters walked down Howard’s street holding
signs Howard described as “graphic.” Howard was “taken aback” by this
first protest and “to some extent freaked out.” His wife was “spooked”
as well. Howard was surprised that protesters started targeting him in

34

Living in the Crosshairs

his neighborhood and at his house because he thought he had been
keeping a low profile. For instance, the clinic never put Howard’s name
on its website, instead using “Dr. S.” Nonetheless, the protesters discovered Howard’s identity as the clinic’s physician and began to target him.
On the day that Howard’s son graduated from high school, the protesters again staged a demonstration outside of Howard’s home. Because
Howard lives close to the high school, he was scared that the protesters
would follow him and his family to the school for the graduation ceremony. Howard called the school and explained, “This is what’s going
on, there may be people going over there to protest because of me.”
Luckily, the protesters did not follow the Stephens family to the high
school.
About a month after the protesters started picketing Howard’s
house, Howard took his red Toyota to his mechanic to be serviced. The
mechanic needed the car for several hours to do the repairs, so he gave
Howard a loaner car, a dark green Toyota. Howard drove the loaner
home and parked it in his driveway. Later that day, Howard discovered
a leaflet in his mailbox that he was sure was in other mailboxes in his
neighborhood as well. The leaflet said, “There’s a murderer that lives in
your neighborhood who kills babies out to 24 weeks. The house he’s
living in is paid with blood money from abortion and his dark green
Toyota is paid with blood money too.” Howard was shocked to read
this description of the loaner car. “I’m thinking, that car’s only been
in the driveway for two hours, three hours tops. So it made me think,
God, who is watching?”
Howard and his son have received anti-abortion mail from fake
return addresses. The mail to his son was particularly concerning,
because the names written on the return addresses were the names of
Howard’s son’s friends. That protesters had somehow found out the
names of his son’s friends and used those names in their protest was
“really kind of spooky.”
The home protests and mail affected Howard and his home life.
Recalling the way that Dr. Slepian was shot in his home in Buffalo,
Howard explained the effect on him:
Before I go to bed I always fill my water bottle up and I keep it by
my bedside and I typically go to bed 11:30, 12:00. I’m a late-night

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

35

person. When I’m in the kitchen, and it’s dark outside, and I’m
standing in front of my kitchen window, more than just a couple of
times I’m thinking is there going to be a rifle shot coming through
this window? And I never used to think that. That was furthest from
my mind until these protests started.

To deal with these new concerns, Howard obtained an unlisted phone
number and started leaving the lights on around his house. In addition
to making these changes, he considered protecting himself with a gun
and a bulletproof vest but ultimately rejected those options because he
did not want to “fall prey to the paranoia that goes on.” Eventually,
“little by little,” this increased awareness became a normal part of life
for Howard and his family, and they adapted to the changes in their
lifestyle.
The home protests also made Howard nervous about his relationship
with his neighbors. When the protesters first came to his house and
neighborhood, he thought his neighborhood was too conservative to
support him. Instead, he found support in unexpected places:
I had people calling me saying, “What can we do? Is there something
we can do to help you? We are so on your side.” And I thought, “In
my neighborhood?” There are people in my neighborhood I know
that supported the anti side but I was just really surprised at the
number of people in the neighborhood who came through and said,
“If you need something, you let us know.”

The protesters have targeted Howard outside of his neighborhood
as well. After the first two home protests, the protesters twice demonstrated outside of Howard’s church. The first time they appeared at his
church, Howard was out of state; he later heard about their demonstration from members of the congregation. The second time, Howard
found out about the protest before it was going to happen and decided
not to go to church that day. He alerted his minister, who warned the
entire congregation. On the day of the demonstration, the protesters
showed up in force, lining the street for about an hour and a half with
sixty or seventy people holding anti-abortion signs. The demonstration
did not disrupt church services, however, as attendance was higher than

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Living in the Crosshairs

usual that morning thanks to the congregation showing up to support
Howard.
Although the protests at the church affected Howard, he was grateful
for the support his fellow churchgoers had shown him. The minister
later told Howard that he appreciated the way everyone supported not
only Howard but also the church. According to Howard, the minister
joked, “Maybe they should protest here more often. Our collections
plate was really good that week.”
Not long before we interviewed Howard, the protesters began to
target Howard on the Internet. One of Howard’s patients had a medical
complication from her abortion as a result of a weakened uterus from
a past pregnancy. Following proper medical protocol, Howard called a
doctor at a local hospital who agreed to take the patient. An ambulance
arrived at the clinic to transport the patient to the other doctor. As the
ambulance arrived, the protesters were demonstrating outside of the
clinic, “watching everything.” The ambulance transported the patient
to the other doctor, who successfully performed minor surgery on the
patient the with no further problems.
About three or four weeks after this incident, protesters posted images
of the ambulance outside of Howard’s clinic to the anti-abortion website that they maintain, with a caption claiming that Howard’s clinic is
“killing women.” Protesters continue to repost these images and caption, which Howard, as one of the owners of the clinic and the woman’s
doctor, perceives as a personal attack.
Howard has also been targeted on anti-abortion websites that specifically reference him. The sites mention Howard’s name, as well as that
of the owner of the building. They also call Howard an “instrument of
the Devil” and say that Satan will enjoy having Howard visit him.
Out of fear that protesters will try to escalate their harassment tactics, Howard feels that he has to protect his identity as much as possible. For instance, he feels constrained in how he can talk about his
work as an abortion provider because abortion care is “unfortunately
a field of medicine that you can’t broadcast what you do because you
never know who is listening.” When asked his profession, he responds,
“I do women’s health. I do reproductive care. I do family planning.”
Howard explained, “I would love to be really open with what I do.”
He wants to be able to proudly say, “ ‘I do abortion care.’ However,

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

37

I can’t because I’m worried about folks like Scott Roeder. I’m worried
about Eric Rudolph1 coming to my house.” Because he has to be so
circumspect around others, he said that he “lives for” abortion provider
conferences. “When I’m there, I am surrounded by people who are
like-minded, who know what we do and appreciate what we do for
women in general in the country. I can say, ‘I do abortion care.’ But not
to somebody I don’t know.”
Beyond not talking freely about his work, Howard also tries to protect his identity while coming and going from the clinics. Dr. Tiller was
Howard’s friend, and following Dr. Tiller’s murder, Howard has started
taking extra precautions:
Dr. Tiller’s murder was unnerving, and we changed policies at the
clinic. I used to park in the driveway in the parking lot at one clinic.
But the owner of the building gave me and the other doctor a garage
door opener. As soon as we get into the driveway and push the button, the garage door opens. I drive in and before I turn the car off,
I push the button and the garage door closes. So they don’t have the
opportunity to really see me that much anymore. And I always drive
into the parking lot with a baseball cap on, pulled down to my eyebrows, and whether it’s sunny out or not I have sunglasses on. And
I always drive with one hand on the wheel and one hand over my
face so they don’t have a really good chance to see me. They do try
to take pictures. But I mean, how much of me do you know when
I have my hand over my face?

That clinic is located in an area that Howard described as much more
conservative than his other clinic’s location. At the more conservative
location, when Howard approaches the clinic,
that’s when I get my cap on, that’s when I get my sunglasses on. In
wintertime I’ll put my hood up or a scarf and I’ll bring my scarf
up over my mouth and nose as well as I come in. It’s almost a visceral feeling. And even though I feel reasonably safe, you just never
know. George Tiller was supposed to be safe in his church. You just
never know. Some of the folks out there are just really insane and the
world is so black and white to them. Baby: Good, Abortion: Bad.

38

Living in the Crosshairs
If abortion is bad, then God is telling you that you have to use
­everything you can to stop them.

In the short time that Howard has been an abortion provider, he has
been targeted in multiple ways, which has affected his life and family.
He is not going to stop though. Because there are few people in the
United States who perform abortions, Howard reasons, “If I stop doing
it, who is going to take my place? Who is going to take care of these
people?”
Lucy Brown
Lucy Brown has worked at an abortion clinic in an East Midwest state
for a decade. She started working at the clinic because her sister Alana
had previously worked there. Lucy is a certified nursing assistant who
has been a “Jill of all trades” at the clinic. At the time we interviewed
her, she worked primarily in the lab, but Lucy has also worked in the
recovery room, with patient transport, in the instrument room, in the
procedure room as an assistant, and as a secretary.
Protesters target Lucy on a daily basis when she comes and goes from
the clinic. Protesters yell at her and call her by name. Lucy believes they
learned her name from a protester who was in one of Lucy’s college
classes. Although the protester never said anything to Lucy in class, she
demonstrated at the clinic and yelled at Lucy there.
Protesters use other personal information to target Lucy. When Lucy
was pregnant several years ago, the medical scrubs that she wore when
she entered and exited the clinic hid the fact for most of the pregnancy.
When the protesters eventually figured out that Lucy was pregnant,
they started using that information when they screamed at her and
the patients entering the clinic along with Lucy. Lucy remembers the
protesters saying things like “Lucy’s saving her baby, you save yours” or
“Look at Lucy, she’s keeping her baby.”
About a year before we interviewed Lucy, one of the clinic employees
and Lucy’s close friend, Jim, died at a young age and for reasons unrelated to his profession. The protesters had targeted Jim for a long time,
including at Jim’s home and other workplace, which was completely
unrelated to the clinic. When Jim died, the protesters celebrated his

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

39

death on the anti-abortion website that they maintain. The protesters
also started yelling at Lucy about her child and connecting Lucy to Jim
by yelling, “What’s your son going to do when you end up like Jim?”
This line of attack “shocked” Lucy:
Jim passed away recently, and do you take this comment as a threat?
How do you take it? Are they threatening me? That was the first time
they brought up my son. And I thought, “Wow. Where’d they get
this? How all of a sudden do they know I have a son?” He’s five now.
It’s been five years.

Lucy went back and forth over whether the incident bothered her:
“I don’t know how to take it. Sometimes you get to the point where you
get upset and then you just get over it and you just think, ‘Eh, they’re
crazy.’ You don’t know what they mean.” She was clear though that if
protesters went further with bringing her son into their harassment tactics, things would change. “I think if they would ever bring up a picture
of him on their website or anything, I would probably freak out. That
would probably be it for me.”
Lucy’s personal information has appeared elsewhere. The protesters’
website displays Lucy’s name and picture. The website says that she has
“butchered babies” and had to take people to the hospital because of
substandard care. Several of Lucy’s friends also told her about a sign
with her and her sister’s names on it that protesters displayed at a local
parade and at various locations around town. The sign said, “Lucy
Brown and Alana Brown kill babies at The Women’s Center.”
Lucy expressed the same mixed reaction about the sign that she
expressed about the protesters using information about her son. She
said her initial reaction was “wow,” but she was eventually not as bothered by the signs because her name was already on the website. Lucy
and her sister considered bringing a slander lawsuit against the protesters based on the signs but decided against it. Instead, Lucy feels
resigned to this being the way her life is: “We figured they’re always
going to be doing this kind of stuff. And they have a free lawyer. It’s
pointless to go in and fight when it seems like they get away with a lot.”
Lucy explained one incident that made her feel particularly threatened. Lucy and a coworker drove into the clinic’s private employee

40

Living in the Crosshairs

parking lot after a trip to the store. “I was in her passenger seat, and as
I went to open my door, a guy grabbed my arm. And of course I went
off. I freaked and went off on him. ‘You shouldn’t be in this parking
lot. You’re trespassing.’ ” While holding on to her arm for what seemed
like a long time, the protester said something to Lucy about abortion.
The protester eventually let go, and Lucy was able to squirm away. This
was the first and only time Lucy ever saw this particular protester at the
clinic, which caused her to worry about him even more. “You worry
about the people who aren’t from around here. The few strange ones.”
Lucy recalled, “You could tell he wasn’t right.”
Though there were witnesses, Lucy decided not to press charges. She
feared that if she did, the protesters would obtain her address and then
come knocking on her door, scaring her and her elderly grandmother
who lived with her. The whole incident disturbed Lucy and made her
think, “Hmm, do I want to continue doing this?”
Lucy has continued, with a mix of nonchalance and bravado but also
with caution and vigilance. She talks openly about where she works and
even purchased a vanity license plate with her name on it, in a sense
toying with the protesters, saying, “Oh well, you know my name. Big
deal, here it is.” She says that at this point she has worked at the clinic
long enough to “pretty much ignore them and not pay attention to
anything they say.”
On the other hand, Lucy takes precautions in her daily life. In order
to make sure that protesters do not follow her, she watches to see if
anyone is behind her when she drives and is on alert for strange people.
When she parks in the clinic parking lot, she looks around before she
gets out of her car and makes sure that there are no papers visible in the
car that have her or her family’s names on them.
Despite these precautions, a strange car once parked outside Lucy’s
home. Inside the car was a woman Lucy did not know, “just sitting
there”:
It scared me so much I took my cell phone out and actually took
a picture of the woman in her car and her license plates. Because I
thought, “What do I do?” I left my house and got into my car, and
she was just sitting there the entire time. By the time I got home,
though, she was gone. But you always think, “Who was that?”

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

41

After the incident with the woman in her car, protesters started shouting to Lucy about her son, so Lucy speculates that this woman somehow learned her address and was staking out her home to find out
personal information about her.
Like other abortion providers around the country, Lucy was rattled
when Dr. Tiller was murdered. Her clinic referred many patients to Dr.
Tiller, so she knew his work well:
That may be what makes me start taking it a little more seriously.
“Oh, this does happen.” It makes you think back to that guy that
grabbed me in the car. This was some random guy who walked into
Dr. Tiller’s church. And that’s when you start thinking about, “Oh
my God, I’ve got these plates. Am I asking for that? Am I asking for
that one random person who just takes it too far?”

Despite these thoughts, targeted harassment has become a normalized part of Lucy’s everyday life. Yet she is concerned that she perceives
the harassment as something so normal:
If we don’t do something and let them continue, it makes you worry
about the fact that when something does happen everyone’s just
going to respond, “Oh, well it happens daily, we go through it daily,
getting harassed.” I don’t know how many patients come in here and
say, “You have to deal with that every day?” We respond, “We’re used
to it. We get it every day.” I think sometimes mentally that kind of
wears you out, but it stresses you out every single day you walk in the
door; and then by the time you get into the door, you don’t even pay
attention. You’re here. You do your job and it’s fine.

Lucy explained that the targeted harassment she has faced does not
scare her enough to leave her job. She has a very rational explanation
for that attitude: “I know that sounds really bad because it probably
should scare me enough to quit, but I think anything could happen anywhere, anytime, from anything.” Plus, Lucy does not want
to give the protesters the satisfaction of being successful. “I feel like
why let them win? I never want to be that person that’d say, ‘Oh, you
guys won.’ ”

42

Living in the Crosshairs

Dustin Menendez
Dustin Menendez is an obstetrician-gynecologist who has been an
abortion provider for almost two decades. He completed his medical
training in a Middle Atlantic state but has provided abortions at a clinic
in a South Atlantic state for the entire time he has been an abortion
provider. He also has a solo obstetrics and gynecology practice. Unlike
some of the providers who talked at length about their experiences,
Dustin was very concise and matter-of-fact about the many ways he has
been targeted by anti-abortion protesters.
Like others, Dustin has been targeted while coming and going from
the clinic where he provides abortions. Protesters yell at him, “Dustin,
you’re out there murdering again.” The protesters have slashed his tires,
which he notes is frightening “because what do you have to do if you
have a flat? You have to change it, which makes you vulnerable.” One
time, a protester hid behind a garbage bin outside the clinic and took
pictures of Dustin. Dustin walked over to the protester and, while the
protester was running away, said to him, “Next time you point something at me I’m going to point something back, and it’s not going to be
a camera, because I have no idea what you’re doing.”
Over a decade ago, protesters followed Dustin as he drove away from
the clinic:
They were following me and I drove into the mall, pulled into the
parking lot, and slammed on the brakes. I walked out of my car and
pointed my gun at the driver. They took pictures and I told them,
“You better move, you better get the hell away, because the police
are already on their way and they know I have a gun out.” And they
move a little quicker when they hear that, they do. After the police
arrived, I stayed there, they took off.

Dustin’s private medical practice is in a separate location from the
clinic where he provides abortions. Despite the fact that he does not
perform abortions at his private practice, the protesters who target
Dustin regularly demonstrate nearby. He chose the specific location
of his private practice based on the protesters: “The office is set up so
that it’s actually on a large parking lot, so they cannot actually picket in
front of the office itself, because the parking lot is private grounds. And

	Seven Stories of Targeted Harassment

43

it’s intentionally on a second floor, because people do weird things.”
Sometimes the protesters come on to the private property around his
office, so he requested that the building provide extra security.
The protest has affected Dustin’s relationship with his landlord. At
one point, the landlord asked him to leave. “A lot of the other tenants
got together and basically insisted that they kick me out.” Even though
other doctors in the building that housed Dustin’s private practice were
themselves quietly performing abortions, Dustin was targeted because
he also works at an abortion clinic. After discussions with the landlord,
Dustin was able to keep his private practice at that location but had
to sign a commitment in his next lease that he would not perform
abortions there.
The picketing also affects the business side of Dustin’s private
practice. Some patients become angry; others have left the practice
or never come to Dustin in the first place because they want to avoid
the protesters. “I mean, the husbands, who wants to go through that?
They have ugly signs, ugly statements. If you don’t have to, why
would you want to?” As a result, his private practice has been hurt
economically.
Outside of the work environment, protesters have targeted Dustin
where he lives and on the Internet. When Dustin started performing
abortions, the protesters found out where he lived:
My father ran a hotel in another town, and so when I first came
here I lived with them for a while. They had about fifty to a hundred protesters along the highway in front of the hotel, and no one
could figure it out, because there was no hospital close by, no medical
offices, nothing. And my father even said, “What are these people
doing around?” It was not until I said, “Because I am using this as
my address” that he figured it out.

With this experience in mind, when Dustin was looking to move, he
intentionally sought and purchased a home in a gated community. For
many years, he tried to hide from the protesters by using his office
address as his mailing address. Eventually, though, the protesters found
him once again. He now regrets that he did not have the foresight to
place his house under someone else’s name.

44

Living in the Crosshairs

When protesters descended upon his private residence, they appeared
in front of the gated community in a group of about twenty or more.
They carried large signs stating that Dustin was a “murderer” and displaying abortion-related pictures. Protesters would “congregate and make a
nuisance of themselves,” and in the process they slowed traffic on a main
street in front of Dustin’s community. For a while, the demonstrations
occurred weekly, usually on Saturday mornings. They continued until
one of Dustin’s neighbors threatened legal action against the protesters.
Dustin described how the protests made him feel “lousy” because
“you’d like to think that your home is your private protected space.”
Based on the extreme harassment and violence against abortion providers around the country, Dustin feels that home protesting “can be
life-threatening because protesters are not logical, and they don’t really
have boundaries.”
The protests were also alarming to other people in Dustin’s community, though his neighbors never took issue with Dustin because
of the protests. In fact, the protests may have even helped people who
needed abortion care connect with Dustin. Neighbors have left notes
on Dustin’s car seeking help for themselves or a friend. “Please call so
and