With the U.S. Supreme Court set to overturn Roe v. Wade, and perhaps other liberalizing, pro-civil rights decisions after that, the political right is doing their touchdown celebration dance. But, of course, the work isn’t done. It’s not enough to notch this legal victory for backwards puritanism — they also have to hammer down a false narrative of the last 50 years.
While we’d never take the word of a senior editor at Breitbart News, which has promoted too many false claims and conspiracy theories to count, Rebecca Mansour’s rosy portrait of anti-abortion activism in the decades after Roe is notably baseless even for the brand. By the end of the 20th century, violent extremists opposed to abortion had carried out “200 bombings and arsons, 72 attempted arsons, 750 death and bomb threats and hundreds of acts of vandalism, intimidation, stalking and burglary,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
If, as Mansour wants you to believe, the anti-abortion movement wasn’t radical and dangerous, patients seeking reproductive care wouldn’t need clinic escorts to protect them from the harassment and abuse of those protesters. Indeed, a veteran and retired schoolteacher volunteering as an escort in Pensacola, Florida, was murdered along with a doctor in 1994.
Yes, Students for Life of America, it is interesting that you shared this misinformation about new barriers going up around the Supreme Court because a draft decision on Roe was leaked, when in fact those fences are up because a scientist burned himself to death there on Earth Day to draw attention to climate change. Put aside your premonitions of pro-choice violence for a moment, however, and let’s talk about your side’s “peaceful” demonstrations, which routinely turned into bloody melees. Hundreds were arrested for attacking security guards and laying siege to a Los Angeles women’s clinic in 1990. At a 2020 demonstration in Walnut Creek, California, anti-abortion activists brought their own armed guards, who pepper-sprayed counter protesters and a photographer — and one reached for his gun. Acts of violence against clinics, doctors and patients have hit record highs in recent years; over just one month in 2019, three different men were arrested for threatening mass shootings at Planned Parenthood locations.
All the murders, assaults and kidnappings, attempted or successful, and virtually nonstop death threats targeting abortion providers and recipients have come alongside a highly effective strategy to resist Roe on a bureaucratic level. In some states, the exploitation of legal frameworks and passage of burdensome restrictions in order to cut off access to care, so that abortion is available only in the theoretical sense, is another form of violence, leading to forced births and unsafe abortions that carry severe health risks and can ultimately prove fatal. That this harm can’t be filmed in the streets like a riot doesn’t absolve those responsible for inflicting it. The cruelty of the anti-abortion cause is dual-facing: open, direct, sensationalist attacks on innocent people and institutions, and the silent dismantling and blockage of individual choice.
To cast a post-Roe America as some enlightened utopia, the right will have to bury this legacy and pretend the result was achieved through noble words and deeds. Don’t believe it for a second. They waged terror every step of the way — only for the chance to spill more blood.