By now many of you know that there was a day long ordeal with an “active shooter” at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. News outlets are now reporting 2 civilians and one police officer have been killed and another 5 police officers and 4 civilians were injured. I have a terrible feeling of deja vu about all this. I’ll get to the reason for the deja vu in a bit.
First, although we don’t know all the facts, we do know that there has been a targeted campaign to discredit and shut down Planned Parenthood funding. This campaign was orchestrated by some right wing troublemakers who took footage they secretly filmed of a conversation with a Planned Parenthood staff member. A highly edited version of this was released in July during which the totally legal use of fetal tissue for medical research was discussed. This has been used to whip anti-choice zealots into a frenzy. Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian:
Vicki Saporta, president and chief executive of the National Abortion Federation, said her organisation had feared such an attack after the release of “highly edited, misleading anti-abortion videos was released in July”.
“This clinic is part of the Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains affiliate, which was featured in one of the highly-edited smear videos released this summer. Since that video, the affiliate has seen an increase in protesters and death threats against one of their doctors.
Although anti-abortion groups may condemn this type of violence when it happens, the way that they target and demonize providers contributes to a culture where some feel it is justifiable to murder doctors simply because they provide women with the abortion care they need.
“Since 1977, there have been 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 186 arsons, and thousands of incidents of criminal activities. The last abortion provider was murdered in 2009 when NAF member Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in his church in Wichita, Kansas.”
The reason this feels like deja vu for me was an incident involving 2 of those previous murders. This happened on December 30, 1994 in Brookline Massachusetts a city adjacent to Boston. On that occasion John Salvi III walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, and killed receptionist Shannon Lowney and wounding three other clinic workers with a 22 caliber rifle. He then went to another nearby clinic, Pre-term Health Services, killing receptionist Lee Ann Nichols and wounding two other clinic workers. He had apparently been prepared to do much more because he dropped a second gun and 700 rounds of ammunition in his flight after a security guard returned fire at PreTerm.
At that time my then partner Greg was working for Planned Parenthood in Worcester while I was working at another Family Planning agency, also in Worcester. That morning Greg had told me he was going to a meeting at one of the Boston Planned Parenthood locations. When I heard the news I went into full panic mode. This was before the widespread use of cell phones so all we had were beeper to contact people in an emergency. I quickly dialed Greg’s beeper entered my office phone number then 911 (for non-North Americans that’s the number for emergency services). I have never felt so relieved in my life to hear someone’s voice as I felt when I talked to Greg on the phone.
Over the next couple weeks we processed how we were feeling. I began to read up on the history that linked the pro-choice movement and the LGBTQ rights movement together. The shared history went back to Germany during the time of the Nazis. On October 26, 1936, Heinrich Himmler formed within the Security Police the Reich Central Office for Combating Abortion and Homosexuality. Josef Meisinger, executed in 1947 for his brutality in occupied Poland, led the new office. The police had powers to hold in protective custody or preventive arrest those deemed dangerous to Germany’s moral fiber, jailing indefinitely—without trial—anyone they chose.
The religious right has for decades demonized both non-heterosexuals and providers of abortion services. In many ways they are the heirs to Heinrich Himmler’s office for “combating abortion and homosexuality.” It is clear that the kind of hysteria whipped up against the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality is similar to the hysteria whipped up against the Supreme Court decision in Roe vs Wade. Unfortunately this rhetoric leads some particularly susceptible people to plan and perpetrate violent action. This was true with John Salvi in 1994. It was also true 37 years ago on November 27, 1978 when Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by former Supervisor Dan White.
So it seems that November 27th will now link together the pro-choice movement and the LGBTQ rights movement just like Heinrich Himmler linked us together in 1936. We may have become distracted by the buffoons running for the Republican Nomination for President but make no mistake, amongst their followers are those who view violence as acceptable. They are not put off by extremist rhetoric because it mirrors their own. Tomorrow the candidates on the Republican side will decry violence but soon they will go back to vilifying lesbians, gays, bisexuals and their new favorite villians, transgender people. They will continue seeking to defunct Planned Parenthood even though no federal dollars are used to fund abortions.
After the shootings in 1994, Greg and I attended a memorial service for Shannon Lowney, the Planned Parenthood receptionist killed by John Salvi. The service was held in the Arlington Street Church, one of the mother churches of the Unitarian Universalist Association which has long supported freedom of choice and LGBTQ rights. Together we mourned and vowed to continue to be there for women who needed someone to make safe reproductive health care available. I am sure a similar service will soon be held in Colorado Springs. As for myself I remain a Feminist, a supporter of a woman’s right to choose, an Agender/Trans person who will continue to fight for LGBTQIA rights, including marriage equality and Trans restroom rights. We can’t let hate and intolerance win!