How Scared Should I Be?

I’ve been thinking about fear lately.  People who offer any kind of abortion care do that ~ we contemplate the danger, weigh the risk, and decide how willing we are to continue providing care based on our personal logarithm for safety.

The shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado shifts the balance.    The vandalism at EMW clinic here in Louisville shifts it a bit more.  We all have to recalculate.  Some of us do it quickly, others may struggle.  But we haven’t lost escorts – in fact, many new people are volunteering.  Clearly, we won’t be scared off.

So I’ve been thinking about fear, and talking about it with other people who provide abortion care.  As a therapist, I believe that when we are anxious or afraid, we are usually overestimating the risk of the danger and underestimating our ability to deal with it.  I ponder how that applies.

I know there are different types of fear.   We can fear for our physical safety or  fear for our emotional safety.  Those dangers can be realistic or not, but we each have our own tipping point for what’s safe and what isn’t.

If you’re afraid of flying, you may be afraid the plane will crash and you’ll die.  Or you may be afraid that you’ll have a panic attack on the plane and (obviously) not be able to get off the plane and that will be horrible.  The actual risk of either of those things happening aren’t what determines whether or not you fly – a whole range of other factors influence it.

It’s the same with escorting.  We can be afraid that some rabid anti with nothing to lose will detonate a bomb or drive by and start shooting.  We can be afraid that our family and friends who are anti-choice will reject us.  But regardless of the actual danger, escorts typically have deeply held beliefs that lead them to choose to take the risk.

I’m not usually a worrier.  This, however, gives me pause:  The Abortion Vigilante Worksheet.  Created by American Right to Life (not to be confused with the National Right to Life group that we’re all familiar with) the worksheet is a masterpiece of double talk.

American RTL publishes this worksheet to help Christians think through the issue of vigilantism regarding the intentional killing of abortionists. Our directors and leaders at the summit which launched our organization (including the director of Operation Rescue National/OSA, the Rev. Flip Benham) have spent months incarcerated in jails for peaceful civil disobedience by blocking abortion clinic entrances and in defense of Christian liberties.

Disclosure: Prior to using this worksheet, ARTL would like the reader to know our own position:
1) Governments have the authority to use lethal force in more circumstances than do civilians.
2) The Bible’s escalation of force principle prohibits civilian use of lethal force if less force could suffice.
3) Civilians may use lethal force defending innocent life against threats of imminent harm.

If true, these principles do not prohibit the use of civil disobedience to prevent abortions. This worksheet, however, concludes that those who kill, advocate, or even defend the intentional killing of abortionists are morally wrong. Some of those who defend such killings complain that others are unwilling to seriously address their position. To any such, this challenge goes out: take the time and courage to answer these questions, and then email your answers and contact information to…

It seems to me that they’re saying, “Yes, it could be morally justified to kill an abortion provider, no, we’re not saying we think that, but there sure is an argument for it, and maybe you think it’s ok.”

It ends on a similar note, which I won’t bother quoting.

In-between, along with a zillion supposedly logical, ethical questions which supposedly will help you think through the ethical dilemma of whether or not it’s ok to kill abortion providers, is this chart:

Note: The following table presents the casualties of actual known U.S. abortion vigilantes:

Anti-Abortion Violence (non-regulatory)

Perpetrator -Date- City -Victims -Death or Injury -Their Title or Role
Scott Roeder 5/31/09 Wichita, KS George Tiller Death Abortionist

Paul J. Hill 7/29/04 Pensacola, FL John Bayard Britton Death Abortionist
” ” ” ” ” ” James H. Barrett Death Bodyguard, clinic ‘escort’
” ” ” ” ” ” June Barrett Shot twice Clinic ‘escort’

James Kopp 10/23/98 Amherst, NY Barnett Slepian Death Abortionist

Eric Robert Rudolph 1/29/98 Birmingham, AL Robert Sanderson Death Security guard, off-duty cop
” ” ” ” ” ” Emily Lyons Critically injured Clinic nurse

John Salvi 12/30/94 Brookline, MA Shannon Lowney Death Clinic receptionist
” ” ” ” ” ” Leanne Nichols Death Clinic receptionist
” ” ” ” ” ” Anjana Agrawal Shot twice, bullet by heart Clinic ‘counselor’
” ” ” ” ” ” Antonio Hernandez Collapsed lung, more Accompanied wife to clinic
” ” ” ” ” ” Brian Murray Bullet tore up insides Accompanied friend to clinic
” ” ” ” ” ” Jane Sauer Shot twice Clinic bookkeeper
” ” ” ” ” ” Richard J. Seron Shot arm, shoulder, hand Security guard

Rachelle Shannon 8/19/93 Wichita, KS George Tiller Shot in both arms Abortionist

Michael Griffin 3/10/93 Pensacola, FL David Gunn Death Abortionist

Dec. 1, 2015 Update: As results of the criminal investigation become public, and the motive of the mentally-ill pothead Robert Lewis Dear, the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood murderer, is known, we will update the above chart if need be.

That chills me!!  This chart, the Colorado shooting, and the vandalism at my own clinic (with limited concern or action from the police) hit my tipping point.  I have to re-examiine my own logarithm for physical safety.

How scared is reasonable?  How high is the risk – realistically?  Ok, I have a lot better chance of dying in a car wreck than getting killed by an anti at the clinic, but this feels scarier.  What is that about?

Is it the malevolence?  If I die in a car wreck, it’s an accident.  If someone targets me and kills me because I’m an escort, it is intentional and personal.  That does feel different.

Is it because I’m choosing to do this thing that puts me at risk?  I couldn’t really survive without getting in a car, but I choose to escort.  Does that make it easier to “blame the victim?” Maybe.  Maybe that makes it feel different, but I totally reject that.  Choosing to support reproductive health isn’t punishable by death.

So how scared should I be?  I have no idea.  Mostly, I am not scared.  Mostly, I like to remind people that if I get killed on the sidewalk, I expect to become a martyr and for the escorts to at least get a buffer zone out of it.  Taking time to think it through just increases my appreciation for all the providers of abortion care ~ doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, receptionists, medical assistants, and escorts ~ who won’t let fear stop them either.

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To support abortion access in Kentucky

6 thoughts on “How Scared Should I Be?

  1. You are brave to be out there every time you do. Escorts should not be needed but it is good you are there. I look at this list and realize I live in country where doing legal jobs, getting legal medical care or helping people get that care can get you killed. It is a shame and unconstitutional.

  2. Great piece, thank you for writing and for all of the work that you’ve done to defend women’s right to health care. I am ashamed that I have not done more to help, and will need to give some thought to how I can activate my support. Easiest of course would be advocacy for the bubble ordinance you mention, but I confess I don’t know the particulars sought in such an ordinance. Would it be possible for you to write a post on the topic? Better yet, it would make a good addition to the ‘get involved’ page.

  3. I loved reading this. We’ve all been thinking this, and I’m glad you finally wrote about it for us all. You are such a good writer! Good Question: “How scared should I be?” Really. I remember asking this question here on this website before, when it dawned on me, standing as an escort on the corner of 2nd and Market, that any wacko protester could drive up and shoot me, or any one of us, at any time.

    Just recently, I went to a support group meeting on the Tuesday evening, right after the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood was shot up by one of those “Pro-Life” Forced Birther protesters, gone berserk, pushed over the edge by the videos which were faked to make PP look bad. Even though the man who made the videos has admitted they were faked. But the radical right is still ranting on about PP doing bad shit in the 3% of their business where they perform abortions.

    Anyway, at the support group meeting, I was wearing my pink “I Stand With PP” t-shirt, and a man stared at me from across the room, got up, walked across the circle of people, stopped and said to me that he is very concerned for me and that I “should be very careful, going around, wearing that shirt.” Then, realizing what that may have sounded like, he backtracked and quickly said, “No, no, no, no, don’t think I’M threatening you, or anything like THAT, NO! I’m just saying, there are people OUT there who are, or who might be, violent, so just, so, please, just YOU be careful going around, wearing that shirt.” Then he walked back and sat down, as the support group meeting got started.

    I sat there, fuming. Who the hell does he think he is, deciding for me what I can and cannot wear in Louisville, and what is and is not safe for me to wear on the streets of Louisville? I think a pink t-shirt in Louisville is pretty fucking safe, for fuck’s sake. And I, for one, am not ready to back down, not one inch.

    I agree with you 100%: “I am compelled to escort. There’s no other word for it. I cannot let people face that type of bullying, harassment and hate alone. I have to try to make a space for them to walk to the clinic. I refuse, refuse to let fear rule me.” And to me, that is truly the final word. It is why we each continue to show up and put on the vest and quietly walk with people so they can access the medical care they are entitled to.

  4. I don’t think fear is an irrational response when it comes to men and the lengths they’ll go to to control women’s bodies, actions and thoughts. We have data out the wazoo to support the necessity to be fearful of men and the crap they rain down on us, especially as crimes against women, and certainly crimes against people performing crucial work as you do, are not considered hate crimes or sometimes even crimes at all. Or the men’s behaviour is rationalized away as a crazy isolated event. No, when you live in a world where there is as much evidence as there is that women aren’t safe, fear is a normal, rational, but unfortunately required, response.

    Thanks for this blog. This is very important work.

  5. People ask me about the situation at the clinic and if I am afraid. I keep answering I’m cautious, but not afraid. I refuse to live my life in a state of fear. When asked about conceal carry and vests, I say from my personal experience, I know what I would do in an emergency. The tips they give you on an active shooter is 1. run away 2. hide 3. fight. Every time I have been faced with a situation of violence, I have run towards the aggressor to shield the person attacked, so I know I would do that again. I also know from personal experience I would never be able to shoot someone, even if they were causing me grievous bodily harm. That means a conceal carry would be useless for me. When asked about vests, I ask them to imagine a patient walking up to me and me saying, “The protesters won’t harm you. They will talk to you and try to hand you pamphlets,” while wearing protective gear. How safe will that make them feel? How is that creating a safe space? Also the document you quote has also stated head shots don’t need to have markmanship, so don’t worry about vests. Sigh. I am compelled to escort. There’s no other word for it. I cannot let people face that type of bullying, harassment and hate alone. I have to try to make a space for them to walk to the clinic. I refuse, refuse to let fear rule me.

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