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The Assassination of Dr. Tiller and the Threat Against Black Abortion Providers

May 29, 2015

I was driving with a physician colleague and abortion provider to our book club, and we were both stunned and horrified,” remembers Dr. Monica McLemore, a nurse researcher and abortion provider, of the assassination of later abortion provider Dr. George Tiller. “We needed to pull over and have a minute to discuss our own work and what this meant.”

On May 31, 2009, while serving as an usher at his church, abortion provider Dr. George Tiller was shot in the head by an anti-abortion activist. Dr. Tiller had previously been shot in both arms in 1993, and had his clinic firebombed in 1986. Sunday marks the sixth anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s assassination, and as buffer zone laws protecting providers and patients from harassment crumble, the intimidation persists. Over the past four decades, the National Abortion Federation reports 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 181 arsons, over 660 bomb threats, and thousands of incidents of other forms of violence, targeted at abortion clinics and their staff. In March, Mississippi’s only clinic suffered vandalism and destruction to their surveillance camera and power lines. The award winning documentary film After Tiller, released in 2013, offers a harrowing, yet inspiring look into the danger four later abortion providers face while offering health care for their patients, particularly in the wake of Dr. Tiller’s assassination.

These ongoing acts of violence are the subject of a new book, Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism where authors David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon interviewed abortion providers across the country about their experiences. “Abortion providers regularly experience various forms of individualized harassment, intimidation, and even violence,” Cohen tells “Not every abortion provider does, but many do, as it is a part of the anti-abortion movement’s strategy to end abortion.” He says that violence takes many forms, from criminal acts such as assault, stalking, and even kidnapping, to harassment like picketing a provider’s home or their children’s school, publicizing their personal information, and verbal taunts. For Black abortion providers and clinic workers, this violence is more racialized and intense. They’re often accused of being “race traitors” or “killing the Black race” simply for providing healthcare. In their book, Cohen and Connon share stories of providers who remember being called “a filthy Negro abortionist”.


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