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The Deadly Risks of Being Pro-Choice


8 November 2001

"A heightened sense of awareness" -- those words have been echoing through my head since the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks in New York and Washington. But it wasn't the first time. In 1994, we opened Dr. Henry Morgentaler's Fredericton abortion clinic. Over the next five years that heighte ned sense of awareness became part of who I was. Words like "anthrax" were striking terror in my heart back when antichoice terrorists were making their mark on the consciousness of every abortion-clinic worker on the con tinent. Terrorism is not a foreign concept to the thousands of women and men who put themselves at risk daily to ensure a woman's right to choose. Abortion clinics were the target of terrorist activity long before anyone had heard of Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden.That's why, when most of North America will think of Nov. 11 as Remembrance Day and a date that marks two months since the terrorist attacks, for many of us it's an anniversary of another sort. In addition to the anthrax scares, bombings, threatening letters, picketing and abuse, since 1994, on or about Remembrance Day, there have been four sniper attacks on doctors in Canada and the United States -- doctors who were known abortion providers. The first was on Nov. 8, 1994, when Vancouver doctor Garson Romalis was shot and wounded. The following year, on Nov. 10, Dr. Hugh Short of Ancaster, Ont., was targeted while eating breakfast in his home. Two years later on Nov. 11, Dr. Jack Fainman of Winnipeg was shot. And on Oct. 23, 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian of Amherst, N.Y., was killed.Each of these men was shot in his home by a sniper using a long-range rifle. Anti-abortion extremist James Kopp has been charged in the shooting of Dr. Short and the killing of Dr. Slepian. In October of this year, the FBI reported that at least 110 envelopes and packages containing a white power were sent to abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood facilities in the United States. Ninety Planned Pa renthood centers reported receiving the letters; the 20 remaining packages were sent to independent abortion clinics. Since 1982, there have been 169 arsons and bombings of abortion clinics in the United States. In 1991, in Springfield, Mo., a clinic receptionist was shot and paralyzed from the waist down; in 1992, Dr. Morgentaler's Toronto clinic was firebombed; in March of 1993, Dr. David Gunn was murdered outside an abortion clinic in Pe nsacola, Fla.

There is not time to recount all of the acts of terrorism rained down on abortion providers, but the December, 1994, killings of Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols at a clinic in Brookline, Mass., hit particularly close to home for many of us on the front lines. By then, the term "justifiable homicide" had become the new buzzword of homegrown, right-wing fundamentalist extremists. But the antichoice terrorists have not restricted themselves to clinic violence. Eric Rudolph made the FBI's Most Wanted List for the January, 1998, bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., clinic that killed a security guard and seriously injured a nurse. He was also wanted for bombings at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, at a lesbian bar in Atlanta, and at another clinic in Georgia. For those of you who feel the horror imparted on our collective consciousness the morning of Sept. 11, and who now walk around now with that "heightened sense of awareness," take a minute this Sunday to remember those who have died and been injured in the name of freedom of choice for all families in North America.

Allison Brewer.
Published in the Toronto Globe & Mail.
2001 Globe Interactive.



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