“For real surrealism, nothing beats right-wing and religious efforts to confer legal personhood on fertilized eggs. This would nationalize women’s bodies throughout their childbearing years. Not surprisingly, the Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has failed, but many state and local tactics are succeeding, from bombing clinics and murdering doctors in the name of “pro-life”, to denying birth control as a part of health insurance, and closing clinics with impossible building regulations imposed by antichoice state legislatures. Over time, I’ve also noticed that local picketes of clinics often personify this surrealism.
To enter the Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula, Montana, I have to pass picketers who are crowded at the edge of the legal buffer zone. They are shouting, “Abortion is murder!” and “Baby killer!”. Inside, staff members show me around the clinic, which has been providing a full range of health services since the early 1970s. In 1993 its building was firebombed and completely destroyed by anti-abortion terrorists, even though, as with most such clinics, providing safe abortions is a tiny fraction of its health care mission. I understand that repairing the damage has taken two years and a lot of work. Now Blue Mountain is operating behind a slender buffer zone and a tall protective fence.
A staff member tells me that one of the female picketers has come in when the men were not around, had an abortion, and gone back to picket the next day. This sounds surrealistic to me- but not to the staff member. She explains that women in such anti-abortions groups are more likely to be deprived of birth control and so to need an abortion. They then feel guilty -and picket even more. This restriction on birth control may also explain why studies have long shown that Catholic women in general are more likely to have an abortion that are their Protestant counterparts.
When I visit clinics, I’ve learned to ask the staff if they have ever seen a picketer come in, have an abortion, and go back to picketing again. From Atlanta to Wichita, the answer is yes. Yet because staff members see the woman’s suffering and guard her right to privacy, they don’t blow the whistle.
Meanwhile in Wichita, Kansas, Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors who perfmorms late-term abortions -only about 1 percent of all procedures but crucial when, for instance, a fetus develops without a brain- is shot in both arms by a female picketer. He recovers and continues serving women who come to him from many states.
I finally meet Dr. Tiller in 2008 at a New York gathering of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health. I ask him if he has ever helped a woman who was protesting at his clinic. He says: “Of course, I’m there to help them, not to add to their troubles. They probably already feel guilty.”
In 2009 Dr. Tiller is shot in the head at close range by a male activist hiding inside the Lutheran church where the Tiller family worships each Sunday. This is done in the name of being “pro-life”.
Gloria Steinem, My life on the road, 2015