Anti-Abortion Terrorism: New Book Tells Untold Stories of Harassment and Violence Faced by Abortion Providers

Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures in the United States, with nearly one in three women electing to terminate a pregnancy in her lifetime. It is also an incredibly safe procedure when performed legally.

But what about the safety of the men and women who work at abortion clinics? Eight abortion providers have been murdered since 1993 and countless others have been targeted by anti-abortion extremists looking to advance their personal and political agendas.

A groundbreaking new book, "Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism" (Oxford University Press, 2015), examines how those associated with abortion care are harassed, threatened, stalked, picketed, sent hate mail and otherwise terrorized on a daily basis, and how these incidents are drastically increasing.

The book by David S. Cohen, JD, a law professor in Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, and Krysten Connon, JD, an alumna of the Kline School of Law and an attorney in Philadelphia, explores the world of abortion providers and their families, and documents the constant antagonism they face. With nearly 90 extensive, in-depth interviews conducted across the country, the book marks the largest study ever to investigate both what happens to providers and how the law can better help them.

Going beyond just the general protesting that takes place outside of most abortion clinics, the book focuses on targeted harassment of abortion providers and provides incontrovertible evidence of a widely underreported phenomenon: threats and violence specifically targeted against women's healthcare providers.

Drawing on ideas from the interviews, the authors propose several legal and societal reforms that could improve the lives of providers, foremost among them is redefining targeted harassment as terrorism rather than protest.

"Living in the Crosshairs" is scheduled for release from Oxford University Press on May 13. It is available for preorder from the publisher and A book reading and signing will take place in Room 140 at the Kline School of Law (3320 Market St., Philadelphia) on Thursday, April 16 at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

"Living in the Crosshairs" shows providers targeted at home, at work, in community spaces and online, as well as attacks on providers’ families, neighbors and others close to them.

“Abortion providers live with a staggering amount and variety of targeted harassment,” said Connon.

“Providers told us about being physically assaulted, picketed at home, threatened over the phone and stalked around town. Providers’ children have been the targets of protests at school, providers’ parents have been harassed in nursing homes and their spouses have been targeted at work," she said. "The list of tactics is almost endless.”

The book paints a portrait of women's health professionals who persist in their work despite harassment because they believe in what they are doing.

“It’s been more than 40 years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, yet anti-abortion forces have tried nearly every tactic to eliminate it,” said Cohen. “Legislative and judicial developments dominate the news, but this troubling and all-too-common phenomenon – targeted vigilante action against individual abortion providers – is missing from the national discussion, only cropping up when a dramatic story like the murder of an abortion provider pushes it to the forefront.”

“Without hearing these providers’ stories, the public is left with a deficient understanding of exactly how abortion is limited in this country. These stories need to be told because the experiences illuminate the truth of the issue and offer us a path to a better policy,” Cohen said.

“A gripping, well-researched and maddening book… it offers a clear list of common-sense recommendations for improving staff and patient safety. The wonder, after reading 'Living in the Crosshairs,' is that there are any [abortion] providers left. We owe them our gratitude.” -
"['Living in the Crosshairs'] gives these statistics a human face often missing in media coverage as it details the real, day-to-day experiences of abortion providers in this country…All those providers featured in 'Crosshairs' will leave readers inspired and motivated to make their vital work safe and free from attack. It is nearly impossible to finish 'Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Story of Anti-Abortion Terrorism' without a renewed desire to help protect [these] people.” - RH Reality Check

David S. Cohen is an associate professor at the Thomas R. Kline School of Law at Drexel University, where he teaches constitutional law and gender and the law. Prior to teaching, Cohen was a staff attorney at the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia and litigated cases involving abortion clinic safety, reproductive rights, Title IX and LGBT family law.

Krysten Connon is a 2012 graduate of the Kline School of Law. Following law school, Connon worked as a federal judicial law clerk. She is currently an attorney in private practice in Philadelphia.