In a recent Daily Beast article concerning abortion-related comments between Rand Paul and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz, Samantha Allen wrote, “By turning late-term abortions into a metonym for the issue as a whole, [Rand] Paul is clearly attempting to challenge the American consensus on the legality of abortion earlier in pregnancy. It’s a tactic as old as Roe: make first-trimester abortions guilty by association with the more easily demonized late-term procedures.” Nothing new was said here about the intent to frame all abortions as happening in the third trimester. “Metonym” is what caught my attention.

It is metonyms that keep the average person confused about abortion. Since most people, politicians and regular voters included, do not go out of their way to educate themselves about abortion and the numerous complexities of the debate, they are influenced by metonyms.

Not to be confused with a metaphor, a metonym is “a word, name, or expression used as a substitute for something else with which it is closely associated.”  We use metonyms all the time. Online sources cite “Washington” as an often used metonym for the federal government, “sweat” for hard work, “plastic” for credit card and so on. Most of us take care in everyday conversation to avoid metonymic usage if it will misinform. That is not the case in politics and, after reading Allen’s article, I realized how pervasive metonyms are in the language used to discuss abortion, primarily by those opposed to abortion.

What is the most destructive are the efforts to present abortion as something it is not. Achieving public policy objectives through false data and building public support by misleading the less passionate into a belief system based on ideology presented through using inaccurate and incorrect word choices is wrong, yet never effectively challenged.Embryos-Human

Responding to the same Rand Paul – Debbie Wasserman-Schultz comments, Casey Mattox shared in the Federalist that Wasserman-Shultz and the Democrat Party support abortion “through all nine months of pregnancy.” He later states, “Democrats are big on abortion euphemisms. When they say, as Wasserman-Shultz did, that abortion should be a woman’s ‘choice’ through all nine months, they want you to focus on something other than the reality of what abortion is. Simply put, there is no clean and humane way to kill a seven-pound, full-term baby.”

I am not sure what specific euphemisms Mattox had in mind, or if he incorrectly thinks that correct terms, such as blastocyst, embryo, or fetus, are euphemisms and that pro-choice advocates should use his preferred set of ideological words or metonyms. All pro-choice people I know would agree that it is inhumane to kill a full-term baby. We also tend to believe it inhumane to have public policies that would force a woman to compromise her health or die in order for a fetus to evolve into a born person. Mattox used the “choice” term in the context of the abortion debate as a metonym for “abortion on demand at all stages of pregnancy for any reason.”  Sadly, the dispassionate all too often believe such rhetoric.

Over the years, many of us have written about the language used to discuss abortion. Often divisive and steeped in emotion, the language is powerful. The terms “pro-choice” and “pro-life” have always created barriers to productive discourse about abortion to the point that many people now refuse to be categorized as one or the other.

Decoding Abortion Language imageFetus and unborn baby are frequently used as metonyms for blastocysts and embryos. Abortion opponents use murder metonymically for the abortion procedure itself.  Decoding Abortion Rhetoric: The Communication of Social Change (Celeste Michelle Condit 1990) discussed how metonymic language shaped public policy on abortion. That was 25 years ago and metonyms continue to define each and every facet that leads to abortion-related public policy today. Another book, Lexical and Syntactical Constructions and the Construction of Meaning, published in 1995, also discussed the metonymy of abortion language. When “embryo” is used by abortion opponents, it is as a metonym for stem cells, which has dramatically limited potentially lifesaving research. As author Mark Bracher stated in yet another book, Lacan, Discourse, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism (1993), “Insofar as antiabortionist discourse convinces its audience, through such operations of metaphor and metonymy, that the fetus is an instance of human life, it succeeds in positioning abortion…” (p105).

Metonymy has positioned abortion in public policy outcomes. What it cannot accomplish is altering the experiences so many Americans have had, directly or indirectly, with abortion. Abortion polls that both sides use to claim victories from time to time are not reliable. What is reliable are the personal and family experiences people have with abortion rights and access.  Those experiences reject the metonyms and steer people to the belief that abortion is a personal decision between a woman and her medical provider.

Abortion Care Network

Abortion Care Network

I recently received an email from a woman named Peg Johnston, an old friend up in Binghamton, New York who has been running an abortion facility for many years.  She has seen it all:  the murders, the bombings, the protests with hundreds of people at her front door.  And, like so many of her colleagues, she has persevered.

For many years, she was one of my closest confidants when I was the Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.  We went through a lot together and, yes, I was a pain in the ass to her at times (or maybe a lot of times).   After I left NCAP, she helped transform the organization into what is now called the Abortion Care Network.

In the early years, NCAP was a Capitol Hill lobbying effort that represented independent abortion providers.  To this day, I take pride knowing that we actually got three laws passed that provided protection to the doctors, staff and patients who use these facilities.  Later, NCAP started focusing on the business side of the industry, putting together group purchasing plans, business conferences, etc.  What really got my juices flowing, however, was NCAP’s effort to de-stigmatize abortion.  And I was pleased when I received Peg’s email to see that the Network continues to fight to make abortion more acceptable in this country.

Abortion Care Network

Abortion Care Network

It’s hard to believe that after 40 years of legal abortion, the procedure is still shrouded in mystery, spoken only in whispers.  Millions and millions and millions of women have availed themselves of this procedure but so many of them still sit by in silence.  And that has allowed the anti-abortion movement to fill in the blanks, to demonize abortion and to make women feel ashamed for having them.

But Peg and her group continue to press the envelope.  She and her colleagues have seen women come into their facilities, leave and move on with their lives.  They continue to insist that “good women have abortions” and that abortion is “okay.”  They also believe – and they taught me – that the pro-choice movement needs to speak more honestly about the abortion procedure.  They argue that women are not stupid, that they know exactly what goes on during an abortion and it is an insult to obfuscate.  “We Trust Women,” is their catch-phrase.

Whether or not the Abortion Care Network or, for that matter, NCAP has had an impact is hard to tell.  But I can tell you personally that it sure felt good not having to worry about trying to avoid the “A” word and just putting it out there.  Sure, our candor pissed off our pro-choice colleagues at times, but we slept well at night knowing we were telling the simple truth and that, by doing so, we were lifting the veil of secrecy about abortion.

And now Peg and the Abortion Care Network are on to their next project in their never-ending battle to make abortion more acceptable in this country.  Below is a link that announces a new video contest they are sponsoring, which speaks for itself.   I encourage everyone to submit their videos, to speak out if you’ve had an abortion and, yes, to send money to the Abortion Care Network:

If you have been following my recent posts, you know I am supporting the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride set to kick off on 23 July 2013 in New York City and San Francisco.  I discussed this summer’s action with a number of people I respect, and there is a divide in the abortion rights community on whether or not it is wise to embark on this action.  I did not reach the decision to support and join with the Riders without giving the decision due diligence; nor, did I neglect to consider the multiple outcomes of the action.

When facing a dichotomous debate among two sides of the community, two camps who should be working together toward common goals, I ask myself now as I did in the past, What Would Dad Do?  Would he shrink back into the shadows, rely solely on private action and influence, or would he advocate, and actually engage in, direct action and response to those who tormented, stalked, and eventually killed him?  Obviously, we know the answer:  he did not back down!  As I wrote a couple of posts ago, I also cannot and will not back down.

Upon the 20th year after my dad’s murder by a Christian terrorist, as we face continued threat of violence, and as state after state passes draconian anti abortion legislation, I reflect not only on what my dad would do but also consider the words of Yeats:

Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

Knowing I will be appalled by remaining silent, I resolved the vacillation by opting to support what I believe is the right course of action.  To that end, I co-authored a piece on the merits and need of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride with one of its primary organizers Sunsara Taylor.  I want to share with you our recent missive so perhaps more of us will come together on the need for direct, vocal, and mass support our clinics, our doctors, and our rights

Abortion Rights Are At a Crossroads:
This is NOT a Time to Lay Low – It is Time for Massive Uncompromising Struggle!

By Sunsara Taylor and David Gunn, Jr.
July 12, 2013

Across the country, people are waking up to the state of emergency facing the right to abortion. As legislators in Texas push hard to close down 37 of 42 abortion clinics statewide, new laws in North Carolina would close four of their five remaining clinics. Meanwhile, Ohio’s recently passed budget could close as many as three abortion clinics. North Dakota, on August 1st, may become the first state to effectively ban abortion. Already Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is merely an appellate ruling away from closure. We could go on.

If we do not reverse this trajectory now, we will condemn future generations of women and girls to forced motherhood, to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame. Women will be forced to have children they do not want, trapping them in abusive relationships, driving them into poverty, forcing them out of school, and extinguishing their dreams. Women will go to desperate and dangerous measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies, once again flooding emergency rooms and turning up dead women in cheap motels with blood caked between their legs.

We face two divergent roads: Either we seize control of the debate and reset the terms and whole trajectory of this fight; or we continue down the road of “established conventional wisdom,” only to awaken before long to an unrecognizable and untenable situation for women. What each of us does matters,and matters tremendously.

It is in this context that we initiated an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Our echo of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides is intentional and fitting. Women who cannot decide for themselves if and when they have children are not free. On the contrary, they are mere child-bearing chattel whose purpose is to serve and not actively chose their destinies.

Volunteers on this Freedom Ride will caravan from both coasts to North Dakota, traverse through the middle of the country into Wichita, and head due south to Jackson, Mississippi. Our aim is threefold: one, we must move beyond localized fights andlauncha national counter-offensive; two, we must radically reset the political, moral, and ideological terms of this fight so that millions understand that this fight is about women’s liberation or women’s enslavement; lastly, and of paramount importance, we must call forth the mass independent political resistance that is necessary to defeat this war on women.

As the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride evolved from conception to genesis, many have responded by with enthusiastic and unequivocal support. Regular people from across the country as well as those who have been on the front lines of the abortion rights struggle are joining with us in demanding abortion rights without compromise and thanking us for daring to travel to where women’s rights face harshest threat.

However, some who share our passion for the cause have raised concerns and even opposition to this action. They fear the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will be too confrontational, too vociferous for abortion, and may turn off avenues of support.
Some have argued that it is wrong for people to come into local areas from the outside. Others argue that mass political protest will endanger the chances of winning important court cases and that it is better to rely on official channels of politics.

Because the future of women is at stake, we feel it is critical to address these concerns head on. In fact, it is exactly the faulty logic at the root of these concerns that has contributed to all of us finding ourselves in such a dire situation.

First, while local ground conditions are different and unique in some ways, the fact that every clinic and every state is facing heightened assault is not unique nor is it local. We all face a national assault on abortion rights which requires a national counter-offensive. Not only is it utterly immoral for us to abandon the women living in the states most under direct duress, it is delusional to think that what happens in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kansas will not come soon to a theater near you. Our futures are bound together and we all share the responsibility to take this on and turn the tide where the attacks are the most severe.

Second, while it is true that a great many people – including many who support abortion rights – are defensive about abortion, they should not be ashamed and this defensiveness and shame is precisely something we must eradicate.

Among the reasons many are defensive about abortion are decades of propaganda by those who oppose women’s equality but posture as defenders of “babies”; meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights have too often been conciliatory, muted, and compromising. This must stop. This fight has never been about babies. It has always been about controlling women. This is why there is not a single major anti-abortion organization that supports birth control.

If we want to turn the tide, we have to tell the truth: there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.

A great many people are hungry for this message. They are furious and searching for a meaningful vehicle to make their outrage felt. It is only by asserting the positive morality of abortion rights that we can call forth and mobilize the tens of thousands who already share our resolve. Only through direct action and a polemical shift can all of us stand together and change how millions of others are thinking. Shouldn’t this emergency situation awaken us to the need to change public opinion, not accommodate it?

History has proven that directly confronting oppressive social norms can be disruptive and scary; yet, it is a necessary and uplifting part of making any significant positive change. Many argued that it was wiser for LGBT people to stay closeted until society was more accepting; others counseled against the Civil Rights Freedom Rides out of fear that it would only rile up the opposition, but it was only when people took that risk and got “in your face” that broader public opinion and actions began to change.

We must create a situation where being anti-abortion is seen to be as socially unacceptable as it is to advocate lynchings, anti-LGBT violence, or rape (although, if you listen to some on the Right, rape advocacy is not necessarily off their table).When we reach that summit, we will be on our way to turning the tide.

Third, while court cases are important – even essential – it is only through truly massive independent political struggle that we stand a chance at defeating the truly unyielding and powerful foe we face. Every setback the anti-abortion movement experiences only makes them more determined and every victory only makes them more aggressive. They will not be appeased if we lie low. No court case or election or new law will stop them. Not only has the existing power structure proven unwilling or unable to do so, people who believe they are on a “mission from God” are not bound by human laws and do not yield to public opinion.

But they can be defeated. Forced motherhood is deeply opposed to the interests of humanity. If we get out there and tell the truth, if we resist, if we clarify the stakes of this battle, and if we mobilize wave upon wave of the masses to get off the sidelines and into the streets with us, we can win. There is a tremendous reservoir of people who can and must be called forth to join in this struggle. We have seen this vividly in Texas. Let us not underestimate the potential that exists in every state across this country.

We stand at a crossroads. For the future of women everywhere, let us refuse the worn pathways that have allowed us to lose so much ground. We must not lay low, hope these attacks will blow over, and allow women in some parts of the country to be forced into mandatory motherhood while hoping to preserve the rights of a shrinking few. We cannot continue to foster the attitude that abortion is the 21st Century’s Scarlet Letter while allowing abortion providers to be further stigmatized and demonized. We cannot recoil from the massive fight that urgently needs fighting at this moment in this time.

Now is the time for courage, for truth telling, for stepping out and launching an uncompromising counter-offensive. We have right on our side. We call on everyone who cares about the future of women to join with us in strengthening the national impact and influence of this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Join with us at our kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco in July 23. Caravan to meet us in North Dakota, Wichita, Kansas, and Jackson, Mississippi. Send a donation or a message of support. Reach out to individuals and religious communities that can provide safe passage to the courageous individuals who are giving up their summers and putting everything they have into winning a different and far better future for women. Most importantly, let us together take the rough road to victory. It may be less traveled, but only through struggle can we reap the benefits of love’s labor won.

To learn more about and get involved with the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, go to:

Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution Newspaper ( and is an initiator of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (

David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman, and blogs for



In August, 1996 I decided to visit an abortion clinic that was located in Phoenix, Arizona.  They had just joined the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, so I thought I would fly out and check them out.  To be honest, I did that as much as I could as a way to make sure the clinic we were now representing was an upstanding facility.

I arrived at the clinic early on a Saturday morning.  I always tried to visit on Saturdays because I knew that, if the clinic had regular protestors, they were more than likely to be there on a Saturday.  When I arrived at about 10:00 a.m. the temperature was already 101 degrees.  Sure, the heat was a little dryer out there but it was still rather oppressive.  As I drove up I counted about 50 protestors – including a group of children who could not have been more than 10 years old.  Being somewhat well known to the pro-life community, one of the protestors recognized me and yelled something about me being a baby killer.  Always eager to talk to my pro-life friends, I ambled over to say hello.   They were actually rather civil (as most of the protestors I met were) and they politely asked me why I “continued to represent these baby butchers.”  No shock, just the usual stuff.  We talked calmly despite the heated words.

Then I asked about the kids.  “Did these children decide to come out here on their own?”



Of course, the parents insisted that their children were there on their own volition and that they understood that “children were being killed in that butcher shop.”  Trying not to be a smarty pants, I just looked at them with a wry grin, as if to say “gimme a break, folks, they don’t know why they’re out here.”

I just couldn’t help thinking that these kids were being used.  But did the parents really think that, on this sweltering Saturday morning, their children preferred to be walking up and down a sidewalk holding pictures of aborted fetuses instead of swimming with their friends at the neighborhood pool?  I watched the protest closely for another thirty minutes and was tempted to go over and ask the kids directly if they wanted to be there, but I held back, not wanting to put them in an awkward position.  On the other hand, if I had asked them if they really wanted to be out there, they may have been so indoctrinated by that point that they may have said they actually preferred being out there to “save the babies.”

Pro-choicers love to criticize how pro-lifers use their kids.  And when you see a situation like this, it’s easy to do so.  On the other hand, I’ve been to many a pro-choice rally and, lo and behold, there are kids in those crowds as well, holding their own signs supporting reproductive rights.

I have two boys and, let’s face it, all parents “indoctrinate” their kids to some extent.  We talk openly about our values, they see us reacting to political campaign commercials and speeches, they hear us arguing with others about the issues of the day.  And while I never sat my kids down and insisted they support the Democratic Party and abortion rights, they somehow wound up in those camps.  So, in some way we’re all guilty of influencing our kids.

But I know these kids did not wake up that morning looking forward to protesting in front of an abortion clinic.  In some way, subtle or not, they were forced to march up and down a sidewalk in very dangerous weather.  I think it’s great that kids get politically active but, as I watched those kids that day, I just wanted to cry.



On Election Day, I was standing outside my polling place minding my own business.  I’m a pretty staunch Democrat and everyone in my area knows it.  But, on this day, I was not handing out literature to voters.  I was just sitting in the background and leaving that work to other younger poll watchers.  There were about seven of us Democrats and just about 30 feet away the Republican Party had their table and their workers were doing the same.  As usual, everything was generally rather civil.

Then, suddenly, over near the Republican table I hear some woman at the top of her lungs say “I know you, Pat Richards, you’re a baby killer!”

Now, as a staff person for the National Coalition of Abortion Providers for 13 years, I had gotten somewhat used to being called names during protests, rallies, etc.  It came with the territory.  I even kind of enjoyed it – it meant they knew who I was.  But it’s been about 8 years since I’ve been in that movement and this was the first time in many years that I had been confronted with something like this in public.



Her screech cut through the chilly wind and pierced my ears.  Interestingly, I found that my heart started palpitating wildly.  I couldn’t believe I was hearing that crap again.  I looked over and made eye contact with this woman, who then yelled out “Yes, Pat, we know you teach people how to perform abortions.”   This absolutely ridiculous statement brought me back down to Earth because now I knew she wasn’t dealing with a full deck.  And now I was intrigued.

I quietly walked over towards her and just said “what are you talking about?”

“Oh, we know who you are and what you do.”



Fair enough, I thought.  I mean, this world famous blog is a public document so in a funny way I was actually flattered that she knew who I was.  So now I really wanted to converse with her, to see if I still had those ole debating skills.  You see, in the years I represented abortion providers, I loved engaging the pro-lifers and enjoyed trying to have a civil conversation about the issue.  I may have been delusional, but I always thought that if I just had a chance to explain why women have abortions and why the doctors put their lives on the line every day, then that person might understand just a little more and be less angry.  I never thought I would convert them, I just wanted them to understand.  But the person I was talking to now felt a little different.

“I know you write that blog where you teach people how to perform abortions.”  I asked her if she had ever read my blog and she said “no, but they have,” and she pointed to a group of 3 or 4 fellow Republicans who were peering at me, as if I had horns.  “If you haven’t read my blog, how do you know what I say?  You know, I do look at things rather objectively and there are times I don’t even agree with the pro-choice folks.  You should really read my stuff.”   No answer.

By this time, others were joining in on both sides.  There was no shouting (my friend did shout but I found out later she was hearing impaired) but it was tense and everyone was just talking over each other.  But my new “friend” and I just kept “talking” (she talked and I listened) and we ultimately learned we had another non-abortion connection in the community.  She then segued into asking me questions about Obama:  “Please tell me, I really want to know, how can you be voting for Obama?”  When I started to answer, she interrupted with “no, really, I really want to try to understand, I want to learn, I want to…..”   And she kept going on and on.  It was a constant monologue.

I had to get away so I told her I had to leave.  I came back about two hours later and she ran up to me and said “Pat, let me ask another question.  You’re really the only one here that I can talk to….”




And then the shooting suddenly stopped…

Between March 1993 and December 1994, the terrorist campaign against abortion providers was relentless.  Over the course of those 20 months, Michael Griffin had crept up behind Doctor Gunn and shot him in the back, Paul Hill put his shotgun to Doctor Britton’s face knowing the doctor wore a bullet proof then took aim at the two other passengers in the car, and John Salvi walked calmly into two clinics and indiscriminately started shooting anyone who happened to be there, killing two clinic workers.  Meanwhile, during this same period, Doctor George Tiller had survived an attempted assassination in Wichita, Kansas.

Then, for almost three years, the guns went silent.

Not that this campaign of “domestic terrorism” ceased altogether.  During those years, there was a rash of butyric acid attacks against clinics.  At night, an assailant would take a syringe that had been filled with the acid and injected it through the keyhole of an abortion clinic. The next day, when clinic staff opened the door, they were hit with the powerful smell that, while it did not kill anyone, sent numerous workers to the hospital.  It also forced abortion clinics to close for days and spends hundreds and thousands of dollars trying to get rid of the toxic element.



Then, on October 28, 1997, Doctor David Gandell, an abortion doctor in Rochester, New York was sitting in his home when a shot went through his window and he was injured by flying glass.  Unfortunately, no one really paid much attention to the incident.  Part of the reason was because the doctor was not well known, he did not go to any meetings, was not public about what he did.  And he was “up there” in Rochester.  Furthermore, he wasn’t killed, he was “only” injured.

So, for a few years, things were relatively calm.  We felt that the Clinton administration’s Department of Justice was on the watch, many doctors started shelving their cumbersome bullet proof vests and we started to let our guard down a little.  We didn’t know that another terrorist by the name of Eric Rudolph was out there plotting.

On July 27, 1996 Rudolph detonated a bomb at the site of the Atlanta Summer Olympic games, killing spectator Alice Hawthorne and wounding 111 others.  Then, in January 1997 he planted a bomb at the Northside Family Planning Center, an abortion clinic in the suburbs of Atlanta but no one was injured so, again, because there were no “bodies,” the media did not cover it well.

Then, on the morning of January 29, 1998, Rudolph left a bomb composed of dynamite surrounded by close-packed nails in some bushes near the entrance to the All Woman New Women abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.  He lingered near the scene holding a remote-control and at 7:33 a.m. he detonated the device when he saw Robert Sanderson, who was providing off-duty security for the clinic, approach the device.  The bomb went off, killing Sanderson instantly.  Also injured severely was a nurse, Emily Lyons, who lost an eye in the explosion.

Clinics across the country went back to red alert status.  Rudolph was quickly identified as the suspect and a manhunt ensued that lasted several years.  There was much evidence that he had escaped into the Appalachian wilderness and over those years, he actually because a folk hero to the yahoos in that part of the country who were so anti-government that they were rooting for Rudolph to elude the authorities.  I even remember seeing a tee shirt for sale that said “Run, Eric, Run.”  It was sick and the authorities became a laughing stock because of their inability to find this man who was living off the earth and eluding them and their sophisticated tracking equipment.

At the same time, on March 7, 1998, Rudolph’s older brother, Daniel, videotaped himself cutting off one of his own hands with a raial arm saw to “send a message to the FBI and the media.” According to Rudolph’s own writings, he survived during his years as a fugitive by camping in the woods, gathering acorns and salamander, pilfering vegetable gardens, stealing grain from a grain silo, and raiding dumpsters in a nearby town.  Finally, Rudolph was arrested in North Carolina on May 31, 2003, by a police officer who saw him rummaging through a garbage disposal behind a convenience store early in the morning.  Years later, Rudolph struck a plea bargain and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole.

With Rudolph in custody, abortion clinics breathed a sigh of relief.

The terror was over for now.  But another terrorist was waiting in the woods behind another doctor’s house.