Today is “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.”
It is a day where supporters of abortion rights acknowledge, in some way, the contributions of their local abortion providers (doctors, staff and/or owners). When I was at the National Coalition of Abortion Providers years ago, it was encouraging to see pro-choicers across the country sending flowers, making calls of support or finding other ways to acknowledge the contributions of abortion providers. Until then, there always seemed to be a chasm between those who were “pro-choice” and those who were part of the actual abortion process.
This day – March 10 – was selected as “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day” because in 1993 on this date, Doctor David Gunn became the first abortion doctor to be killed by a pro-life activist. Doctor Gunn was approaching the back door of the Pensacola Medical Services, one of the many clinics down south where he worked, when a man named Michael Griffin walked up to him and shot him several times at point blank range. Doctor Gunn died instantly. Ironically, there was a gun for protection in David’s glove compartment.
I got the call about two hours later. In many ways, I wasn’t shocked. Those of us in the abortion provider community had seen the harassment, the threats, the stalking, the butyric acid attacks and, yes, the bombings, escalate over the years. We knew it was just a matter of time before someone went all the way and killed one of our doctors. When it finally happened, it was national news, the front story in all the newspapers and the network news.
A year later, someone came up with the idea of using March 10 for something positive, versus wallowing in despair over David’s murder. Instead, it was suggested that one way to honor him was to honor those who followed in his footsteps. So, groups like the Fund for the Feminist Majority and the National Organization for Women got their troops to inundate the clinics with thank you calls and notes. Some actually held vigils outside the clinics with signs thanking those inside. It was all very gratifying and I know that our doctors and clinic staff really appreciated the efforts.
So, today I just want to use my moment to once again thank those doctors who walk into the clinic every day knowing that someone could walk up behind them with a gun. As we saw in the case of the late George Tiller, these doctors can find no sanctuary from the violence. Just imagine for a second the feeling of going to your office knowing you could be gone in an instant. Think about the security guard at the Birmingham All Women’s clinic who walked up the pathway to open up the facility, only to be blown up by an explosive device planted by Eric Rudolph. Or Baird Britton, driving up to The Ladies Center in Pensacola in 1994, seeing Mr. Paul Hill, a regular presence at the clinic, walk up to him with a shotgun, blasting away. I could go on and on.
And these doctors and staff are putting themselves into these life-threatening situations because a handful of women made an appointment at the clinic a few days earlier after making the difficult decision to terminate their pregnancy. No one forced those women to make that call, they did it on their own volition. And, as history has shown us, if these doctors were not there for these women, many of those women would have resorted to other, unsafe measures.
Kudos to the doctors, the staff, the owners and their families for being there.