“They’re killing babies there.”
Apparently, it wasn’t the first time that Francis Grady, the man pleading guilty to charges of arson against a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood, had interrupted the Green Bay federal judge. “Do you know how many babies are being killed at the clinic?” he demanded. He had interrupted once before, asking the presiding federal judge if he knew about “the 1,000 babies they killed from that place,” and again, when he told his arresting officers that he had ” lit up the clinic,” after breaking a window and using gasoline to start a fire inside the clinic. While no one was inside the clinic at the time, the fire did damage to an exam room, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. “Hey, I’m here to do good, not wrong” he said as he left court, with the weight of two counts on his back: “one count of arson of a building used in interstate commerce and one count of intentionally damaging a facility that provides reproductive health services.” If convicted of both, Gary may serve up to 21 years in a federal prison, as well as pay a $350,000 fine.
So, forgive me if I’m having a hard time understanding why this doesn’t count as domestic terrorism.
Terrorism is a big word, often with an even bigger, more frightening connotation, one that often emotionally charged with visions of large-scale disasters and politically laced language that’s meant to keep justifying things like The Patriot Act or multiple wars and occupations. But terrorism has no universal “meaning,” no agreed-upon, legally binding, criminal-law definition, leaving anything that perhaps does not fall within a prescribed, cemented definition of “terror” into an act that becomes a lesser sum of its parts: a bombing, a fire, an assault – and so on.
But terrorism, for the most part, stops around here, especially in tandem with reproductive rights. However, given the history of anti-choice movements, its hard to not look at the effort as a decades-long attempt at terrorizing anyone who walks through a clinic door to make a personal health decision that is under said legal protection. Perhaps if it were just the stray protesters, the ones that seem to dedicate every Saturday they have to standing outside of clinics with signs emblazoned with Jesus and grotesque fetuses, proclaiming that this is what an abortion looks like, screaming at anyone who dares to walk to the clinic, maybe then many could at least take comfort in the fact that legally, even under the worst circumstances of those who abuse that precious First Amendment right, that we who are making these decisions are at least protected in some fashion, even while opponents, separated by bulletproof glass, scream at how we are damned to hell. Even that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.
But to even imagine that scenario, a scenario in which one is just privileged enough (and I mean that with all the thinly veiled sarcasm I can) to be harassed only by threats of violence, is to ignore the fact that it is part of years upon years of anti-choice efforts carefully crafted by legislators, funded by tax dollars, and all but cheered on with a frothing-at-the-mouth type of political obsessiveness to make reproductive health and care completely inaccessible. By creating these turbulent environments that are backed both by legislatures and manipulative rhetoric that consistently references “baby killers” or “baby terrorist,” as the late Dr. George Tiller was often named, it becomes not only a mission but a good mission to take out a family planning center in an effort to “save” babies. Never mind the persons that actually might be in there.
But the idea still comes back to the circular logic from whence it started. No one is aching to get an abortion, no one is dying to take Plan B, no one makes these trips just for the hell of it. Yet, somehow all who enter any clinic’s doors are painted as the ones who are inflicting violence – a type that is justified by murders and assassinations (eight successful and 17 attempted), death threats (383), assaults (153), bombings and arsons (41 and 173), attempted bomb threats (91) and acts of both trespassing and vandalism (1630 and 1264), all in the name of “saving lives.” Perhaps this discussion would feel a little less black and white if those so intent on making an already stressful and often emotionally fraught experience an even worse one found themselves in a similar situation, where the normalcy of life has been upended, regardless of whether the pregnancy was wanted – but I’m leaning toward not. One has to assume that someone like Grady, a middle-aged, white, able-bodied male, will probably never know what it is like to have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, or a failed pregnancy, or hell, even pick up a prescription for birth control, get a pap smear, or have a check up.He had already planned violence; he has lost any sort of empathetic reasoning or understanding of what it might be like to be in a situation unlike his own. One could also assume that these incidents aren’t part of the larger scale social fabric and are isolated, random acts of violence committed by extremists. One could assume a lot.
But it doesn’t matter, because many know otherwise. The staff at the Green Bay Planned Parenthood know it, as do their patients. Almost anyone who has ever walked through the doors of a clinic knows it. They know in the back of their minds that there are people out there who think they deserve to be terrorized, that they are killers instead of patients seeking health care. I also know that when Harry Seldon said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” that it just rings too way close to home.
Terrorism isn’t always the large, scary unknown, wrapped in the context of “the other.” Terrorism is the smaller acts that add up, day after day; the acts that insist a woman have a forced trans vaginal sonogram or receive christian counseling before seeking an abortion. It’s walking past protesters who scream that you will burn in hell, you are a murderer, a horrible person, and how if they could, they would do awful things to you. Terrorism is setting a clinic on fire in the name of babies, hoping that finally, one day, too many will be scared to go back, because what if they don’t end up coming out alive?
Maybe I am overstepping here, beating up a case that needs not be. But as each day rolls by, with more news that confirms the fact that reproductive health care and access are considered offenses that need to be struck down by both law and violence, I cannot help but begin to suspect that it is what it has revealed itself to be.