Immediately after the assassination of Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of his church in Wichita, Kansas just over two years ago, anti-choice leaders who had long used stridently violent language to describe Dr. Tiller specifically and abortion care generally, fell all over themselves proclaiming innocence of any connection to the murder. Among these was Troy Newman, current president of Operation Rescue, who stated:
“We are shocked at this morning’s disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down… Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning.”
But the fact is that Newman and his cohorts regularly used imagery and language that depicted Dr. Tiller himself as a monster and in many ways indirectly if not directly suggested him as a target for someone willing to commit a violent act. That someone turned out to be Scott Roeder, who had, it turns out, several links to Operation Rescue.
And, as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Any doubt of Newman’s own gruesome feelings of glee about Dr. Tiller’s murder can be summed up in a photo showing Newman standing at the site of Dr. Tiller’s assassination giving a thumbs up.
Operation Rescue and other anti-choicers have now turned their sights on Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who is providing late abortion care to women in need several times a month in Germantown, Maryland. During the several hours I spent on three days in Germantown, to help with clinic defense, I saw suggestions of violent action everywhere, courtesy of the anti-choicers marshaled by Operation Rescue and its colleague organizations.
First, for example, there was the truck plastered with photos of what the anti-choicers claim are mangled fetuses. These photos, whether real or not, are obviously distasteful, and meant to be so. But they are also misleading if not outright fake. If, for example, a woman is carrying a fetus that has died in utero, and it is removed for her own mental and physical health, it may well look grisly. So would, for example, heart surgery. But the implication without context is that someone is killing near-born babies without reason. Using photos-and science for that matter–that is either created entirely for shock value or so grossly misrepresents reality as to have no relation is a primary strategy of the anti-choice movement.
But also plastered across this truck, amidst the “dead baby” photos were photos of Dr. Tiller and those of Dr. Carhart. Those of Dr. Tiller pronounced him “dead,” and tho
se of Dr. Carhart had large yellow arrows fixed around the perimeter with the word “Abortionist” in large black block letters, pointing to Dr. Carhart. The message, if not explicit, is nonetheless clear: “One of these men is dead, the other is still working. Whaddya gonna do about it?”
Then there were the sidewalk chalk drawings, pictured here.
These drawings, which were one version of other drawings that appeared on a different day as well, were drawn out by teenagers “called in” by OR to help out with th protest.
Among these on Sunday were the sayings:
- Would it bother us more if they used guns?
- What would Jesus do? (with a gun)
- Would it bother us if they used guns?
A drawing of an exploding gun as at the bottom of this row of chalk drawings.
Again, these images have two purposes. One is to suggest violence is an answer to something that anti-choicers don’t like, namely, women exercising self-determination in their lives by determining whether and when to have children, taking control over their own reproduction and sexual health, and safeguarding their own and their family’s health when a wanted pregnancy goes horribly awry.
The other is to intimidate those who are protecting women seeking care, and doctors who serve them. What would come to your mind if you walked the street toward your doctor’s office and there were exploding guns sketched on the sidewalk leading up to the office door?
Operation Rescue and other anti-choice groups such as those in Germantown use religion and piety to advance a patriarchal agenda cloaked in religious fervor.
But it is violence by any other name.