Reproaction, a non-profit that advocates increased abortion access and reproductive justice, organized a vigil attended by H*yas for Choice for victims of the recent Planned Parenthood clinic shooting in Colorado outside the Supreme Court on Monday.
Around 25 people attended the vigil, which was Reproaction’s first official event since university alumna Erin Matson (COL ’02) founded the organization in August. Speakers included Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), representatives from National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.
According to H*yas for Choice member Michaela Lewis (COL ’18), who attended the vigil, the student group did not take part in planning the event but did encourage members of the university community to attend. Lewis stressed the urgent need to address the violence that hinders reproductive justice.
“The war on reproductive justice and abortion care in the United States is one that has been fought for decades, and it is devastating that it has taken such a wanton act of brutality to bring this structural violence against women to public consciousness,” Lewis wrote in an email to The Hoya. “These events have not occurred in isolation, and now more than ever we cannot talk about women’s rights without talking about gun control.”
The shooting took place at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs last Friday. Suspected gunman Robert Lewis Dear Jr. opened fire in the clinic, killing three and wounding nine others. The three victims included a police officer, an Iraq war veteran and a mother of two. Police apprehended Dear after a five-hour standoff with law enforcement.
Matson led the crowd through moments of silence for not only those killed in Colorado, but also for all abortion and reproductive-health providers who have been targeted and killed in the past. Since 1977, there have been eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 arsons targeted at abortion clinics.
Matson emphasized Reproaction’s aim to advocate for reproductive- health rights and reduce acts of violence against abortion providers.
“It’s no secret that reproductive- health rights are under extreme attack and losing, and Reproaction is a new organization looking to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice,” Matson said. “We know it’s time to stop losing and start winning – we think it’s time to shake things up.”
Matson said that as soon as the news from Colorado reached her office, she knew Reproaction needed to act in solidarity and demonstrate support from the pro-choice community.
“We saw the tragedy in Colorado and were immediately sickened and filled with resolve that we needed to provide a space for people to come together and say ‘No, we’re not going to let this continue any longer,’” Matson said. “We’re here to create space for more power within the movement so we are able to end the attacks on abortion and to see reproductive justice more broadly.”
Lewis similarly highlighted the importance of addressing crimes against abortion providers by placing the issue in a broader context.
“Shootings, bombings and arson are mere examples of the violent crime that has been perpetrated against providers of safe and legal abortions just in the past few years,” Lewis wrote. “It should go without saying that these explicit crimes do not include the political measures that are being taken by legislators to shut down clinics across the United States.”
Maston argued that incendiary rhetoric contributes to the targeting of abortion clinics, highlighting the words of Dear, who reportedly said “No more baby parts” to law enforcement following his arrest.
“The climate of bullying and incendiary rhetoric must end. It has consequences and it’s been going on for far too long,” Matson said. “For too long, this country has tolerated telling women who have abortions that they are murderers and women who use birth control that they are sluts. For too long, this country has tolerated the ongoing epidemic of terrorism targeting abortion providers.”
Lewis emphasized the role violence against women plays in driving attempts to prevent the advancement of reproductive rights.
“It is in this climate that anti-choice rhetoric takes wing, telling women that we are not worthy of bodily autonomy, of controlling our own reproduction or of choice,” Lewis wrote. “It should come as no surprise that in a world where there are individuals actively working to take away women’s freedom, there are individuals willing to take the lives of those who attempt to preserve it.”
As the vigil continued, Matson asked attendees to consider the role pro-life movements may play in violence against clinics. She argued that by demonizing abortion receivers and providers, such groups fuel a climate of hate that inevitably evolves into violence.
“The pro-life movement needs to turn it down. It’s time to stop telling the one-in-three women in this country who have abortions that they are murderers,” Matson said. “This broader culture where we can just say anything as horrible as we can think of about abortion providers is dangerous.”
President of GU Right to Life Michael Khan (COL ’18) maintained that the pro-life movement does not seek to be divisive, and refuted Matson’s statement (full disclosure: Khan is a columnist for The Hoya).
“Abortion is actually on the decline in the United States … So, that’s a totally false narrative and incorrect statement. Women are increasingly choosing life,” Khan wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Concerning those who choose abortion, pro-lifers, particularly those of us at Georgetown, do not advocate demonization, but rather liberation. … The only goal our ‘rhetoric’ seeks to accomplish is to promote a culture of life, for both the born and the preborn.”
Lilly Flashner (COL ’17), a member of student group Georgetown University Right to Life, echoed Khan’s sentiments, stating that the pro-life movement advocates reconciliation on the issue, rather than violence.
“It’s frankly contrary to reason to impute the violence of lone extremists to the pro-life movement. This man acted in ways contrary to the very rationale of the pro-life position, which maintains the only true consistent defense of the protection of life,” Flashner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “An authentic pro-life view gives witness to the reality that any society that accepts serious violence to its most vulnerable subjects breeds more pervasive violence in every other aspect of society.”
The GU Right to Life board also issued a statement in response to the shooting condemning the violence.
“The pro-life position advocates peace and dialogue with those of opposing viewpoints, never violence. We condemn violence of any kind against Planned Parenthood, abortionists, or any abortion industry workers,” GU Right to Life wrote on its Facebook page. “The board members will continue to pray for the victims of this senseless act and their families; we hope that you will join us.”
Following Matson’s remarks, NARAL Field Director Mitchell Stille voiced concern for the current state of reproductive health care in the United States and the security of those seeking care.
“No one should be afraid of making their own healthcare decisions, whether it’s accompanying a friend or a loved one to a doctor, no one believes they are going to a healthcare provider and be harassed, terrorized or be killed,” Stille said. “The federal government should call these attacks exactly what they are: domestic terrorism.”
Schakowsky recalled her prior political experience and how support for abortion and the pro-choice movement has evolved.
“We are in a fight that we did not pick, but this is a fight that we will win,” Schakowsky said. “When I got to Congress over 17 years ago, we had a bipartisan pro-choice caucus and there was no shame at all. Now, I have never seen in my life such a blatant attack on women’s health and women’s reproductive rights on abortion. It has only gotten worse.”
Washington, D.C., resident Kelsey Ruewe attended the vigil and said she was concerned about the effects of violent rhetoric on clinic safety and reproductive healthcare providers in light of the shooting.
“Hateful rhetoric and false things have the potential to blow things out of proportion and be used to justify violence against people, and it’s starting to show,” Ruewe said.
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