What local abortion activists fear now

Planned Parenthood Rally
Abortion activists demonstrate in solidarity following the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs. (Morgan Gilbard/Medill)

By Morgan Gilbard

Raven Geary fears for her own life when she goes to work.

For five years, Geary has been a clinic escort at various women’s health centers in Chicago. Her bright pink clinic escort vest isn’t bulletproof and especially since the Nov. 27 attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, she’s been worried. “Whenever there’s a lull in anti-choice terrorism, I get sort of like, ‘Okay, things are going okay,” said Geary. “And then it happens again. Like, ‘Oh, shoot.”

Geary demonstrated with approximately 30 other abortion activists in solidarity with Planned Parenthood at a rally in the Loop on Dec. 1. “You never know who could show up at the facilities we work at,” said rally organizer Benita Ulisano, the president of the Clinic Vest Project, which provides the bright smocks that allow women to easily identify allies who can escort them past anti-abortion protesters. “We just want people to realize how important safe and legal abortion is and it’s a right we need to protect.”

Attacks on providers have killed 11 people and seriously injured 26 others, with the majority of the murders occurring in the 1990s, according to the National Abortion Federation. “I’m feeling like we’re going back to that time and that scares me,” said Benita Ulisano, the president of the Clinic Vest Project who organized the rally out of fear that something similar could happen in Chicago.

Planned Parenthood Rally
Abortion activists demonstrate in solidarity at the Planned Parenthood rally following the attack in Colorado Springs. (Morgan Gilbard/Medill)

To Ulisano and many of her peers at the rally, protection of abortion rights translates into the protection of citizens and abortion providers. The view follows an evolving national narrative that connects anti-abortion advocacy with violence against providers, despite many anti-abortion figures publicly condemning it.

“The pro-life movement does not condone violence and it never has,” said Gabby Carsello, president of Students for Life at Northwestern University. “I believe that we should respect the lives of each and every person, including those who work in the abortion industry. What happened at the Planned Parenthood was tragic and should have never happened.”

Ulisano’s fears that violence cripples access to abortion are partially supported by a 2010 RAND study conducted for the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Previous spikes in violence against abortion providers coincided with an 8-9 percent decrease in abortions and a 6-9 percent decrease in abortion providers. Researchers also concluded that the impact on abortion and its availability was greater in areas where anti-abortion violence resulted in murder.

Ulisano and her peers worry more about these areas, as well as places where access is shrinking already. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 87 percent of U.S. counties do not have a single abortion provider.

Despite these figures, RAND researchers ultimately concluded that anti-abortion “terrorists were ultimately unsuccessful in obstructing the market.”

Meanwhile, the aftermath of the shooting not only included debates on abortion, but also gun control. Investigators have not given any indication that gunman Robert Dear suffered from a mental illness—a factor that is often raised after a mass shooting. However, some at the rally said that no explanation for the shooting could alleviate the need for gun reform.

“It’s more of the same. It’s not something particularly unusual in this country,” Ben Merrell said, as he held a “Support Legal Abortion” sign. “We’ve gotten kind of used to it as a background noise.”

Ulisano agrees. “I’m tired of people blaming it on mental illness. Make no mistake, this is domestic terrorism,” she said to crowd. “And even if it is mental illness, it’s still through the lens of patriarchy.”

Photo at top:Abortion activists demonstrate in solidarity following the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs. (Morgan Gilbard/Medill)