The Choice Is Yours

December 30, 1994 was the second day of infamy in this country.

That day, a radical anti-abortion activist named John Salvi murdered two employees–Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38–at two Planned Parenthood facilities in Brookline, Massachusetts, and shot and wounded five others. He was later apprehended in Norfolk, Virginia after attacking another women’s health clinic.

This domestic terrorist was found guilty of murder in March 1996; he hanged himself in his prison cell just a few months later. (In 1997, his conviction was posthumously vacated on a technicality.)

Salvi was one of many depraved anti-abortion zealots who couldn’t stand the fact that women had the right to choose in this country. As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted earlier this year:

Some of the people who were witnesses to [the Salvi] shooting were people who were there at the clinic working as clinic escorts because of the hostile and intimidating and occasionally violent intense protests that had been happening regularly outside of those clinics.

That day when John Salvi went into the two clinics in Brookline and
opened fire and he shot all those people, there were antiabortion protesters right outside the clinic when he did it, as he did it. At the Brookline Planned Parenthood where he killed a 25-year-old receptionist that day, the protesters outside the clinic [attempted] to intimidate people [by] filming everybody as they arrived to work at the clinic, filming
people as they arrived to volunteer, filming people who were working as escorts for patients coming into the clinic. And they filmed the patients, themselves, including taking great pains to be seen videotaping their license plates, trying to be very intimidating and very scary to people so they wouldn`t go into that clinic.

But that day when John Salvi got into that clinic and shot it up and he killed the receptionist and wounded other people, as they brought the bodies of the wounded and the killed out of that clinic that day, the antiabortion protesters in the parking lot, they kept filming. They filmed that, too.

I was seventeen years old when the Salvi shooting happened, and it rattled me to the core. Growing up in Massachusetts, I frankly took legal abortion for granted; in the Bay State, even the Republicans were pro-choice (and still are, as it turns out). I was stunned to learn that there were so many folks who were still angry over the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling…so angry that they would actually result to murder in order to effectively overturn the ruling.

As Maddow has noted over the years, the radical anti-abortion movement has seemingly grown stronger and stronger in the years since Salvi’s terrorist attack. Anti-abortion radicalism has also been legitimized in our media: remember Bill O’Reilly’s crusade against Kansas physician George Tiller, a crusade that only ended when Tiller was assassinated in 2009?

Every day that we allow access to legal abortion to be restricted anywhere in this country, we give aid and comfort to these radicals. Every day that we choose not to stand up in absolute defense of a woman’s right to choose, we give another victory to these deranged deviants. Every day that we turn a blind eye to the importance of defending Roe, we help the haters.

The Salvi shootings were a savage signal that a woman’s right to choose is literally under assault in this country. The radical anti-abortion terrorist network in the United States is far more dangerous than ISIS. These people want to murder democracy just as much as they want to murder doctors who provide reproductive services.

We need to defend women’s reproductive rights with renewed intensity in this country. We need to demand that every man and woman we elect pledge allegiance to the sacred right to choose. We need to insist that Roe v. Wade be accorded the same respect we accord to Brown v. Board of Education.

Twenty years ago, my heart broke for Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, two bright, beautiful, bold young women who were mercilessly slaughtered by a right-wing fiend who decided to do with a bullet what he could not do with a ballot. Twenty years later, my heart breaks again, because I know I haven’t been as vigilant in defending a woman’s right to choose as I should have been. I know I let choice slip way down on my list of political priorities. I know I didn’t remember their heroism and their legacy.

Although they are gone, felled by a fanatic, I apologize to Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols for not being as vigilant as I should have been in defending a woman’s right to choose. I ask their families for forgiveness. I promise that I will stand up for choice, and I will demand that those who ask for my vote stand up for choice as well.

The opponents of a woman’s right to choose won’t be able to achieve their goals if they are held to account by concerned citizens. With your help, we at the Washington Monthly will continue to expose those who want to wind the clock back to the dark pre-Roe era. Please consider a tax-deductible donation today. Thank you.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.