On Monday, an Alabama district court blocked the admitting privileges law that would have closed three out of the state’s five abortion clinics. Coming right on the heels of the court smackdown of Mississippi’s similar law, the decision is another heartening blow to the anti-choice strategy of regulating clinics out of existence. The judge was crystal clear: ”If this requirement would not, in the face of all the evidence in the record, constitute an impermissible undue burden, then almost no regulation, short of those imposing an outright prohibition on abortion, would.”
But, to play the feminist buzzkill role for a second, the case–in which the few abortion providers in Alabama testified behind black curtains to conceal their identities–also shows just how fucked up the status quo is. At Cosmo, Jill Filipovic has a great rundown of how the ruling offers “a staggering look at how anti-abortion activism, violence, and laws work in concert to keep abortion stigmatized and doctors living in fear.”
Alabama doctors testified compellingly about the fear they live under. One doctor was tailed by an anti-abortion activist and feared he would run her car off the road. Another protestor threatened that “they were coming for [her]” in her home in Atlanta. She not only has a home security system now but has agreed to FBI surveillance of her home. When she drives from Atlanta to the Alabama clinic, she disguises her clothing, covers her face, and rents different cars each time. Another doctor, who worked at two clinics that were terrorized, also drives different cars every time she makes the trip to the clinic. She gets her personal mail only through a PO box. A third doctor carries a gun and can’t even go grocery shopping in his hometown because protestors harass him.
Other doctors have stopped performing abortions because the harassment was so intense. Anti-abortion activists leaked personal information, including Social Security numbers, home addresses, and names of family members, to anti-abortion websites, leading those doctors to fear for the safety of themselves and their families.
This week’s decision is a victory for Alabama women, who will continue to have some abortion access in most metropolitan areas. But the trial itself and the details of the decision offer a stunning indictment not only of the anti-abortion movement, but of an American political establishment too cowardly to stand up for the right of doctors to not be terrorized out of providing a legal medical procedure. When doctors are so terrified that they will only testify in open court behind a black curtain, something is very wrong. When doctors are so terrified that the overwhelming majority of them won’t perform this procedure at all, leading a physician who should be retired to fly in from Nigeria because if she doesn’t, no one else will fill her shoes, something is very wrong.
Yes, the admitting privileges law would very concretely contribute to the death of abortion providers in Alabama, but the ”climate of extreme hostility” to the procedure — reinforced by the violence of anti-choice extremists as well as legislative attacks — seems to be working as a pretty effective way of denying many women access all by itself.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.