These doors stay open image from Planned Parenthood.

None of this is normal

After the shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs this weekend, President Obama said, “This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal.” He was specifically pleading — yet again — for the nation to not accept another instance of mass gun violence. But it’s a pertinent reminder when it comes to violence against abortion clinics in general.

Fatal attacks on clinics, at least, may be rare enough that they can still inspire shock. Then again, eight murders and 17 attempted murders since 1977, not including the violence this weekend, is not normal. Forty-two bombings and 186 arsons is not normal. And because these potentially deadly attacks are just the extreme end of a spectrum of violence and intimidation directed at abortion clinics — from harassment to threats to vandalism — they don’t need to be that common for them to do the work that all terrorism does so well: instill a culture of fear.

That work is done and has been done. The ever-present threat of violence at abortion clinics is so thoroughly normalized that it’s difficult to even notice when there’s a change in the status quo. In recent months, abortion providers — and the FBI — have tried to sound the alarm about an uptick in harassment, threats, and arson against clinics since the release of the attack videos against Planned Parenthood. A ninefold increase in incidents of harassment is not normal, they said. Four arsons in four months is not normal. But to the public, and politicians, it apparently seems normalish, normal enough.

So let’s take a second to recalibrate our sense of normalcy here.

It is not normal that people in need of reproductive health care have to walk through metal detectors and gauntlets of protesters shouting that they’ll burn in hell in order to get it. And it is not normal that the doctors providing that care often wear bullet proof vests to work and see their photos plastered on Wanted posters around their communities.

It is most definitely not normal that the recent increase in violent threats and attacks against abortion providers stems directly from a coordinated effort between extremist anti-choice activists and Republican lawmakers to demonize Planned Parenthood.

It is not normal that members of the United States Congress held hours-long hearings just to repeat the wholly discredited, utterly fabricated, almost laughably sensationalistic accusation of an extreme anti-choice group that Planned Parenthood is “selling baby parts.” I know that a respect for the facts is so absent from Congressional debate on many issues that it feels normal, but it’s not.

It is, in fact, not normal that, nationwide, elected officials at every level of government feel entirely comfortable calling caring and dedicated OB-GYNs and many of their own constituents — millions of us — “baby killers” and “child murderers.” It is not normal that one of the major political parties in the United States stands to gain more from pandering to the most radical members of the anti-choice movement than it stands to lose from vilifying one in three American women.

It is not normal that American presidential candidates proudly accept endorsements from anti-choice extremists who have argued that the assassination of abortion doctors is “justifiable homicide.”

It is not normal that even as anti-choice politicians and organizations predictably rushed — or, rather, took their sweet time — to denounce the Colorado terrorist’s actions as those of a lone madman, many of them still couldn’t pass up the chance to portray the abortions the clinic performs as morally equivalent to the deaths of three living, breathing human beings.

Take Mike Huckabee: “There’s no excuse for killing other people, whether it’s inside … Planned Parenthood clinics, where many millions of babies die, or whether it’s people attacking Planned Parenthood.” Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Personhood USA said that the organization “opposes all abortion-related violence, against born and unborn people.”

There is nothing normal about that.

In the same breath, of course, these anti-choicers dismissed the idea that their rhetoric — rhetoric that portrays abortion as a “Holocaust,” doctors as “executioners,” and reproductive health clinics as “abortion mills” where babies are killed for profit — has anything at all to do with the attacks against abortion providers as nothing more than — in Carly Fiorina’s words — “typical left-wing tactics.”

This is gaslighting at its finest. To have created an environment in which both violent rhetoric and actual violence against abortion providers is so normalized that we’re the crazy ones for suggesting that there might — just maybe — be a connection between the two.

Header image credit: Planned Parenthood

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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