Year in Review: Abortion rights, clinics under growing attacks in 2015

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

More than 300,000 Americans and a coalition of 140 progressive groups want the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the deadly shooting at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as an act of domestic terrorism.

“We, the undersigned, urge the Department of Justice to investigate the recent attacks on reproductive-health clinics using all appropriate federal statutes, including domestic terrorism,” read an appeal sent in December to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. “Since the release of the first deceptively edited video from the Center for Medical Progress intended to vilify Planned Parenthood, and, by proxy, all abortion providers, anti-choice extremists have launched an unprecedented and multi-pronged assault against women’s reproductive rights.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America, UltraViolet, CREDO Action, Courage Campaign and others said the November shooting was politically motivated.

“People are dying, clinics are burning — and only a domestic terrorism investigation can help us find out who is driving this violence,” said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet. 

Thomas cited acts of violence at other clinics in five states in 2015 intended to terrorize women and “scare them away from accessing health care.”

Since 1977, there have been 11 murders and more than 220 bombings and arson attacks at abortion facilities in the United States, according to the National Abortion Foundation.

The request for investigation was made days before shooting suspect Robert Dear, accused of killing three people and injuring nine in the Colorado attack, stepped into a courtroom on Dec. 9 and declared himself a “warrior for the babies.”

Leaders of the progressive groups said politicians should be held accountable for the irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric that fuels such thinking and the resulting violence.

Planned Parenthood redoubled clinic security after the shooting and, in many states, the organization’s supporters marched on their capitols in displays of solidarity. A national day of solidarity was observed on Dec. 5. In Wisconsin, activists gathered at the Capitol on Dec. 10.

“While we’ve seen the continuation of hateful rhetoric toward Planned Parenthood by those who oppose our work, their voice clearly does not represent the majority,” said Teri Huyck, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “Our resolve to keep our doors open is stronger than the continued political rhetoric calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, because we care deeply for the people who rely on us for high-quality, nonjudgmental care.”

Throughout 2015, supporters of Planned Parenthood, which serves more than 60,000 women and men each year in Wisconsin, put up a defense against repeated GOP legislative efforts to cut funding and restrict access to health care in Wisconsin, other states and at the federal level.

In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit rejected Wisconsin’s efforts to reinstate a restriction on access to abortion. The appeals panel affirmed the decision of U.S. District Judge William Conley that the state’s admitting privileges law, which requires physicians who prescribe so-called “morning after” pills and perform abortions, to be affiliated with a nearby hospital. Conley said the measure places an undue burden on women’s access to safe and legal abortions. The circuit court panel said the law does nothing to support patient safety.

“To those who go to shocking extremes to shut us down, know this: These doors stay open,” Huyck vowed.

IN 2015

Lawmakers in 16 states, including Wisconsin, passed nearly 50 bills restricting access to abortion in 2015, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Two state legislatures — Wisconsin’s and West Virginia’s — voted to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Five legislatures voted to lengthen waiting periods for abortions.

— L.N.

Talking about 2015

The most prominent theme to emerge among users on Dictionary.com was in the expanding and increasingly fluid nature of conversations about gender and sexuality, and also racial identity.

This led the online reference service to name “identity” the 2015 Word of the Year.

— Lisa Neff