Call It Terrorism

Tom Flynn

Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism, by David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, ISBN 9780199377558). 336 pp. Hardcover, $29.95.


Between 1993 and 2009, Christian extremists assassinated eight physicians who provided abortion services. (One of them was Dr. Barnett Slepian, who died in his home only a few miles from Free Inquiry’s editorial offices in 1998. I knew Dr. Slepian; my wife worked beside him as a counselor during hundreds of abortion procedures.) Harrowing as that may seem, it was the tip of the iceberg. Doctors, nurses, counselors, other clinic workers, and even landlords were subject to relentless harassment. Six years have passed since a doctor has been killed (the last was George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, who was shot at close range while ushering in church), promoting a false impression that the intensity of antiabortion activism has flagged. In fact, lower-order harassment has never stopped—and when I say “lower-order,” I mean only in relation to murder.

Though abortion remains legal, the procedure has become ever more difficult to access as physicians discontinue abortion care and clinics close. Partly, this is due to increasingly restrictive legislation in some conservative states; much of the rest results directly from ongoing harassment by Christian radicals. In Living in the Crosshairs, law-school professor David S. Cohen and young attorney Krysten Connon blend able historical reportage with wide-ranging interviews with abortion providers from all parts of the country and from every level of the health-care system. As Cohen and Connon demonstrate, harassment is too mild a word to describe what these men and women undergo. The more accurate word is terrorism, and the authors do not hesitate to apply it to characterize the tactics of the radical antiabortion Christian Right.

If, like many Americans, you thought the intensity of antiabortion activism had declined since the bad old days of mass clinic sit-ins and killings of doctors, read Living in the Crosshairs and think again. The war against legal abortion still grinds on. And right now, despite the bravery and determination of health-care professionals determined to keep their clinics open (many of whom you will meet in the book, though under assumed names) the terrorists are winning.



Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).

A review of Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism, by David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon.

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