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As Congress protects the Supreme Court, abortion providers ask: ‘Where is our security?'

Congress quickly passed a bill to provide police security for Supreme Court justices' family members. Meanwhile, abortion providers get daily threats.
/ Source: TODAY

On Tuesday, the U.S. House passed a bill to provide police protection for Supreme Court justices' family members, sending it to President Joe Biden.

As the bill swiftly worked it way through Congress in the wake of the backlash to the draft Roe v. Wade ruling, abortion providers have been struck by the reaction, and some shared with TODAY Parents the threats and harassment they and their families face regularly.

After a draft was leaked of a Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade, people in favor of abortion rights have been protesting outside the homes of conservative Supreme Court justices, including Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the draft decision, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

An armed man was arrested last week near Justice Kavanaugh's house after he called 911 on himself.

“Supreme Court justices shouldn’t be subject to intimidation and violence,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., tweeted after the vote. 

“My daughter has a different last name than me. ... I wanted her to have that additional degree of separation from me for her safety.”

Dr. Diane Horvath, OB-GYN and abortion provider.

Abortion providers say their families deserve the same level of protection.

“My daughter has a different last name than me. Part of the reason I did not give her my last name is because I wanted her to have that additional degree of separation from me for her safety,” Dr. Diane Horvath, an OB-GYN and abortion provider in both Maryland and Alabama, told TODAY Parents. “I can’t live in a world where I can’t do this work — it’s that important and that essential. But we take a lot of risks on a daily basis just to be able to get to where we need to be and do the things we need to do.”

Related: These moms had abortions. Here’s how they feel about the leaked Roe v. Wade opinion

In 2015, Horvath discovered she was listed on an anti-abortion group’s website as a member of the “abortion cartel.” The site posted her work address and her medical license, published her divorce documents and information about her ex-husband, and shared pictures of Horvath and her then-15-month-old daughter.

Later, she wrote an op-ed published in The Washington Post about the types of anti-abortion harassment doctors like herself face on a regular basis.

“I got lots of threats on Twitter and messages on Facebook, and I received mail at my place of work,” Horvath said. “Thankfully, no mail came to my home. But also, I am a renter, so I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t have my name on anything that’s a public record in terms of my address. And that was deliberate. We were considering buying a house a few years ago and then thought, ‘Maybe not now. Maybe it’s better to be a renter for now.’”

Related: What is an abortion fund? How people are accessing care despite legal restrictions

When traveling to Alabama to provide abortion care, Horvath never flies into an airport close to where she works or stays at the same hotel. She tries to mix up the routes she takes to and from the clinic, and only stays for a few days before flying back home.

“I do fear that the work is going to follow me home in some way,” Horvath said. “But you know, we do what we can do to stay as safe as possible.”

Since 1977, anti-abortion activists have killed 11 abortion workers and attempted to kill 26 more, according to the National Abortion Federation, a professional group of abortion providers that tracks anti-abortion violence. In that same time period, there also have been 42 abortion clinic bombings and 194 arsons.`

In 2020, abortion providers reported a 125% increase in incidents of assault and battery outside clinics, and said they received 3,413 targeted incidents of hate mail and harassing phone calls. 

“At my children’s school, I’ve asked that photographs of them are not posted.”

Dr. Aisha Wagner, an abortion provider in California

Dr. David Gunn, an abortion provider in Florida, was the first known doctor to be killed by anti-abortion protesters. In 1993, he was shot in the back several times while entering his clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who provided abortions later in pregnancy, was killed in 2009 after he was shot in the foyer of his church.

Most recently, in 2015, a gunman shot and killed three people inside a Planned Parenthood in Colorado. The shooter believed a since-debunked lie that “Planned Parenthood sold baby parts.”

Related: New Tennessee bill would allow rapists’ families, friends to sue if victims have an abortion

Even in so-called “blue” states that protect abortion access, abortion providers are frequently harassed and are at risk of enduring online and in-person threats.

“I have one picture out there on the internet and I try to keep it to just that one,” said Dr. Aisha Wagner, an abortion provider in California and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, a pro-abortion rights advocacy group of physicians. Wagner is also a mom of two children ages 3 and 1.

“At my children’s school, I’ve asked that photographs of them are not posted,” Wagner added. “I’m careful with who I tell I’m an abortion provider, including neighbors.”

Two years ago, Wagner says her home was spray painted. She does not know who vandalized her home or why, but “in the back of my mind I was wondering if it’s because I’m an abortion provider.”

“There are times when that question just crosses your mind,” Wagner added. “I have paid a company to go online and basically wipe my record, so that it’s harder to track me.”

Related: What moms who provide abortion care think about their jobs

Dr. Jessika Ralph, an OB-GYN in Minnesota and a fellow for Physicians for Reproductive Health, said she is also listed on an anti-abortion website that posts information — from traffic tickets to personal home addresses, abortion providers’ children’s school information and license plates — and while she doesn’t want to frequent the site to drive traffic to it, from time to time she will check to make sure the site hasn’t posted her home address.

“I participate in a state address protection program for that reason,” Ralph, who has a 4-year-old daughter, told TODAY. “At my clinic, the protesters definitely write down people’s license plate numbers and track when you come and leave. I don’t know what they do with that information, but it can’t be anything good.”

Ralph said that in addition to relying on a robust home security system, she varies her route to and from work and doesn’t wear anything identifiable when she leaves her office.

Even small decisions, like who to list as the primary caregiver for her daughter at school, can put her and her family at risk.

“That was a big question for us,” she added. “Same with registering for sports. Each individual decision is, ‘Do I disclose my personal information today to this person or this business?’”

Ralph also keeps a box of all the hate mail she has received, in case the harassment escalates.

“That way, I’ll have a paper trail,” she said.

Related: How these moms are raising their kids to be abortion advocates

Wagner says she’s mentally preparing for the day when she has to explain to her two small children that people want to hurt their mom because she provides abortion care.

“It’s sad to think about,” she explained. “And I think that’s part of the reason why some people choose not to talk about being an abortion provider. Even having a conversation with a reporter — it’s nerve-wracking. We’re putting ourselves out there. But that’s something that, at this point in my life, I have chosen to do so. We’ll see if things change.”

Horvath is also preparing to talk to her daughter, now 8, about the possibility of facing and having to defend herself against anti-abortion harassment.

“I think that she’s at the point now where I’m going to have to start talking specifically about some of the threats that I face because of my work,” Horvath said. “I just feel like I’m going to have to destroy a piece of her innocence and tell her that there are bad people who want to hurt me and who would maybe even try to hurt her to get to me. …

“I wish that we all had the ability to express our opinions and peacefully demonstrate things that we disagree with without harassing people,” she added. “But to see the speed with which the Senate will protect folks who are taking away bodily autonomy from millions of people with the stroke of a pen, only to be told that it’s someone’s First Amendment right to scream at me and call me horrible names or harass my patients and say horrible, racist, terrible things to them outside of clinic ... it just it feels like hypocrisy. Where’s our protection?”

The leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade is not an official ruling. Abortion is still legal in all 50 states.

Editor's note: This story was first published on May 11, 2022, and has been updated.

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