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As originally published in Ms. Magazine on Friday, March 10, 2023. 
Written by Jon Dunn, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties. 

Caring, experienced doctors in our country must live lives of “sustainable anonymity” simply because they provide abortions. 

At Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties (PPOSBC), our physicians are arranging for their homes to be held in a partner’s name, rather than their own. They have mail delivered to a P.O. box rather than their homes. If they have young children, they hide their profession from neighbors and teachers out of concern for their kids’ safety. They fear being prosecuted for providing care to out-of-state abortion patients. They are even altering travel plans to states where abortion is no longer legal, for fear they could be arrested.

These measures are necessary because harassment and violent attacks on abortion centers have steadily increased in the past several years—and extreme anti-abortion protesters have only felt more emboldened by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2022. 

In honor of National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day (March 10), I want to honor abortion providers, and recognize the commitment and courage it takes to do this job amid rising levels of vitriol from abortion protesters and growing attacks on abortion rights. I also want to call attention to the fact that these are real people with families who risk their lives to provide basic health care every single day. I hope anyone reading this will understand not only why these physicians deserve to be saluted as heroes, but also how we got here and what needs to be done.

Growing Physical and Legal Danger  

There is a long history of harassment and violence toward abortion providers in the U.S. However, since 2020, the frequency of these domestic terror attacks has increased significantly. In just three years, there have been nine episodes of arson, fire bombing and vandalism against abortion centers—all meant to intimidate and keep them from providing care. 

Against this backdrop, abortion opponents have also been attempting to erode access to abortion through state legislation and the judicial system. After the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision,12 states have banned abortion, and another 10 have severely restricted access.

Today, nearly six in 10 women live in states that ban or restrict access to abortion care. Abortion opponents aren’t content with letting individual states limit access either—a lawsuit filed by anti-abortion groups in Texas could result in a nationwide ban on mifepristone, a safe, effective drug used in medication abortions, limiting patients’ choice even in states where abortion is legal. 

Since then, we have seen more abortion protesters outside our facilities in Orange and San Bernardino Counties, and the threat of violence is greater than ever before. Their goal appears to have shifted from expressing their opposition, to coercing and intimidating our staff and patients. Protesters use bullhorns to create a loud and hostile environment and record video of those who enter and leave our facilities. 

Why Our Doctors Keep Coming to Work 

Despite this growing danger, we have a dedicated staff of clinicians who provide abortion care as a core part of the many healthcare services we offer our patients. When asked why they choose this profession in such a challenging environment, their broad range of answers were unequivocal in their commitment to abortion access. 

One MD related the story of a pregnant patient who was trapped in an abusive relationship, she sought freedom in the form of no longer being forced to have a child with her abusive partner.

Another was raised in a strictly religious family, taken to picket at abortion facilities as a child. She became an advocate for reproductive rights during her medical training and eventually a committed abortion provider.

A third, who had been treated very badly by a gynecologist she saw for an abortion, feels committed to giving all patients the dignity and respect she did not receive. 

Abortion providers put their patients’ care at the center of their lives, often risking their own safety, security, and peace of mind. We should acknowledge their dedication and sacrifice, and recognize their skill, compassion, and courage. 

If you know an abortion provider, please thank them for their work, then match your words with action. Vote for candidates up and down the ballot who support abortion rights. Talk to your friends and family consistently about why this is important. Get involved in efforts to protect reproductive rights. And if you are able, donate to organizations that provide abortions, like your local Planned Parenthood, to help them continue to do their heroic work.