Anit-choicers with their violent protests get most of the ink in the press. It's rare to see the other side of the story and this piece on Susan Hill, a pioneer for a woman's right to choose, is a truly a profile in courage. "She has lived through 17 arson attacks and once got 14 bomb threats in a year. One of her doctors in Florida died after being shot three times in the back by a protester, who is now serving a life sentence." It all started for her, with one 13-year-old child.
It was January 1973, Hill's first day on the job in Florida's first abortion clinic outside Miami -- one week after Roe v. Wade. A small girl walked through Hill's door that day, hands curled by cerebral palsy, pregnant by an abusive uncle. She was too stricken and disabled to speak about her problem, but her mother had driven her 250 miles that morning to fix it.She became a pioneer in the field, having opened multiple clinics in 33 years. It wasn't always as dangerous as it is today.
Hill describes the 1970s as peaceful years. She had a few nuns as neighbors at one clinic, and they may have looked her way scornfully, but there was no violence.I think because at that time the public understood the dangers of the underground abortion industry. The newspapers regularly carried stories about young women who died from coat hanger abortions, performed under unsanitary conditions in back alleys. But memories fade and politics evolve.
The climate didn't change until 1980, during Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign. He sought a constitutional amendment banning abortion. Hill could feel the shift coming overnight. [...]It seems to me the protests have become uglier than the procedure itself. I'm astounded by people who laud the sanctity of life of the unborn but have no compunction about endangering the already living with violent protests and who apparently have no empathy for the reasons women have for making such a difficult choice in the first place. I can't sum it better than this.
Abortion became an organizing tool for the political right, Hill says, and Christian groups excited by Reagan's lead targeted her clinics.
"If people knew the stories," Hill says, "they wouldn't be so vicious."