After medical school, Inez Navarro completed a fellowship in obstetrics in a West Midwest state. As part of her training, Inez learned abortion care and worked at one of the local abortion clinics. Following her fellowship, Inez moved to a New England state, where she has been for over a decade and is now the medical director of a series of clinics. Before Inez started her fellowship, she did not know much about targeted harassment of abortion providers or general clinic protest, even though her fellowship was located in a place that had a history of antiabortion harassment:
I grew up maybe in a sheltered fish bowl of my culture. I didn’t know it was a big deal until I started working for my fellowship director and I thought, “Oh my God. These people are protesting what I do.” Because in the country where my family is from you can drive down the street and there’ll be a sign, “Abortion, go here, with an address listed.” It’s all over the place, nobody cares. And when I did some work with some people from where my family is from, people would be in the elevator saying, “So I had eight abortions, and I was just wondering . . . .” They talk about it, it wasn’t like a big deal, and nobody fears the judgment from other people that happens in America. So when I got here I was flabbergasted, “Oh, wow, people actually care too much about the stuff going on in other people’s lives.” To the point that your life could be in danger. I guess I finally realized I was getting into a controversial field.
As part of her fellowship, Inez became well trained in the world of anti-abortion protest. Her fellowship program director regularly lectured about the issue and made it a central part of the program. The director even took the doctors in the fellowship to meet some local protesters. When Inez tried to talk with them, she found doing so to be useless. “No matter what I said or tried to say they still, literally, said the same thing back to me, repetitively. To the point where I realized, ‘Okay, so I can’t really have a logical discussion or debate with you because it’s not about logic.’ ”
These past interactions help Inez handle the protest that she now experiences. “So that really gave me a different lens when I came here. This is not an approachable issue, this is not a logical argument that’s going on. These are some people really entrenched in whatever is driving them ideologically to be out there, and there’s nothing that I can do to change that.” Given the ideological conviction the protesters appear to have, Inez considers it “ironic, hypocritical, immoral, and mean” that, as she later learned, many of the protesters had themselves previously had abortions.
The clinic where Inez has worked for the past decade has been in several different locations within the same state, resulting in very different experiences with the protesters. The first building’s parking lot was small, and the layout of the parking lot, the public street, and the building allowed the protesters to have direct confrontations with people parking in the lot. “The protesters at that point could be right in front of your car. You would park, and they could be right there trying to take a picture of you. It was a little scary.” The clinic gave Inez a bulletproof vest, though she never wore it. “My goal was just to get inside as soon as possible.” Inez felt at the time that the protesters were not targeting her personally but instead were going after anyone who was an abortion provider at the clinic.
The clinic has since moved. The newest location has made the situation worse for Inez. The parking lot is now very large, and the protesters have to be far away on the public street. Inez initially thought this layout would improve the situation, but it has not. “I didn’t think about things like they have zoom lens cameras that they use to get pictures.
Now I might as well pose because I walk into the building carrying so many things in my hands, I can’t really cover my face. Moreover, I shouldn’t have to.” The protesters also stand at the entrance of the parking lot and come close to providers’ and patients’ cars as they drive into the lot. As a result, whenever Inez drives in, the protesters stand almost against her car and yell directly at her.
To avoid the protesters, some of the providers at the clinic speed down the street to get to the parking lot. The protesters contacted the police about the speeding, and the police told the providers they would be ticketed for going over the speed limit. Inez responded, “Well have you ever thought that we’re speeding because we’re frickin’ scared for our life and trying to get through the gauntlet?”
Earlier in the year that we interviewed Inez, the protesters’ tactics became much more personal. At the start of the year, they “ratcheted up” their attacks and, for the first time, started yelling Inez’s name and directing their comments at her as an individual, not just as someone entering the clinic. She has two theories on why things changed. First, she believes that the political climate contributed to her being targeted. “The only thing I can think is a national sentiment building around abortion. It’s not like I was that under the radar before. But something changed in January.” Second, she believes the protesters took advantage of her being less than completely vigilant about her online presence. After being prompted by some longtime friends, Inez put a photo of herself on a social networking site. Soon thereafter, that photo appeared on a website that the anti-abortion protesters maintain. She thinks that this slip contributed to the protesters attacking her more directly.
Part of the personal targeting against Inez has included racial attacks. Protesters have called her racial epithets from time to time, but their efforts in this regard have not been very successful at bothering her. She laughed after telling this story: “They used to call me ‘amigo’ for a while. I think once or twice someone called me ‘sand nigger,’ which isn’t even right. If you’re going to use a racial slur, get it right.”
One day about a month after the protesters started using Inez’s name, as Inez was coming into the clinic, one of the more vocal and prominent protesters yelled at her, “No one is going to protect you.” To Inez, this was the “big day where everything really changed.” She decided that she needed to call the police about this incident. “If anything did happen, I wanted them to know there was a history; it wasn’t just a one-time, random incident.” The police did not take her complaint seriously and instead laughed at her. The combination of the threat and the police reaction left Inez “irritated and pissed and emotional all at the same time.”
She did not back down though. “I thought, ‘I am a brown person who grew up in America, and if you think that’s the end of it, that’s not going to be the end of it because I have fought for everything.’” Inez decided to fight back until someone makes her stop. She ultimately contacted police internal affairs about the threat and lack of police response and in the meantime has lost faith in the local police.
“Maybe I had a naive faith that the police were there to protect me. I can tell you right now, I no longer trust that this police force is here to help.That was kind of my eye-opening experience with them.”
As a result, she has been working with federal authorities on matters that she could not detail for us in the interview. The protesters have not issued any threats to her since, but they continue to yell that she is going to hell and needs to stop killing babies.
Protesters have targeted Inez in other ways. She has received hate mail at home that implored her to “stop killing.” Although she took the letter to her clinic’s security guard out of caution, she said that receiving the letter at home did not scare her. Inez did wonder how the protesters knew where she lived but attributed that to not being diligent in protecting her personal information on the Internet.
One day, when Inez was driving home from work, a man chased her car into the gated complex where she lived. The man followed her to her home, waited for Inez to go inside, and then knocked on her door. She yelled at him through the door that she would not open it. He claimed he was selling magazines and then left. Inez felt unsettled by the incident and thought it had something to do with her job.
“You get that feeling. The hair on the back of my neck was standing up. It was just that gut-sinking feeling of ‘this is just weird.’ ”
Immediately before this incident, the clinic’s security guard learned that people had been searching the state’s online databases for information about the doctors who work at the clinic. In light of that discovery, Inez suspected that the magazine salesperson was really an anti-abortion protester who had followed her. The authorities investigated the incident but were unable to pursue anything.
Inez and her husband have had very different emotional reactions to the targeted harassment. Inez does not feel that she lives in fear but, rather, that she has “fear moments.” For instance, Inez enjoys most of her commute to work; however, the last two minutes are completely different:
The minute I get off the highway and I am getting close to the clinic I start thinking, “Where are the protesters? Where are the police?” That’s where it kind of sets in that I just need to get through this little gauntlet, and then I’ll be okay. For a while after the threat, it was fear, and it was also anger like, “Really?” I don’t think this is what I should have to go through if I come to work every day. And I was angry—why do we tolerate this?
Her husband has had a much stronger reaction. He is often fearful and has nightmares about the harassment. He worries about Inez and wants her to contact him when she arrives safely at work, like a new teen driver would have to text her mom when she gets to school. Inez and her husband have altered their lives to protect themselves. When buying a house, they spent years looking for a sufficiently protected space and ultimately bought a property in a gated community. The local police department, which is a different police force from that for the clinic, has been receptive to Inez’s and her husband’s has faced, and how the harassment has gotten worse. He also told the chief, “We’re sort of fearful and just want to be really proactive about everything.” The police chief gave them his cell phone number, offered to help anytime, and told Inez and her husband that the department would identify their house for special emergency assistance.
A detective helped with a home security assessment that identified problem areas. As a result, they installed a security system with indoor and outdoor cameras in their house. The police also suggested that Inez and her husband obtain concealed weapons permits and assisted them with the process. As an added level of protection, the police also helped Inez and her husband mark their license plates in the state database so they are notified if someone tries to search for their information.
Inez and her husband also take precautions with their online identities. They have Facebook pages that are not easily associated with Inez’s professional identity and have increased privacy settings. They also use Reputation.com, an online service that scrubs their information from the Internet. Inez tries to educate her colleagues about taking similar precautions and being proactive in these ways.
Other members of Inez’s family have had strong reactions to her situation. Some of her relatives, particularly those who live outside the United States and do not understand the American controversy over abortion, are shocked that this type of harassment takes place at all. After Dr. Tiller was murdered and an anti-abortion extremist in another part of the country tried unsuccessfully to shoot providers at an abortion facility, Inez’s mother called her and told her, “You should make sure you wear your vest.” Despite her mother’s concerns, Inez does not wear her bulletproof vest:
I just think if they’re really going to try and shoot me, I’m going to see a little red light up here on my forehead. They’re going to assume that I have a vest on. There’s also that religious side of me that thinks if I’m really supposed to die, then I’m really supposed to die. I can’t live my whole life around trying to protect myself, so I don’t.
In other words, as Inez sums up her feelings, “everything happens for a reason, and I just have to accept it and try to do the best that I can.” Armed with this attitude, Inez continues her work despite the ever-increasing harassment that she faces. To Inez, “what the protesters do is wrong and irrelevant.” She strongly believes that she should not have to work under these conditions, but at the same time, these conditions drive her to work harder. “I’m not doing anything wrong. I work very hard, I pay my taxes, I want the best for my family and children, and I am making a positive, productive contribution to society. Can the protesters really say the same, especially with their hypocrisy?”
The escalated attacks on Inez have backfired. “They fired me up more to continue the fight against them.”
The above is an excerpt fromLiving in the Crosshairs; The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism(Oxford University Press, 2015):