This post includes stories of terrorism and murder.
Bombs and arson attacks, as well as less potentially lethal forms of vandalism intended to disrupt clinic operations, continued throughout the Reagan and elder Bush presidencies. Congresses supported petty abortion restrictions and penalties, like the 1986 Live Birth Abortion Revision, a tax code change disallowing tax credits for birth or death of a child if an abortion had been attempted.
1987’s violence began with the January 6th arson attempt at a Rockford, Illinois clinic and ended with the attempted arson of a Montgomery, Alabama clinic on December 23rd. Bombings, arson, violent protests, and destruction continued. By the early 1990s anti abortion movement leaders were advocating direct violence against doctors.
The 1992 Presidential and Congressional elections took abortion front and center. Extremist rhetoric went mainstream Republican, with GOP candidates calling abortion providers “baby killers”. This public support emboldened Operation Rescue to print Wanted style posters of obstetricians who performed abortions. One of the doctors featured on such a poster was Dr. David Gunn, the first provider murdered.
In January of 1993 the Supreme Court ruled that federal judges could not prohibit anti abortion protestors from physically barring or blockading clinic entrances under current laws. The Democratic party led Congress contemplated a bill to ban such protests, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances bill. President Clinton promised to sign it.
Dr. Gunn opened his Pensacola, Florida clinic as a long distance commuter, serving the Florida panhandle as well as rural Alabama. The Pensacola Women’s Medical Services Center was only the second clinic providing abortion care in the city. The first was the oft terrorized Pensacola Ladies Center, which was firebombed twice and violently occupied once. As Gunn got out of his car, the gunman shot him in the back three times. He died in surgery at a nearby hospital.