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Carole Joffe: An Open Letter to Bart Stupak: All Violence Should be Condemned

Book cover for Dispatches from the Abortion Wars Dear Congressman Stupak,

As a citizen of this country, I was deeply distressed to learn of the abusive behavior and threats of violence that you, your family and a number of your Congressional colleagues have suffered since you and others voted in favor of health reform. A fellow member of Congress screamed “baby killer” as you were speaking on the floor of the House. You have received death threats. I heard on television some of the phone calls you received and they were truly sickening. I understand why your wife has been so tormented by these threatening phone calls, that she has taken the phone off the hook.

Protestors showed up at the home of the brother of Congressman Tom Perriello of Virginia mistakenly thinking it was the Congressman's home, and cut a gas line. Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York was mailed a letter purporting to be anthrax (this turned out to be a hoax, but a very time consuming and frightening one, as workers in Weiner's office had to be decontaminated). Other members of Congress have expressed fears for their families' safety in the wake of the health reform vote.

In a civilized country, no one should be subject to these kinds of actions because of his or her political beliefs. It is not too much to say that what you and other Congressional officials have experienced constitutes authentic domestic terrorism. I'd like to point out to you that there is another group of Americans who have long been terrorized in ways similar to what you and your colleagues have experienced. I refer to members of the abortion providing community. There are literally thousands of documented instances of death threats, anthrax threats, aggressive picketing at providers’ homes and places of worship, and harassment of family members, including children, that this community has suffered. Eight members of this community have been assassinated.

In the wake of the threats that you have received, you have spoken out forcefully against this kind of unacceptable behavior. I truly sympathize with you when you say those threats had made your life a "living hell."

I wonder, however, if your own experience has made you more empathetic with abortion providers, who have for years endured similar behavior from the same antiabortion extremists who have now targeted you?  Though obviously you and the provider community do not agree on the abortion issue, perhaps now you can agree with them that the disagreements over this issue must remain civil. How can we call ourselves a democracy if we cannot express political beliefs without fear of violence?  Congressman Stupak, I respectfully call on you to disavow violence against all Americans, not just elected officials.