Last Friday, three people were shot and killed at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. While police have not definitively released a motive, the shooter was at least somewhat influenced by recent videos about Planned Parenthood that have been popular in the pro-life movement. His killings bring the number of Americans killed by pro-life activists to 11 since 1993, according to ProChoice.org.
While that number might seem low, it includes several doctors performing legal procedures as well as receptionists and other clinic workers doing their jobs. In total, the amount of violence aimed at doctors, nurses, and other staff and clinics is staggering, with close to 7,000 reported acts of violence since 1977.
Here are the stories of those 11 people killed in the course of providing women with legal access to abortions, with relevant links to learn more about their lives and work. All data and dates from The National Abortion Federation.
Dr. David Gunn was fatally shot outside of the Pensacola, FL clinic where he worked in March 1993. He was 47. The shooter, Michael Griffin, was a part of an anti-abortion group headed by a former member of the KKK.
Gunn, according to his son, started in medicine to help people after a childhood bout with polio. He "came to Alabama because it had the highest infant-mortality rate in the nation, and he wanted to try to turn that around."
By the end of his life, Gunn was working exclusively at women's clinics, doing a circuit at six locations in the American South. Susan Hill, the executive director of the Women's Health Network, told the New York Times in 1993 that Gunn was pressed into performing abortions around ten years before his death when Ms. Hill's clinic in Columbus, GA could not find anyone else willing to take the risk.
"He was a laid-back 60's kind of guy who didn't like the politics of medicine," Hill told the Times. "He wanted to help."
Dr. Britton and Mr. Barrett were shot and killed outside the Pensacola Ladies Center—a different Pensacola clinic than the one where Dr. Gunn was killed—in July 1994. The shooter, Paul Jennings Hill, was a former Presbyterian minister who believed killing an abortion doctor was Biblically justified.
Dr. Britton was a controversial figure. In a February 1994 GQ feature, Britton said that he personally thought abortion was wrong, and would turn women away, telling them to think more about their decision before returning. In the story, he describes the size of the fetus to a patient before starting the procedure.
However, according to the Times, he was a professional:
Despite his own feelings about abortion, he had nothing but wrath for anti-abortion protesters. He believed women should be allowed to exercise their legal right to abortion. "I won't be bluffed by fanatics."
James H. Barrett, also killed, was a retired Air Force Lt. Col. and volunteered as an escort at the clinic. A veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, Barrett "loved to help people," his younger brother, Reggie Barrett, told the Baltimore Sun. "If a woman needed help, he would help, and that's what he died for."
June Barrett, his wife, was also shot during the attack, but survived.
Shannon Lowney, 25, and Leanne Nichols, 38, were shot and killed at the clinics where they worked as receptionists (Planned Parenthood and PreTerm Health Services, respectively) in Brookline, MA in December 1994. The shooter, John Salvi, was apprehended days later after shooting at another clinic in Virginia. He was sentenced to two life terms in prison, where he committed suicide in 1996.
Lowney was described by Susan Newsom, a vice president of Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts as "what every person would want in a daughter." A magna cum laude graduate of Boston College, Lowney learned Spanish, so she could assist Spanish-speaking clients who learned to ask for her by name when calling.
Nichols lived across the state line in New Hampshire with her fiancee, Ed McDonough. She had started her job at PreTerm only months prior after leaving a higher-stress job as a telephone counselor at a different women's clinic in the area. At a memorial service for Nichols, McDonough said she was a woman who "believed in her work" and "I don't think she would want you to give up because of what has happened."
Five others were wounded in the two shootings, which could have been worse if not for the guards at PreTerm returning fire.
Officer Sanderson, 34, was killed in a bombing at the Birmingham, AL New Women All Women clinic in January 1998. The bomber was Eric Robert Rudolph, who also bombed the Olympics in Atlanta two years prior, as well as a clinic and a lesbian bar, both in Atlanta and both in 1997.
Known as "Sandy" to friends, Sanderson was off-duty at the time, serving as a security guard at the clinic, trying to earn some extra money. He discovered a mysterious package in the bushes outside. According to AL.com, "the shrapnel bomb filled with dynamite and nails, left in some bushes near the clinic entrance, also critically injured nurse Emily Lyons." A number of people narrowly escaped injury in the bombing, which was detonated with a remote control, meaning Rudolph was close enough to see that people were nearby.
Months later, Felicia, Sanderson's wife, spoke to the Southern Poverty Law Center about her loss, saying, "I miss every little thing about him."
Sande worked the 11 [P.M.] to 7 [A.M.] shift, so I was used to him coming home in the morning. We'd walk the dogs, and sometimes he'd be hungry and I'd fix him some breakfast. I was used to ironing his uniform and polishing his badge and name tag. I find myself looking at the clock and thinking that he should be on his way home right now. His birthday was real tough.
Dr. Slepain was shot by a sniper while in the kitchen of his home outside Buffalo, NY in October 1998. The shooter, anti-abortion activist James Kopp, was caught three years later in France thanks to the work of an undercover federal agent who infiltrated an anti-abortion group.
Kopp was the main suspect in four other attempted murders of abortion doctors in the U.S. and Canada: Dr. David Gandell, in Rochester, NY, in 1997; Dr. Garson Romalis in Vancouver, in 1994, he was later stabbed in a 2000 attack; Dr. Hugh Short in Ontario in 1995; and Dr. Jack Fainman in Winnipeg in 1997, who says the attack ended his medical career. Dr. Fainman later said that the Winnipeg police accused him of making himself a "sitting target."
Friends of the doctors sons remembered at the time seeing protestors outside the family's home.
After Slepain's murder, then New York governor George Pataki called the act "terrorism" and an "assassination."
According to Susan Ward, a spokeswoman for Buffalo GYN Women's Services, Slepain was aware of the threats and the pattern of sniper attacks but continued his work.
''It probably hits home a little bit because it could have been me,'' Dr. Slepian told The Buffalo News in 1993 after Dr. Gunn's death. ''For years I've felt, and I still feel, it could happen to me or to someone around here.''
According to the Times:
Family members, including 4 children and 10 grandchildren, issued a statement through Dr. Tiller’s lawyer, which read in part: “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.”
Tiller was notorious in the pro-life community for performing abortions that, while legal were "late" in pregnancy, after 21 weeks. He was the subject of investigations multiple times in his career for potentially performing illegal abortions, but never charged with any crimes.
Dr. Tiller had previously been shot and injured in Wichita in 1993.
Five years following Tiller's murder, abortion services returned to the doctor's former town.
Markovsky, Stewart, and Swasey were shot and killed in an attack at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs in November 2015. Police arrested Robert Lewis Dear, who allegedly said "no more baby parts" after being apprehended.
Talking to the network, Stewart's brother Leyonte Chandler said:
"People were terrified, people were crying and scared, seeing other people get shot … I believe my brother put his life on the line to prevent that. That's definitely heroic."
Swasey, 44, was a veteran of the University of Colorado Springs police department. He was also co-pastor at a church in town.
Scott Dontanville, another pastor at Swasey's church said that Swasey was against abortion, but according to the Times, "it would not have been a factor in his actions."
“I don’t think that was on his mind,” Dontanville told the paper. “He was there to save lives. That’s the kind of guy he is.”
David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on Fusion.net—hop on. Got a tip? Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org