Across the country, rates of threats, harassment, and even violence toward abortion clinics are on the rise. The right to accessing safe, legal reproductive health care is increasingly being attacked not only by legislators, but also by extreme anti-abortion protesters and activists whose acts not only threaten the safety of patients and providers, but also strain the resources of providers.
In Cleveland, Ohio, the Preterm abortion clinic is one of the last two in the state offering abortion services through the legal limit in the state. But over the past couple months, the clinic, as well as the Preterm Access Fund, have struggled with responding to vandalism from abortion opponents, who threw bricks at and shattered more than 10 of the clinic’s glass windows throughout May and June this year. The vandalism incurred more than $20,000 in repair costs, all of this followeing the clinic’s back fence being stolen back in December.
Anna Malefatto, Preterm Access fund’s Development and Communications Coordinator, says the incidents took place a number of times before security footage caught the assailant in what could only be interpreted as a malicious and targeted attack. “Our clinic was the only building on the street that he was going after,” she said.
The reproductive health community in Cleveland rallied to support Preterm, Malefatto says, citing charity auctions, rallies, gifts of flowers and doughnuts, and an online fundraiser. Democratic state Rep. Marcia Fudge also publicly voiced support for the Preterm clinic in the aftermath.
The support and rallying of the community was comforting, even empowering, Malefatto says, but she remained frustrated that resources were going toward repairs when they could have gone toward funding abortion access, that time was spent poring through security footage and calling insurance companies when it could have been spent developing some of Preterm’s community social justice education programs.
Once a month, the Preterm Access Fund organizes a community engagement event free and open to the public to educate about a range of issues including reproductive justice and the juvenile justice system among other topics. With Equality Ohio, the fund has also provided educated about LGBTQ+ equality and discrimination issues during workshops.
“It’s frustrating to me that there’s so much we could be doing with this time and with these resources, and they’re going to broken windows instead,” Malefatto said. “I think of legislative attacks on abortion access as just one piece of the puzzle, and this intimidation and vandalism also chip away at access, too — we’re draining resources, and the emotional costs are also big.”
Malefatto described walking into the clinic in the days after a vandalism incident, the dismal, anxious feeling of wondering if it would be another “broken window day.”
“We work so hard to ensure that patients and people who come into the building feel safe, and this just goes against all the work we do, and sometimes it comes with a feeling of helplessness,” she said.
Malefatto has a few guesses as to why attacks on clinics continue to happen with virtual silence from media.
“We live in a culture that continues to shame people who have abortions, and place judgment on them,” she said. “But deeper than that, we also live in a culture that says abortion is controversial, just accept that, and if you have an abortion or work in providing abortion, you just need to accept and expect these harmful conditions. And media only normalizes this by being silent.”
On its own, abortion is a safe medical procedure, with lower rates of complications than giving birth or even having a colonoscopy. In fact, the only factor that could make the procedure vaguely dangerous is the threat of anti-abortion extremists. And, of course, circling back to the “puzzle” of abortion access barriers that Malefatto mentioned, she also noted the correlation between the states with the most abortion restrictions, and the states with the worst health outcomes for women.
“None of this is a coincidence,” she pointed out.
Despite these setbacks, Malefatto can name no shortage of rewarding experiences in working at Preterm. “The sweet thank you cards, the flowers, the community support and fundraisers,” she said. “But also, we have this journal in the waiting room that anyone can write in, and the messages to patients ‘your decision is valid, be strong and love yourself,’ and to providers — all of that is so heartening.”
And all in all, Malefatto believes that while the anti-abortion wing is loud and very active, that it’s also a minority. “We have huge support here in the reproductive health community in Cleveland, and that’s something I’m so grateful for,” she said. “Sure, we have some protesters every week, but we also had hundreds of people showing up to the Bowl-a-Thon, showing up at fundraisers and auctions. We have a community, too, and they care a lot.”