On March 10, 1993, 47-year-old abortion provider David Gunn parked in front of his Pensacola, Florida clinic and stepped out of his car.
He was greeted by a group of protesters, as he and other providers often are on their way to work. He’d been on the receiving end of threats for years, and the previous summer, at a rally in Montgomery, Alabama, someone had passed around a “wanted” poster with Gunn's face on it.
But on that day, 31-year-old Michael Frederick Griffin stepped out of the crowd, allegedly yelling, “Don’t kill any more babies,” and shot Gunn three times in the back with a revolver. Gunn later died at a local hospital.
Up until that point, abortion providers had been routinely threatened, and clinics had been vandalized or even bombed. The Washington Post called Gunn’s the first murder in the nation’s “ongoing struggle over abortion.”
The National Abortion Federation, which has tracked violence against providers and clinics as far back as the passing of Roe v. Wade, counts 10 more murders and 26 attempts since Gunn's killing.
That’s why today, the anniversary of Gunn’s murder, is officially Abortion Providers Appreciation Day in the Twin Cities. The St. Paul City Council unanimously approved the designation on Wednesday (the same day the United States Supreme Court took a case debating a Louisiana law that would restrict abortion access) and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey marked the occasion with a proclamation this morning.
“Every day, abortion providers like Whole Woman’s Health deliver high quality care in the face of harassment and threats to abortion access at the federal and local levels,” Frey said in a statement. He was “proud,” he said, to recognize them as “an essential part of our community.”
Only five clinics provide abortion services in Minnesota, and they’re frequently the site of rallies and protests. At a recent Minnesota House of Representatives committee hearing, advocates described protesters clambering onto a deer stand across from a clinic in Robbinsdale to shout at patients, or intentionally misdirecting them to the wrong clinic.
Erin Maye Quade, former state legislator and current advocacy director at Gender Justice, says it’s important to “lift up” the folks who work in these clinics when we get the chance.
“It’s so often that the really small minority is the loudest,” she says. But she worries that minority could drive those providers into another line of work, or worse. The National Abortion Federation has documented record highs in violence against providers in 2017 and 2018, all while we’ve seen some of the lowest abortion rates since the procedure became legal nationwide.
The Minnesota Sun (more on that peculiar publication here) spoke to Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), who said he believes “we should protect human life from conception to natural death.”
“But why would the St. Paul City Council choose to ‘celebrate’ abortion?” he asked. “Some may think it’s a necessary evil, but to celebrate abortion is bizarre.”
This self-proclaimed “pro-lifer” from St. Paul, meanwhile, said they’d like to see some of the organizations working against abortion honored in the same way.
Maye Quade's not moved by that argument.
“One of the ways this issue gets framed is that it’s 50-50 on both sides,” she says. “The issue we’re talking about is whether Minnesotans have the ability to access health care.”
Others can “have their opinions” about it, and "should," she says—but opinions don't interfere with constitutional rights.
Currently, there are a few bills surrounding abortion access making their way through the state legislature. One makes barring someone from accessing a clinic a gross misdemeanor. Another repeals a mandatory lecture doctors are required to give patients and the 24-hour waiting period required by state law before an abortion.