March 10 is an anniversary, along with those of the wars the U.S. has launched on the world, that I find sickening to have to remember. But I do. Every year since 1993, I think of Dr. David Gunn, who was shot in the back and killed while walking to a clinic he had just opened in Pensacola, FL, to provide abortions. Only two days after International Women’s Day; twenty years after abortion began legal in the U.S. because of the struggle of women to control our bodies, the murderous violence began.
Dr. Gunn’s death, on March 10, 1993, outside his clinic, after threats and stalking, at the hands of a fundamentalist Christian vigilante named Michael Griffin, was the first murder in a series of murders, attempted murders and bombings of people providing abortion care in the U.S. and Canada. His son, David Gunn Jr. wrote:
Dr. Gunn was a skilled, dedicated physician. Dr. Gunn traveled over 1000 miles a week providing an unpopular service in communities that lacked reliable abortion providers. He practiced medicine in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, seeing patients in Mobile, Fort Walton, Columbus, Pensacola, Montgomery, Birmingham, Tallahassee, Savannah, and Orlando. He drove all of these miles in great physical pain. You see, Dr. Gunn suffered the effects of a childhood bout with polio, which resulted in the limited use of his left leg; however, he did not let his physical pain obstruct his duty as a doctor. Furthermore, Dr. Gunn endured daily picketing, protesters, stalkings, and death threats; all of which caused severe mental stress. In light of all of these obstacles, Dr. Gunn stayed strong and continued to provide women with all of their health care needs.
Soon after the murder, the New York Times did a sympathetic portrait of Dr. Gunn, describing his transformation from a member of the Church of Christ, a fundamentalist group against abortion, to a trained OB/GYN doctor who chose to work in a county with the highest infant morality, in order to change that. His pain from polio, and the constant harassment he suffered – “wanted” posters, being followed on back roads – didn’t make him back down. Colleagues reported that on January 22, 1903, on the anniversary of Roe v Wade, he played the song “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty on loudspeakers aimed at antiabortion protesters in Montgomery AL.
In the next several years, more doctors and clinic staff were killed in the U.S. In 1996, the anti-repression organization Refuse & Resist! named March 10 as the National Day to Appreciate Abortion Providers, calling on other organizations and thousands of individuals to participate public programs, volunteer efforts, and letter-writing campaigns to show appreciation for those who put their lives on the line to help women. “Without providers, there is no choice.”
This year, March 10 falls on a Sunday. Find ways to mark it.