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Facing Harassment, Some Abortion Providers Turn To Armed Guards, Bullet-Proof Vests

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Facing Harassment, Some Abortion Providers Turn To Armed Guards, Bullet-Proof Vests

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Facing Harassment, Some Abortion Providers Turn To Armed Guards, Bullet-Proof Vests

Facing Harassment, Some Abortion Providers Turn To Armed Guards, Bullet-Proof Vests

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David Cohen and Krysten Connon, authors of Living in the Crosshairs, discuss the harassment, violence and constant fear that many abortion providers face — both in their clinics and at their homes.

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The attack last month on the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs is evidence of the dangers faced not only by abortion providers but by anyone in or just outside of a clinic that performs abortions. Robert Lewis Dear is accused of injuring nine people and killing three - a police officer who had rushed to the scene, a woman who was accompanying a friend who had an appointment and an Iraq War veteran, who was standing outside the clinic trying to get better cellphone reception and ran back into the clinic after he was shot to alert those inside to seek cover. In an outburst during Robert Dear's hearing, he said, I am a warrior for the babies. In past incidents, extremist anti-abortion vigilantes have kidnapped, attacked, bombed and murdered abortion providers. A new book tells the stories of abortion providers who have faced ongoing harassment and threats of violence not just at their clinics but at their homes. It's called "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories Of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." My guests are the books two authors. David Cohen is a professor at Drexel University School of Law, where he teaches constitutional law and gender and the law. He served as a staff attorney for the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia and serves on the board of the Abortion Care Network. Krysten Connon is an attorney in private practice. She helped represent the abortion provider whose story inspired the book. David Cohen, Krysten Connon, welcome to FRESH AIR. Your book is subtitled "The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." Let's start with the word terrorism. Why are you using the word terrorism to describe the violent acts against abortion providers that you describe?

DAVID COHEN: We're using the word not just to describe the violent acts but also the fear of violence that a lot of abortion providers feel around this country. And we think the word terrorism really fits because terrorism is violence or the fear of violence used to accomplish a political goal when normal politics have not accomplished that goal. And that's what's happening here with the anti-abortion extremists who feel that - we're almost approaching the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. And it hasn't been overturned despite a number of Supreme Court appointees and a number of presidents who have promised doing so. We still have legal abortion in this country. It's been restricted a lot, but it's still legal to have an abortion in this country. And to the abolitionists among the anti-abortion crowd, this is a problem. And so they're using violence and the fear of violence to try and accomplish this goal, and that's what terrorism is.

GROSS: What are the legal implications of using the word terrorism to describe violent threats and acts of violence against abortion providers?

KRYSTEN CONNON: Well, I think for one, it provides more resources from - on the federal level from the federal government. Terrorism comes with it a stronger pull, I think, socially also that can lead to greater legal changes. There have been a lot of taskforces and special positions created to combat domestic terrorism, even in the last year. And so conceptualizing this as part of that narrative would shed a lot more light on what's happening to abortion providers.

GROSS: What are some examples of what might be done if the word terrorism is used that wouldn't be done without that categorization?

COHEN: So the way the Department of Justice investigates these kinds of crimes and threats, it can change who's doing the investigation, what resources they have. It can also change - and I think this is more important because there are dedicated people within the Department of Justice who look into these crimes even if it's not called terrorism - but I think being able to track it as part of a larger movement and see patterns among other terrorist groups - and so we're not talking ISIS, but maybe domestic terrorist groups like the militia movement or white supremacist groups or other groups that may be connected to these anti-abortion groups or have similar patterns or similar ways of doing things - that being able to think of it that way and investigate - and not just punish afterwards but try and figure out beforehand how to stop this - that calling this terrorism sees this as part of that larger picture and not just a one-off lone wolf.

GROSS: Since you've been studying acts of violence and threats of violence against abortion providers, did you see anything in the Colorado Springs rampage that was different from what you've seen in the past?

COHEN: What happened in Colorado Springs with the almost indiscriminate shooting of people at the Planned Parenthood was not entirely new because in Boston in 1994, John Salvi went into a Planned Parenthood and a preterm within a few miles of each other - two abortion clinics in Boston - and killed a receptionist in both places and wounded five others, including a security guard and a couple of patient supporters who were there - very similar to what Robert Dear did in Colorado. So as much as there's been violence against abortion providers in the past - and it's mostly been providers including doctors and other staff - there have patient supporters and security guards who have also been harmed in serious ways by anti-abortion violence, which is what Robert Dear did because he did not kill any staff or doctors at the abortion clinic or at the Planned Parenthood, and he did not kill any patients but patient supporters and first responders. And that has happened before.

GROSS: So one of the people killed was a police officer, one was an Iraq war veteran and one was a woman who is a full-time mother and homemaker.

COHEN: Right, it's really tragic. I mean, one of the Iraq war veteran's soldiers who was with him in Iraq said this guy survived Iraq but he couldn't survive being here and assisting a friend to medical care, which is really a tragic way to think of it.

GROSS: So you're looking at attacks and threats of attacks directed at abortion providers. And it's often not at the clinics, it's at their homes, it's on their way to work. Let's look at some of the attacks and threats of attacks on the homes of abortion providers. Before we get to the people who are living now who you interviewed, let's look at an example from the past of somebody who didn't survive the attack. Barnett Slepian was killed in his home. David, tell us what happened.

COHEN: He was cooking dinner on a Friday night. He was cooking Shabbat dinner on a Friday night in Buffalo or just outside Buffalo, where he lived. He was an abortion provider in that area - a longtime provider, very well respected. And James Kopp, who is an antiabortion extremist who had previously shot several doctors along that Canadian-New York border in past years, used a sniper rifle and shot Dr. Slepian through his kitchen window, killing him. This happened in 1998, and this was a big change, at least in terms of the field, because the previous murders that had happened against abortion providers had happened at the clinic or at their place of work. And now this moved it to the home. Home protest - protesting providers at their home on a Saturday or Sunday morning had been a tactic for a long time, but now the violence came home. And that really sent a new message.

GROSS: One of the messages that the shooter sent - intentionally or not - is that a bulletproof vest isn't necessarily going to protect you because Dr. Slepian was shot in the head. And you asked everybody who you interviewed for your book, do you wear a bulletproof vest? And there's a lot of disagreement about whether it's worth wearing or not. Can you talk with us a little bit about the responses you got on the question of bulletproof vests?

CONNON: Sure. One of the abortion providers we talked to who we identify in the book as Kristina Romero - most of the providers we interviewed we use pseudonyms for reasons related to the violence, right, they don't want their identities public - described the memory of Dr. Slepian's death encouraging her to weigh whether to carry a bulletproof vest. Let me quote what Kristina told us.

(Reading) She said, I think you can wear a vest, but most of us now think that they're just going to shoot you in the head. Unless they're shooting from a distance or something with a pistol, they're going to walk right up and shoot you in the head.

GROSS: That's chilling. David, what about the people you spoke to about the decision whether to use a bulletproof vest or not? Because some people are using that - some abortion providers are using those vests.

COHEN: We asked everyone about bulletproof vests and guns, and answers we got varied. But everyone had thought about it seriously because of this risk. And I think one doctor that we interviewed really captured sort of the disconnect between asking medical care providers who are not in a war zone, they're not related to the police, about bulletproof vest and guns. This is from a doctor that we identify in the book as Kevin Bohannon, and I'll quote from him.

(Reading) If anybody told me when I was in medical school that I would go to work armed and with a bulletproof vest, I would have thought they were nuts. But I do have a bulletproof vest. And I do go to clinics armed these days.

And I must say that when we would read that quote to people six months ago, a year ago, they might've thought we were a little crazy to include it. But I think Colorado Springs really drives home what this doctor is talking about - that even though these murders and these extreme acts of violence are, thankfully, rare, they still happen enough that they put this fear in the minds of all abortion providers. And it's something they have to live with and deal with on an everyday basis and make their own personal assessment of risk.

GROSS: And speaking of assessment of risk, the person you just quoted carries a gun. And does he carry it at all times?

COHEN: He didn't say he carried it at all times, but he did say he carries it to and from the clinic, and especially when he gets out of his car to walk to the clinic and then has it on him. He also sometimes actually walks from his car to the clinic with armed guards with him.

GROSS: My guests are David Cohen and Krysten Connon, authors of the new book "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories Of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, I have two guests - David Cohen and Krysten Connon. And the author - they're the authors of the new book "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories Of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." They're both lawyers. David is a professor of law at Drexel University, and Krysten is in private practice.

Now, another issue that you raise with the interviewees who are abortion providers is threats to their children, threats to their spouses, threats to neighbors. Tell us about some of those threats and how the abortion providers have dealt with those threats.

COHEN: It's really one of the saddest parts of the stories here, which is that abortion providers' families get dragged into this in ways that really seem - I mean all of this should be out of bounds in normal political discourse. But then, going after providers' kids or their elderly parents, that should absolutely be out of bounds from a normal political discourse. But we heard these stories repeatedly of providers who have kids in school so the protesters show up at the kids' schools with signs indicating that this particular provider is a murderer. And no one really knows why these protestors are at the school other than the provider, but that's the message. I'm going to protest your kids, so you better stop. We also heard stories from people who said that their parents who don't live anywhere near them would receive hate mail from anti-abortion extremists. And again, that sends a couple messages. One, I'm really going to put pressure on you, but two, I know where your parents live. And right now I'm just sending them hate mail, but who knows what's next? And again, I come back to the violence in the past because if the violence hadn't happened in the past, it would certainly be scary to send hate mail to parents. But knowing with the history of violence that has happened in this area, when your parents start getting hate mail and they know where your parents live, especially if your parents live nowhere near you, that's upping the fear level even more.

GROSS: So abortion providers are trying to protect their personal information so that the extremists can't get access to it. How are they trying to protect their personal information?

CONNON: So providers go through great lengths. A lot of them talked to us about not using social media or buying a house and not using their. The state of California...

GROSS: Not using their name of the mortgage?

CONNON: Or using - just buying a house by having a family member put you under their names. The state of California has a law in place that allows providers to register with - anonymously. So all, you know, state records are anonymous, and only the Secretary of State keeps the provider's true name and address. And that way, the government - any government record would not have the provider's name and address, so anti-abortion activists cannot get access to it.

GROSS: Is this is strictly for abortion providers, that law?

CONNON: No, it was originally intended for providers of domestic violence, but it has since been expanded to include reproductive health workers, which is fantastic. And states across the country could certainly adopt something similar and should. Providers, you know, don't talk openly about their profession. A lot of people have explained to us how committed they are to the work that they're doing. And they have legal jobs, and they feel that they should be able to talk about what they do, but instead they don't because they're fearful.

GROSS: At least one abortion provider who you mention in the book - who you interview for the book - was the victim of an arsonist who burned - set fire to his home and to his barn. I don't think the arsonist was ever identified, but he suspects it was an anti-abortion extremist. Why does he suspect that?

COHEN: The arson happened on the same day that this - the state where this provider worked passed a new law restricting abortion, and this provider had been vocal about it. And this law went in to effect, and then - and he had threats in the past as well. And then, that day that it went into effect, his barn was burned down. Several horses and other animals that lived there were killed in the arson. Thankfully, his human family members survived. And then, in the week following, anti-abortion activists - or some took responsibility anonymously. And in fact, making it even worse, his family moved to a hotel room for a week or two, and that was vandalized as well. But what happened to this provider was similar to a lot of things that happen in this book in the sense that it motivated him to stop being a part-time abortion provider and start to do it full-time. It made his commitment that much deeper. He knew he was at risk, but he said that what I'm doing matters, and what I'm doing is important, and I'm going to now do this full-time. And he's been doing it full-time ever since.

GROSS: Since there had been threats against him before, were there any legal efforts made to track down who was behind the threats?

COHEN: I don't know about the tracking down of the threats, but there were efforts to try to track down the arson, but they were very - they were unsuccessful. And he thinks that part of the reason it was unsuccessful is because some of the people who were part of the cleanup crew and the fire department after the fire was put out had intentionally destroyed evidence because they didn't like him either - they didn't like what he was doing - and that there was intentional obstruction of the investigation in the process, and so they never found who committed this arson.

GROSS: You interviewed several people who had pickets in front of their homes. I mean, picketing is - you know, it's speech. It seems pretty benign. But when it's at your home, it's different than when it's at your workplace. How did the people - the abortion providers who were picketed at home - what impact did that have on them personally?

CONNON: I think it had a really deep impact on providers and instills, again, this sense of fear that you're kind of not safe anywhere - that abortion opponents can find you and find out where they live. And home picketing was probably the most common form of personalized harassment targeted at a specific person. And it sends messages not only to the provider, but to the provider's immediate family or people that they live with and their community at large that this community or this house is also not safe. And providers reflected that, throughout that, their kids were fearful. Waking up on a Saturday morning and seeing, you know, 40, 50 people outside camping out in and yelling things at the house, and, you know, it's terrifying for children to wake up and see that and for families and communities to experience that.

GROSS: Was is the legality of picketing somebody's home?

COHEN: It depends where you are. In most places around the country, picketing someone's home is legal. But there are plenty of municipalities around the country that have laws that restrict it or prohibit it entirely. And so prohibiting entirely means you just can't do it, but restricting it - we talked to several providers who had local laws that said you just can't - you can't just camp out in front of one house. You have to move, say, around the block, or you have to go from one house on each side, so you can't target one house. These are purely local laws. And if there' enough of a justification for them and they are not too overbroad, the Supreme Court has said they are constitutional because the Supreme Court recognizes what Krysten was just talking about, which is that we go to our homes to get away, for some sanctity and for some relief from the rest of the world. And that doesn't mean they're absolutely protected in all circumstances, but it does mean that the state can have a justification for limiting home picketing.

GROSS: I think the main law that was passed to help protect abortion providers and patients at the clinics was the FACE law, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law that was passed in 1994. What does that law do, and what do you think are limitations of that law?

COHEN: That law has been a wonderful law in some regards, but not very effective in others. So what that law does is it prohibits blockades of clinics and violence against or intimidation of abortion providers. It has been very successful in the first part, preventing blockades of clinics. Literal, physical blockades of clinics used to be a very common tactic of the anti-abortion movement in the 1980s and the early 1990s - not just putting human bodies in front of clinics, but putting inanimate objects that are almost impossible to move. So, for instance, putting a car in front of a clinic's door, throwing away the key, locking a human being under the car, throwing away the key to that lock. How are you going to move that car away from the front entrance of the clinic? That's going to shut down the clinic. Those kind of blockades have not been completely eliminated, but they've been drastically reduced because of the FACE act. So it's been very successful in that regard. But if you look at other forms of violence or attacks or threats against abortion providers and you look at the numbers, it's been roughly the same before and after FACE. So FACE has been less effective with regard to things that we talk about in our book. Based on our research, this kind of personal targeting has not been effectively eliminated because of this law.

GROSS: My guests are David Cohen and Krysten Connon, authors of the new book "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories Of Antiabortion Terrorism." We'll talk more after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with David Cohen and Krysten Connon, authors of the new book "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories Of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." It's about the attacks and threats faced by abortion providers at their clinics and homes. Cohen is a professor at the Drexel University School of Law, was the staff attorney at the Women's Law Project in Philadelphia and currently serves on the board of the Abortion Care Network. Connon is a lawyer in private practice. She helped represent the abortion provider whose story inspired the book. There a lot of criminal laws on the books that prevent some of the things that are being done. You know, it's not legal to harass somebody. It's not legal to stalk somebody. It's not legal to harm somebody. So how effective are the already existing laws in dealing with violence and threats against abortion providers?

COHEN: The existing laws do cover a lot of the things that we're talking about. For instance, the - Robert Dear in Colorado Springs was charged with violating 179 counts of Colorado law, so there are laws on the books. In a lot of places, they need to be enforced better. The police need to better understand what's at stake, so they don't look at a trespass violation and say oh, that's de minimis. Why do we care? That doesn't really matter, so we'll let them off. Minor violations in this context can lead to greater problems, and it can read to - lead to escalation. So that's one thing we encourage is that police departments around the country take crimes associated with abortion providers much more seriously, even the minor ones, because they can escalate. And there are also some laws that need to have greater punishment, like the FACE law that we just were talking about. The fines for the first violation are $5,000, and that's not that significant, especially if a group might pay that. So we encourage that kind of fine to be expanded or increased. But there's a lot more that can be done separate from creating new criminal laws in terms of having having better working relationships with the police. So clinics need to have working relationships with the police, so the police need to be receptive to that and need to do work beforehand, knowing security concerns beforehand. Courts need to understand what threats are for abortion providers and how they may be different for other people in other professions...

GROSS: Give us an example of what you mean.

COHEN: So we talked with one provider who found a note on her windshield saying that she should look under her car because she was thinking of becoming an abortion provider. This is actually someone who had not yet become one, but she had made it public that she was thinking about it. And, you know, that would be scary if I found that. But it's even more of a threat for an abortion provider given what's happened in the past with arsons, with bombs and with murders. And courts need to understand that. They need to understand that an abortion provider is going to look at a threat - or what might be a threat - in a different way than almost everyone else, especially in the field of medicine because of this history. So they need to be more receptive because threats are not protected under the First Amendment. So that's where this comes in is, is the speech protected by the First Amendment or not? And we argue that - or we think based on everything we heard that abortion providers see things differently, and courts need to understand that.

GROSS: David, you are on the board of the Abortion Care Network, and you serve on the board in Philadelphia of the Women's Law Project. Have you had any direct encounters with people who have been harassed, threatened or victimized by violence?

COHEN: Absolutely. The work that I did when I was with the Women's Law Project that I continue to do as a law professor and actually was the inspiration for this book was representing a local abortion clinic in the Philadelphia area that was dealing with protesters, some of whom were very extreme - who were navigating this difficult line of the First Amendment and how to protest outside the clinic. And in the midst of several lawsuits between the protesters and the city and the protesters and the clinic that I and my colleagues in the Women's Law Project worked on those cases - the director of the clinic, to whom we dedicate this book, started being picketed at home. Her neighbors were getting hate mail saying you don't know this, but your neighbor is a murderer. Here's the car she drives. Here's her phone number. Let her know what you think of that. She was being followed home. They were using very personal information about her when she was entering and exiting her work. Her parents received hate mail somewhere else in the country. And one of the extremists, who has an online newsletter that he sends to people in prison for violence against abortion providers - and says at the outset of the newsletter that I believe in violence, I'm just too cowardly to do this myself - included her name and her address in his newsletter. And this was so terrifying to her that she started wearing a bulletproof vest to work. Now, she's an accountant by trade. She worked her way up within the clinic infrastructure to be the director of the clinic. But this is what really - it was actually when Krysten met this woman and heard her story, it was really what became the starting point, the jumping-off point for this book to think how could in the United States in the 2000s someone engaged in a lawful profession, who is an accountant by trade - how can she be wearing a bulletproof vest to work out of fear for her life?

GROSS: You asked everybody who you interviewed why they continue to provide abortions in spite of all the threats, in spite of the violence. What kind of answers did you get?

CONNON: I think one of the most interesting responses that we received from that question and one that we weren't expecting when we asked people why they continue was a connection and a link that they drew to their the current work to a memory or to an experience of a world when abortion was illegal in this country, to this pre-Roe world, and that - a knowledge of a world without abortion and when women went through really unsafe means and oftentimes died getting this health care really struck providers and inspired them to continue.

GROSS: I'm curious if the work that you're doing around threats to abortion providers has affected your relationship to the First Amendment and what you think it means and how it should be defined and used.

COHEN: Yes. This work shows and has shown really how it works on the ground in terms of how speech can have effects beyond just hearing something you dislike, and that certainly should be protected. And the rights of people who oppose abortion to speak out against it - we are not at all interested in restricting their rights to speak out about it. But when actions are taken - and some of those actions can be through words - but when actions are taken that really start harassing and threatening and making someone fear for their safety because of this history of violence that the First Amendment needs to give way. An unrestricted right to free speech would encourage people who are opposed to abortion in this extreme way to really terrorize abortion providers everywhere in the hopes that we can say anything we want and get them to stop because now they're not going to know whether we're just going to go back home and do nothing or become the next Robert Dear. So we're going to walk that line by speaking. So the First Amendment can't have this unrestricted right to speech. And so hearing the stories of what abortion providers deal with I think has really driven home the point that the First Amendment can't be unlimited in this way.

GROSS: So when you say that freedom of speech regarding the First Amendment is not absolute, what is the common understanding already about what those limitations are on freedom of speech?

COHEN: There a bunch of them that exist. For instance, you can't threaten someone. You can't use fighting words to incite them to fight you back. There are a bunch of exceptions that are out there, and it's actually one of those very complicated areas of the law that confuses the justices even of the Supreme Court. But what we're talking about here are threats. We're talking about harassment and stalking - these are things that are excepted from the First Amendment. Home picketing and home harassment - these are things that we encourage the law and judges and police to understand that for abortion providers might - should be thought about differently because of the history of what they've been through and the fear that they have. And so we're not advocating for a new category of exempted speech but rather thinking about the categories that are out there from the perspective of an abortion provider.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are David Cohen and Krysten Connon. They're both lawyers. He's a professor of law at Drexel University's law school and Krysten is in private practice. They're the authors of the new book "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." Let's take a short break, and then we'll talk about how the language of extremism is changing. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guests are the co-authors authors of the new book "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories Of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." David Cohen teaches constitutional law and gender law at Drexel University law school, and he is on the board of directors of the Abortion Care Network. Krysten Connon is an attorney in private practice. Let's talk a little bit about the rhetoric of extremist anti-abortion people. And what struck you about what Robert Dear said about his motivation for his shootings at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs?

COHEN: What struck me was that the language he was using about no more selling babies or selling baby parts mirrored almost exactly the language that we've been hearing for the past several months, ever since those videos about Planned Parenthood were released in July of this summer. And so he was taking that language almost directly and shouting that in the process of committing this violent act.

And if you think about it, using language like abortion providers are selling baby parts, or abortion providers are murdering children, or abortion providers are killing babies - that kind of language is going to have an effect because to some people, they're going to say, oh, that's what's happening? If that's what's happening, we need to stop it because who's not against killing babies? We're all against killing babies. And if I knew that babies were being killed somewhere, that would be horrible. I would want to try and do something about it.

And so it encourages people to try and do something about it - and for a lot of people, in ways that are legal - by talking out about it - but in - for other people who don't have the respect of the law - for the law - or who feel that they can take things into their own hands, like Robert Dear, to do what he did. And so I think this rhetoric is something that absolutely contributed to what happened in Colorado Springs.

GROSS: So as an example of the language that is being used now, let's listen to an excerpt of Cecile Richards, who's the president of Planned Parenthood, being questioned at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. And this is Rep. Jim Duncan, a Republican from Tennessee, asking her about the video that was made by the Center for Medical Progress, which purports to show Planned Parenthood negotiating to sell fetal body parts and tissue.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM DUNCAN: I know you apologize for the discussion and the tone and maybe the laughter. I don't know whether you apologize for the laughter or not on the videos. But do you - do you - I'm not clear on this. Do you defend the sale of baby body parts?

CECILE RICHARDS: No. And I think that is really a total mischaracterization. Fetal tissue research, which, as I mentioned, was started - the whole commission that legalized and created the structure under fetal tissue research was started under the Reagan administration. And it is actually - what it does is facilitates fetal tissue donation. And that is actually - and as I said, fewer than 1 percent of our health centers do any - facilitate fetal tissue donation for the patient. But fetal tissue research has...

DUNCAN: My time has run out. I just want to say this. It seems to me that the apology you offered was like what some criminals do. They're not really sorry for what they've done. They're sorry they got caught. And it seems to me that your apology is more because you got caught on these videos.

RICHARDS: Well, I...

DUNCAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

RICHARDS: I respectfully disagree.

DUNCAN: Thank you.

GROSS: So that was Representative Jim Duncan questioning Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. The expression the sale of baby body parts - what they're referring to when they use that expression - when this expression started entering the mainstream vocabulary after the video that was released by the Center for Medical Progress purporting to show Planned Parenthood negotiating to sell fetal body parts. So when Planned Parenthood does give or donate or sell fetal tissue, what is that for? What is the transaction, and what is being given away from the aborted fetus?

COHEN: The transaction that occurs - and this is perfectly permitted under federal law - only allows for the exchange of money for the compensation for costs associated with, say, storage of fetal tissue or transportation of the fetal tissue, so we're talking about 10s of dollars here. We're talking about 30, 40, $50, in terms of time for staff and costs associated. That's it. So the money that was discussed in these videos was about that, and that's perfectly allowed under federal law. And in fact, if you look at the investigations that have occurred throughout the states since those videos have been released, Planned Parenthood has now been found to violate no laws by every investigatory body since the release of those tapes.

They have not violated the law, but this language has permeated our politics and our culture, and that has effects. And we've seen that with the increase of threats to abortion providers, the violence that was in Colorado Springs. There have been arsons against Planned Parenthoods, vandalism. A Planned Parenthood in St. Louis was just vandalized this past weekend with rocks thrown through their glass windows, with thousands of dollars' worth of damage. Thankfully, no one was in there so no one was hurt by the shards of glass. There've been death threats against the people who were featured in those videos. And so the language has - and in these videos have - not resulted in any findings of criminal wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, but they have resulted - and we knew this would happen - they have resulted in more targeting, more harassment and more violence.

GROSS: So getting back to the expression the sale of baby body parts, what is being given away donated or sold from the aborted fetus, and for what purpose?

COHEN: Fetal tissue is being used by researchers to discover cures for diseases. Polio, for instance, had a - part of it was fetal tissue research that cured polio. And so there's a whole host of diseases and medical complications that treatment has been advanced because of fetal tissue research. And it wasn't very controversial for a long time. As the quote from Cecile Richards said, it was given blessing by the federal government under the Reagan administration. But this was something that was latched onto this summer and has become this big concern, even though millions of people - billions of people, maybe - around the world have been helped by research related to this.

GROSS: Your book documents threats, harassment, shootings of abortion providers. Is that typical? If somebody's on the verge of becoming an abortion provider, should they just assume they're going to be victimized like this?

COHEN: No, I don't think they're going - they should assume. They should assume it's a possibility. What we document in this book is not something that happens to every abortion provider around the country. And we use that term to mean not just doctors, but staff and volunteers, too. This doesn't happen to everyone - far from it - but it can happen to everyone. And I think that's the important point here - is that this doesn't just happen to the highest profile doctors who are out there on the news talking about this. This can happen to anyone in a clinic. And around the country, it can happen anywhere - not just in the most conservative parts of the country, but it can happen in other parts, as well. The Feminist Majority Foundation did a study just recently that came out earlier this year that found from 2010 to 2014, this kind of targeted, personalized harassment had doubled from about a quarter of clinics had dealt with this to over half the clinics in the country have dealt with this. And doesn't mean, again, that everyone at that clinic deals with this harassment, but the frequency has been increasing. And it's something that everyone in the field of abortion provision thinks about and is concerned about.

GROSS: David Cohen, Krysten Connon, thank you both so much.

COHEN: Thank you.

CONNON: Thank you.

>>GROSS; David Cohen and Krysten Connon are the authors of the new book "Living In The Crosshairs: The Untold Stories Of Anti-Abortion Terrorism." Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new "Star Wars" film. That's after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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