Dec. 30, 2019, was the 25th anniversary of the murders of Shannon Lowney and Lee Ann Nichols, two women who had simply showed up to do their jobs that morning as receptionists at a medical office. Lee Ann worked at Preterm Health Services and Shannon worked at Planned Parenthood, both in Brookline, Massachusetts.

That morning, I was working the reception desk at the private medical practice of Dr. Gregory Luck, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Falmouth. Dr. Luck had given up his obstetric practice a few years before, but he continued to provide routine gynecology, including abortion care. Dr. Luck was a highly skilled physician, and other physicians from all over Maine and New Hampshire used to refer their patients to him for expert care.

We weren’t expecting any patients that day. In fact, we were in the process of closing down Dr  Luck’s practice and hadn’t seen any patients there since the end of September 1994. That was when Dr. Luck decided he could no longer ensure the safety of his staff or patients. Two physicians had already been murdered by “pro-life” activists, and Dr. Luck had been wearing a bulletproof vest to the office regularly for a while. Protesters out in front of Dr. Luck’s office on Route 1 had been disruptive and threatening violence for months.

As I listened to the news from the reception desk at Dr. Luck’s office 25 years ago, I considered the fact that if the “pro-life” murderer had driven one hour north from his home in seacoast New Hampshire instead of one hour south that morning, it would have been me or one of my co-workers he intended to kill. Dr. Luck’s decision to close his medical practice because he understood that “pro-life” murder and violence was only going to get worse was prescient.

Jumping ahead 25 years since the murders of Shannon and Lee Ann, there have been additional murders of physicians and ongoing violence and disruption at health care facilities that provide abortion care here in Maine and around the United States, but the assault on women’s moral agency and physical autonomy is taking place primarily in state legislatures and the courts.

Those opposed to reproductive justice work to advance their agenda by creating false claims that abortion is a dangerous procedure that leaves women with a lifetime of psychological trauma and at greater risk of breast cancer. Although all of these claims are fake news and not based on scientific fact, these ideas have been advanced with the public and in the courts to close down health care facilities that provide abortion care.

The list of states that have fewer facilities offering abortion care than they did a decade ago is a long one, but Maine is not on that list. Decades of disciplined organizing in support of reproductive justice have been rewarded this year with new state laws recognizing that women on Medicaid should not be discriminated against if they choose to terminate a pregnancy, and that nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants have more-than-adequate training and clinical skills to offer abortion services. Maine also has increased access to abortion care by offering telemedicine so that women in the most rural parts of Maine don’t have to travel hundreds of miles for care. And most important, Maine advocates and health care professionals have significantly reduced the rate of unintended pregnancy so there is less need for abortion in the first place.

In Maine, we trust women know what is best for themselves and their families, and we have much to be proud of, but we don’t celebrate without remembering that our co-workers, colleagues, friends and people in our families have lost their lives to “pro-life” murderers. This week, I honor Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney on the 25th anniversary of their deaths.


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