Book Review: Living in the crosshairs: The untold stories of anti-abortion terrorism

Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Cohen, D. S., & Connon, K. (2015).
Living in the crosshairs: The untold stories of anti-abortion terrorism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
326 pp. $29.95, ISBN-10: 0199377553. ISBN-13: 978-0199377558.
Reviewed by: Shanna Natalia Felix, Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0734016817721288
In Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism, authors Cohen and
Connon discuss the results of a 3-year project involving interviews of 87 abortion providers. The
authors organizetheir book around their two self-proclaimed messages:first, that “targeted harassment
continues to be a serious problem” and second, “that the legal system’s response can improve” (p. 9).
The authors begin by discussing the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who
was murdered in a church by an antia bortion extremist. Like Dr. Till er, many of the abortion
providers in the book traveled across the country to different abortion clinics to provide not only
the less controversial (but still protested) first and second trimester abortions but also the rare but
heavily contested “late-term” abortion. In the first chapter, Cohen and Connon discuss the immense
risk associated with their “day at the office”—many of the providers wore bulletproof vests, per-
iodically altered their routes to work, and had the Federal Bureau of Investigation on “speed dial” to
report imminent threats. In the second chapter, the authors discuss where the harassment takes
place—ranging from right outside of given clinics to the doctors’ homes, other places of work, or
online and in the media. In the third and fourth chapters, the authors cover various tactics used by
antiabortion protesters, such as shouting references to previo us killings and acquiring doctors
personal information to scare or unsettle the doctors and their children or families. In the fifth and
sixth chapters, the authors focus on the providers’ reactions to terrorism and the preventative
measures taken to protect their lives.
The seventh, eight, and ninth chapters of the book focus on the legal system’s response to
antiabortion terrorism, whether that response comes in the form of interaction with law enforcement
or with the court system. The authors also discuss the legal system’s response in terms of laws that
are in place specific to abortion providers or targeted harassment, including the implementation of
laws commonly known as “buffer zone” laws, which forbid people not receiving services from being
within a certain distance of the building or those going in or out of the building. The authors take
time to carefully analyze and critique many of the legal responses to antiabortion terrorism, which
allows the reader to understand such policies in terms of their implications. For instance, the authors
discuss the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and its complexities, strengths, and
weaknesses. In one scenario, a provider mentioned receiving a call saying that “they were all going
to die.” Although this was categorized as an implied threat, federal authorities had the discretion to
determine that there was possibly not enough evidence that something would actually happen or
enough evidence to determine who the offender was. The 10th and final chapte r discusses the
providers’ perceptions of the need to continue their work in the face of dangerous adversity.
The authors take care to present the providers’ experiences without judgment or interpretation.
The greatest strength of this approach is that it allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions
from the experiences presented. The authors constantly complement any subjective claims with
factual information—for instance, in the earliest pages of the book, they discuss that antiabortion
movements frequently take extremist forms by including statistics on reported acts of bombings,
bomb threats, vandalism, trespassing, and death threats. In the second section of the book, the
authors again present the legal system’s response to antiabortion terrorism and the options that
providers have, particularly under the Obama administration—leaving the reader with the question
of “What will happen now, in this political climate?”
124 Criminal Justice Review 46(1)

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