Because you bled one week of every month.
Because you wanted to build bridges and towers.
Because you weren’t at home dusting the den.
Because, for no reason.
Excerpt from 14, As More Than Just A Number by Anne Humphrey
When I was a year old, a man walked into a classroom in the University of Montreal engineering school armed with a semiautomatic rifle, a hunting knife, and a suicide note tucked away in his jacket pocket. He declared a war against feminism and murdered 14 women before turning the gun on himself. Three days shy of my 27th birthday last week, a man entered a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs with his fully loaded assault rifle, killed two people and a police officer called to the scene, and surrendered after a standoff lasting five hours. As a young woman, the two acts of domestic terrorism are crude bookends to my life so far.
The long history of violence against abortion clinics, Planned Parenthood facilities, and women’s health centers would fare better juxtaposed with the shooting in Colorado. The man responsible, a professed evangelical, reportedly made reference to a heavily edited and illegally obtained video of a Planned Parenthood official discussing fetal tissue research leaked to the public by a national pro-life group. But the 1989 massacre in Montreal provides context beyond the ongoing rhetoric of the abortion debate.
The gunman in the engineering school classroom separated the women from the men and ordered the men to leave the room. Before he opened fire he said, “You're women, you're going to be engineers. You're all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” These are among the last words several women heard before they were shot, injured, and killed. His premeditated statement highlights a deep-seated hatred of women furthering their education in a male-dominated field, challenging gender expectations and socialized norms, asserting their right to choose their own path.
The mass reaction to the murders of the 14 women centered on their professional aspirations and rightly so. Over two decades later, the number of female engineering undergraduate students hovers between 17 and 20 percent in the United States and Canada. As I reread the story of the massacre, I focused on the uttered confession of the gunman further detailed in his suicide note. At the heart of his motive is a fear of a woman’s choice, the choices women make individually and collectively, and the fact that women have a choice at all.
Choice is a privilege long passed off as indisputable right, directly impacted by comprehensive education and equitable opportunity. Choice implies and exemplifies a sense of freedom. The patriarchal nature of the world both devalues and mischaracterizes what is conditionally associated with womanhood and femininity. When women exercise informed choice, they disrupt the entrenched belief that women have a predestined, subjugated position in society. After the latest shooting at Planned Parenthood, a friend of mine posited, “I do not believe people are so offended by abortion that they blow up places and shoot people. Instead, I believe people are offended by women out of their assigned place.”
I am a patron and supporter of Planned Parenthood, but I do not align myself with pro-choice politics. Choice is predictably subjective and severely limited based on identity. Instead, I am a proud advocate of emotional and physical wellness, bodily autonomy, and reproductive justice. Abortion services are an important part of affordable and accessible reproductive and general health care, especially for poor families, disabled individuals, queer people, and women of color. Women and others seeking reproductive options at Planned Parenthood, independent abortion clinics, and health facilities both want and need informed choice over their own bodies.
The shooter in Colorado Springs killed one woman, a mother of two, among his three victims. But he targeted a facility best known for representing women’s health and promoting pro-choice politics and access to abortion care. He did not care who was at the center to pick up the next month’s birth control, review their STI test results, get a referral for prenatal care, or set an appointment for an abortion procedure. Each person within range of his rifle deserved his or her fate for simply being in a place that earned his hatred. His beliefs concerning abortion and fetal tissue research may well be grounded in his religious faith, but his actions and criminal behavior prior to the shooting are in direct opposition to women and their choices.
The 26th anniversary of the Montreal massacre fell on December 6th. It’s time to brazenly name and challenge the underlying issue at hand and expand access to informed choice. The deaths of 14 women in Montreal, 3 people in Colorado, and every person in between must not be in vain.