Remembering a pro-choice warrior

The reproductive rights movement loses Susan Hill, a brave and passionate advocate

Published February 5, 2010 6:06PM (EST)

We were saddened to learn this week that Susan Hill, founder, president and CEO of the National Women's Health Organization, died of breast cancer on January 30. A passionate advocate for reproductive freedom, Hill helped found the first abortion clinic in Florida two weeks after the Roe v. Wade decision was announced in 1973. For the rest of her life, she worked to facilitate access to abortion care for women in areas where the local laws and culture presented numerous obstacles. In a recent interview with Mary Lou Greenberg for On the Issues magazine, Hill explained, "I wanted to go to places no one else wanted to go."

Since 1976, the National Women's Health Organization has opened eleven clinics in underserved areas, four of which are still operating today, in Mississippi, Indiana, Georgia and North Carolina. According to the organization's Web site:

NWHO clinics have been plaintiffs in over 30 lawsuits in 20 years and have been at the forefront of the battle to keep reproductive services available. There have been 18 arsons, countless vandalisms and over 3,000 arrests of protestors at NWHO clinics. Since its inception, NWHO has provided abortion services to over 600,000 women in underserved areas, and low cost reproductive services to another 600,000 women.

Greenberg writes that Hill and her staff were "picketed, protested, stalked, and assaulted -- verbally and physically -- too many times to count. One of her doctors, David Gunn, was murdered by an anti-abortion protestor on March 10, 1993, the first of eight abortion doctors and staff to be assassinated in this war." Hill was also a friend of Dr. George Tiller, shot to death last May by anti-abortion fanatic Scott Roeder, who took cases that NWHO clincs couldn't handle. "We always sent the really tragic cases to Tiller," she told Broadsheet in June. Following his death, she said, "We don't know where we're going to send them."

What Hill did know was that giving up was not an option. During the same interview, she spoke of recent threats to her personal safety, the continuous, frightening harassment abortion providers are subjected to, and the unacceptable responses of local law enforcement. "I've been doing this 35 years, and I really get infuriated when I hear pro-life people say they're not violent," she said. "There's a long history of violence." In a June interview with Rachel Maddow (below), Hill said that in the aftermath of Tiller's murder, anti-abortion activists were "yelling at me that I was the next to die, that they were praying for my death." But it never stopped her from working tirelessly to defend reproductive freedom and help women who had few other places to turn. "Women have got to have the right to make this decision," Hill told Greenberg, just over a week before she died. "They [the anti-abortion forces] have done these things to frighten us, to make us stop, but they won't succeed."

By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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