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1996 Clinic Violence Survey Report


Almost one-third of abortion clinics remain under attack from anti-abortion extremists. Unacceptably high levels of violence continue at abortion clinics, putting clinic personnel, patients, abortion rights in peril. For the first time since 1994, reports of some types of violence directed at clinic facilities increased. Bombings and chemical attacks arson threats were up in 1996. Moreover, the rate of decline in overall levels of violence and in specific types of violence has slowed.

Pro-choice vigilance, increased security measures at clinics, and improvements in law enforcement, however, have reduced anti-abortion violence at women’s health clinics for the second consecutive year. Violence directed at clinic personnel such as death threats and stalking dropped significantly to far lower levels than in recent years. Fewer clinics reported that staff had resigned as a result of the violence. Clinics also are looking forward to being able to introduce new medical technologies to women which may diminish anti-abortion violence; over two-thirds of clinics are interested in providing mifepristone to their patients.

A major finding of our survey in 1996 as well as in 1995 is an empirically compelling correlation between law enforcement response and clinic violence: the better law enforcement response, the less violence. The survey also documents that buffer zones are a key strategy for reducing clinic violence. Clinics with buffer zones experienced far more dramatic declines in all types of violence compared with clinics that did not enjoy buffer zone protection.

Clinics in 1996 noted vast improvements in enforcement of the Freedom of Clinic Entrances Act. Clinic reports of FACE violations are now being treated more seriously. More clinics reported that investigations had been opened and parties interviewed as a result of complaints than in 1995. The deterrent effect of increased enforcement of FACE may in fact be the reason for the decline in clinic FACE violation reports in 1996.

However, despite enhanced FACE enforcement, much room for improvement remains at all levels of law enforcement. While few clinics reported a decline in law enforcement response, few noted improvements. In addition, clinics experienced difficulties securing legal remedies such as restraining orders and injunctions from the courts. More vigorous law enforcement activity at local, state, and federal levels is necessary in order to reduce the current intolerable level of violence that still plagues almost one-third of clinics.