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1996 Clinic Violence Survey Report


Reports of FACE Violations Decrease As FACE Enforcement Improves

The 1996 Clinic Survey found that a significant decrease in reported violations of Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) accompanied substantial improvements in enforcement of the law. The percentage of clinics reporting FACE violations to federal law enforcement officials declined from 20% in 1995 to 7.7% during the first seven months of 1996. Unlike the first year of FACE enforcement when clinics received little instruction and little follow-up from federal officials, clinic FACE violation reports in 1996 were treated seriously by federal officials.

The survey shows that in 1996 federal officials provided clearer information to clinics on how to initiate FACE claims than they did in 1995. Of the 24 clinics reporting FACE violations to federal law enforcement officials in 1996, 41.7% of clinics were provided with clear directions for initiating a FACE complaint. In 1995, only 16.1% of clinics said they were told how to initiate FACE complaints. (See Chart 6.)

Chart 6. Federal Law Enforcement Response to Clinic FACE Violation Reports, 1995-1996.
Chart 6 Chart 6a

Federal officials also were more likely to act on FACE reports in 1996. Almost one third of clinics (29.2%) said federal officials had interviewed parties in response to the clinics’ reports of FACE violations; only 12.9% of clinics reporting FACE violations in 1995 said officials had taken this step. Twenty-five percent of the clinics said that investigations were opened in response to their FACE violation reports in 1996, compared with only 14.5% of clinics reporting FACE violations in 1995.

Yet, in both 1996 and 1995, the percentage of clinics whose FACE violation reports actually resulted in criminal FACE action was virtually the same: 8.3% in 1996 and 8.1% in 1995. In 1996, civil FACE actions were initiated for 12.5% of the clinics. In 1995, civil action was pursued for only 4.8% of clinics reporting FACE violations.

Only 8.3% of the 24 clinics were advised that federal authorities would not prosecute, while 19.4% of clinics reporting FACE violations in 1995 were given this response. Half of the clinics which reported FACE violations were referred to local authorities to handle the complaints under municipal or state law, which is down slightly from 1995 when 54.8% of clinics reporting FACE violations were told to seek assistance from local officials.

While federal authorities pursued clinic concerns with FACE violations far more vigorously in 1996 than in 1995, few clinics won the civil or criminal redress they sought against anti-abortion extremists. Six of the 312 clinics surveyed sought civil FACE remedies during the first seven months of 1996. Five of these clinics sought civil injunctions, and two sought civil damages. Three clinics won the civil injunctions they sought, but neither of the two clinics seeking civil damages won these awards. Eighteen clinics urged law enforcement officials to file criminal charges under FACE. Only two clinics reported that criminal charges had been filed. In both cases, the charges resulted in convictions.

Clinics stressed the importance of among local, state, and federal law enforcement officials and clinics about FACE. One clinic administrator, who stressed the need for meetings between clinics and all levels of law enforcement, said, "When FACE was passed, the Justice Department convened a reproductive rights task force in [our community], with 20 some law enforcement folks and the clinic heads. Local law enforcement were told they would operate under the direction of federal marshals if there was a problem at clinics this established the ‘chain of command’ and since that time the Marshals and the FBI have been very available to us." Clinics in areas where law enforcement and clinics had not developed ongoing relationships were especially frustrated with law enforcement response to FACE violations.

Enacted in May of 1994, FACE makes anti-abortion violence a federal crime. The Act provides federal jurisdiction and enacts specific federal penalties, including felony offenses and civil fines, for those convicted of using force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction against patients, health care workers, and clinics.

Court after court has continued to uphold FACE, further emboldening enforcement efforts. In 1995 and 1996, FACE was upheld in three challenges at the federal appeals court level. In October of 1996, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively upheld FACE again by refusing to hear or comment on a Wisconsin challenge to FACE that had been overturned in federal appeals court.