Last week the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Christopher Wray to serve as the new director of the FBI, and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) pressed the nominee on his dedication to protecting abortion clinics from violence.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance (FACE) Act was signed into law in 1994 by President Clinton, and made it a federal crime to use force, the threat of force or physical obstruction to intimidate, harm or prevent someone from obtaining or providing reproductive health services. The law was passed during a surge of violence against reproductive health providers in the 1990s that culminated in the murder of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida on March 10,1993.
Blumenthal began by citing specific acts of violence faced by abortion providers and their supporters, stating, “Between 1977 and 2015, there have been hundreds of crimes committed against reproductive health care facilities, clinics, and other offices, abortion providers, reproductive health care, senators, including 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 185 arsons and so forth.”
While Senator Blumenthal’s line of questioning may have appeared to many as out of the blue, it was a necessary action to ensuring the protection of reproductive rights within the vehemently anti-abortion Trump era. “In 1998, Attorney General Janet Reno created the national task force on violence against reproductive health providers to coordinate investigation and prosecution of such incidents,” the senator continued. “As FBI director, I hope you will continue to support the FBI’s participation in that effort.”
Wray confirmed his commitment to following FBI regulations, but did not explicitly comment on the protection of the abortion clinics as Senator Blumenthal had asked. “Senator, I gather there is a specific statute that is in place that the FBI has investigative jurisdiction to enforce,” he said. “We would zealously investigate all criminal violations including the ones under the statute.”
Advocates are concerned that while he showed dedication to upholding current FBI standards, the lack of enthusiasm or resources provided could mean an otherwise dangerous future for reproductive health care providers.
The importance of pushing Wray on his stance regarding the protection of abortion providers was brought to light late last month in a Rewire article discussing the questions the senators should ask of the nominee. Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, told Rewire that anti-abortion violence against clinics must be classified as Domestic Terrorism, and that there is no justice if our country puts faith into an FBI Director who doesn’t feel the same way.
“Would [the FBI director] agree to track violence against reproductive-health clinics and their doctors, owners, health-care workers, and patients—or for that matter their vendors—to see what pattern and practices emerge that gets to the core of this violence or terrorism?” Smeal asked Rewire. “That’s how they track international terrorism. This is domestic terrorism. Would [he direct the FBI to] use skills to investigate what we believe is organized crime to drive not only clinics out of business, but to stop the provision of reproductive health care?”
According to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey, threats and violence against abortion providers has skyrocketed, from impacting 19.7 percent of clinics in 2014 to 34.2 percent of clinics in 2016. The survey also found that 91.1 percent of clinics experience some type of anti-abortion activity, such as protesting, with 63.2 percent of providers experiencing activity at least once a week, and a quarter of clinics experiencing it every day.
This weekend, anti-abortion extremist group Operation Save America will be descending on Louisville, Kentucky to illegally blockade the entrance to the only remaining abortion clinic in the state. You can help contribute the clinic’s security needs here.
Media Resources: Rewire 06/22/2017; PJ Media 07/12/2017; Feminist Majority Foundation 5/26/17, 7/17/17; National Clinic Violence Survey 02/2017