Abortion Reproductive Rights

Threats and Violence Against Abortion Providers Has Skyrocketed, According to FMF Survey

The Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF) has released the results of the 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey, an analysis of the anti-abortion violence, intimidation and harassment that occurred at women’s health clinics across the country in the first six months of 2016.

The survey found that the number of clinics that experienced the most severe types of threats and violence has skyrocketed since 2014, from 19.7 percent to 34.2 percent. Severe violence and threats include death threats, stalking, and blocking access to clinics. Half of the clinics in the United States (49.5 percent) experienced at least one incident of severe violence and/or severe harassment, such as break-ins or vandalism.

For example, in October of 2016 a Missouri man pleaded guilty to a federal charge of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance Act, which makes it a crime to intentionally damage a reproductive health clinic because of the services offered there, after he attempted to burn down his town’s Planned Parenthood clinic twice. In the same month, a Maryland man pleaded guilty to vandalizing a women’s healthcare facility, spray painting “Baby Killer,” “Kill Baby Here” and other comments on a Baltimore clinic in what he admitted was an attempt to intimidate women from accessing reproductive healthcare.

In addition to severe violence, threats and harassment, the survey found that the overwhelming majority of clinics (91.1 percent) experienced some type of anti-abortion activity—such as protesting—in the first half of 2016, with 63.2 percent of providers experiencing activity at least once a week, and a quarter of clinics experiencing it every day. FMF produced a spotlight video to accompany the release of the survey called “Walking the Gauntlet” to demonstrate the extreme tactics employed by the anti-abortion industry to intimidate patients, clinic staff and doctors in front of the clinic. These may appear to be ordinary protesters, but many are in fact trained operatives engaged in a systematic campaign to shut down access to women’s health clinics.

At times, anti-abortion groups will organize large events, bringing people from across the country, to target, intimidate and harass specific women’s health centers. Just this summer, Operation Save America (OSA), an anti-abortion extremist group based in Waco, Texas, led a week-long campaign against South Wind Women’s Center and Planned Parenthood in Wichita, Kansas to mark the 25th anniversary of Operation Rescue’s 1991 Summer of Mercy, a six-week protest during which 2,700 extremists were arrested for blockading three abortion clinics in Wichita, including the clinic of Dr. George Tiller who was later murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009.

During this summer’s protest, Rusty Thomas, the leader of OSA, issued an open letter to police calling on them to, “insist their states immediately outlaw abortion, grant the police the authority to shut down any death camp in their jurisdiction, and arrest those who participate in the barbaric act of abortion.” Instead, the Wichita Police Department worked closely with local clinics—and protesters—to ensure patient and staff access and safety, and invested significant resources to maintaining the peace during the weeklong campaign by the outside group.

According to FMF’s 2016 Clinic Violence Survey, women’s health centers that rated their experience with law enforcement as “poor” or “fair” were significantly more likely to experience high levels of severe violence and harassment (47 percent) than those who rated local law enforcement “good” or “excellent” (16 percent).

In addition to targeting clinics, many doctors and clinic staff are targeted by anti-abortion extremist groups directly. 46.4 percent of clinics in 2016 reported the targeting of staff and physicians, most frequently by pamphlets like the KILLERS AMONG US leaflets featuring doctors’ photographs and home addresses, as well as the distribution of WANTED style posters.

According to the survey report, “Beginning in the early 1990’s an undeniable pattern emerged between the use of WANTED posters and the murder of the doctors named on the posters. Drs. Gunn, Britton, Slepian and Tiller were all murdered by anti-abortion extremists; all had been featured prior to their murder on WANTED posters with their home and clinic addresses and in some cases, their photographs.”

“We’ve been doing this survey since 1993 and seen time and time again that this rhetoric quickly escalates to threats. And when threats go up, violence occurs,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “You cannot consistently call women and doctors murderers and then escape responsibility when others are emboldened to commit violence.”

Threats, harassment and acts of violence against abortion providers, which were already high, saw the increase outlined in the survey against the backdrop of the 2015 release of fraudulent videos by the so-called Center for Medical Progress (CMP), an anti-abortion group that falsely accused Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue. The now thoroughly debunked videos ignited 13 state and 3 Congressional investigations, each of which found zero evidence of wrongdoing. Planned Parenthood is proceeding with a federal racketeering lawsuit against CMP.

Despite these facts, a House Select Investigative Panel investigating abortion providers came to a close only a month ago, after over a year of waging a “McCarthyesque witch hunt,” abusing Congressional authority and subpoena power to intimidate, threaten and endanger the lives of abortion providers and biomedical research professionals. Both the video and the subsequent House Select Panel investigation have been accused of increasing the threats and violence towards abortion providers, including the 2015 shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood that killed three people and injured nine.

Companies and individuals both targeted and not targeted by the videos found themselves the focus of invasive and dangerous Congressional subpoenas demanding names of employees involved with handling fetal tissue, putting their lives at risk. Some of those forced to testify before the Panel were compared to Nazi war criminals, and some now require 24-hour personal security. Multiple clinics and tissue procurement agencies stopped facilitating fetal tissue donations because of the threats inspired by CMP and the Panel investigation. In April, a Washington man pleaded guilty in federal court to threatening the lives of biomedical research employees targeted by the Panel and encouraging others to kill them.

Clinics and their staffs across the country are facing severe and consistent threats, and they need your help. Become a Feminist First Responder to support clinics under attack. There are a number of activities you can choose from, including becoming a clinic escort, volunteering as a legal observer, and providing emergency security assistance to clinics under siege.

Read the full 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey report here.

Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation 2/9/17, 10/19/16, 8/5/16, 2/9/17, 1/5/17.


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