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1994 Clinic Violence Survey Report

Law Enforcement Response Improves, Increases in Violence Related to Poor Law Enforcement Response

"Local police will not arrest picketers -- [it] is up to clinic staff/clients/escorts. [The] excuse given by local police is that 'we' are the victims and so we must do [a] citizen's arrest!"

--Clinic Director, 1994 Clinic Violence Survey

Our 1994 survey examined local, state, and federal law enforcement response to clinic violence during the first seven months of 1994. The survey also asked clinics to compare violence during this period in 1994 with violence over the same period in 1993. A final set of questions examined enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act during its first five months in force.

In May 1994, President Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act into law. The Act, which provides federal criminal and civil penalties for acts of force, the threat of force, and acts of physical obstruction targeted at those providing or seeking to obtain abortion services, was passed by overwhelming majorities in both the House and the Senate in November of 1993.

In addition to the FACE victory, abortion rights advocates prevailed in two major U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1994. In NOW v. Schiedler, the Court ruled in January that anti-abortion terrorists could be sued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). In Madsen v. Women's Health Center the Court upheld the constitutionality of "buffer zone" injunctions created by a state court to protect clinics.

These legislative and litigation victories, along with the concerted efforts of abortion rights advocates urging prosecution of anti-abortion extremists, may have improved law enforcement response to clinic violence. Overall the majority of clinics described the response of local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to clinic violence during the first seven months of 1994 as "good" or "excellent." However, clinics that experienced moderate to high levels of violence were much more likely to characterize local, state, and federal law enforcement's response to complaints and incidents of violence as "poor. "

When asked to characterize the response of law enforcement agencies during the first seven months of 1994, over one-third (35.4%) of the clinics ranked local law enforcement response as good," with 30.3% reporting an "excellent" response and 11.5% experiencing a "poor" response; 22.9% of clinics were unable to characterize local law enforcement response.

Clinics had less contact with state and federal law enforcement officials, but the actions of these authorities still elicited a more positive than negative response. Of the clinics surveyed, 7.3% reported an "excellent" response from state law enforcement and 15.9% labeled state law enforcement response as "good;" 8.9% of clinics said state response was "poor." Two-thirds (67.8%) of clinics could not describe state law enforcement response and reported "don't know" on the survey. Slightly under two-thirds of clinics (60.2%) also could not ratefederal law enforcement response, while 10.5% said federal law enforcement response was excellent," 21.3% said federal response was "good," and 8% reported a "poor" response.

The majority of clinics reported that local, state, and federal law enforcement response had either improved or remained the same since 1993, with the greatest increases in responsiveness coming from local and federal officials. Close to half of -clinics (46.8%) reported that local law enforcement response remained the same in 1994, with 30.3% reporting improved response and 2.9% saying that response had declined. One-quarter (25.5%) of clinics said federal law enforcement response had remained the same, while 22.9% said federal response had improved and 1.3% reported the response had declined. Over one-quarter of clinics recorded that state law enforcement response had remained the same, with 14.6% reporting an improvement and 2.5% a decline in state response.

Law enforcement response improved since the July murders, but most clinics continued to rely on local rather than federal law enforcement involvement. Fifty eight percent of clinics reported increased sensitivity on the part of local law enforcement, with 4.1% experiencing decreased sensitivity, 24.8% no interaction, and 13.1% not answering the question. While fewer clinics interacted with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), 34.7% reported increased sensitivity on the part of the FBI, 1.3% decreased sensitivity, and 53.2% reported no FBI interaction in the aftermath of the July murders. A similar pattern prevailed in regards to Federal Marshals. Of the clinics, 60.5% reported that they had no interaction with federal marshals, but 28.3% of clinics reported increased sensitivity on the part of marshals and 1% reported decreased sensitivity.

The importance of effective law enforcement is underscored by 1994 findings showing that the commission of certain violent acts is related to law enforcement response at local, state, and federal levels. Clinics that reported poor local law enforcement response were more likely than clinics that reported an excellent or good response to experience death threats (44.4%), stalking (36. 1 %), home picketing (44.4%), and blockades (30.6%). Of the clinics reporting poor federal law enforcement response, 48% faced death threats, and 52% had staff members who were picketed at home. Clinics that experienced poor state law response were more likely to face blockades (23.7%). Clinics that reported excellent state law enforcement response were more likely not to have had either bomb threats or bombings (82.6%) or arson threats or arson (78.3%) during the first seven months of 1994.

In addition, a statistically significant correlation was found between clinics who experienced higher levels of violence and the characterizations of local, state and federal law responses "poor. " Fifty percent of clinics experiencing high levels of violence (3-6 types) characterized local law response as "poor" as did 47.2% of clinics experiencing moderate levels of violence (1-2 types). Only 2.8% of clinics experiencing no violence reported a "poor" response on the part of local law officials.

Of the clinics that experienced no violence, 7.1 % rated state law officials as responding poorly to complaints of clinic violence. Over half of the clinics (57.1%) that experienced moderate levels of violence characterized state law response as "poor" and 35.7% of those clinics that experienced high levels of violence characterized the response rate as "poor."

Although the correlation between violence and a poor response was not as strong on the state level, it was once again apparent on the federal level. Forty-eight percent of all clinics that experienced high levels of violence characterized federal law enforcement as "poor," 40% of those clinics that experienced moderate levels of violence agreed and 12% of clinics that experienced no violence also characterized the response of federal law officials as poor.

One clinic administrator made a direct connection between active federal officials who operated on the local level and the lack of violence at her clinics, "[This clinic] has not experienced any violent activity this year; however, the local FBI agent has contacted us numerous times and has emphatically stated that her office, the Federal Marshals, and the U.S. Attorney for this district are closely monitoring anti-choice activities."

To combat violence clinics often were forced to turn to the courts for protection. Legal remedies were sought by over one-fifth (21 %) of the clinics during the first seven months of 1994. Five of the eight clinics seeking temporary injunctions received them. Yet permanent injunctions were granted to only 27.8% of the eighteen clinics seeking this form of relief. Of the sixteen clinics that sought restraining orders, 68.8% obtained them. Clinics experiencing multiple types of violence were most likely to seek legal remedies. Almost half (48.8%) of clinics that faced four or more types of violence sought legal remedies. Of clinics reporting three types of violence, 41.7% sought legal remedies, and 31.5% of clinics experiencing two types of violence sought legal relief.

FACE Enforcement Inadequate

"On June 10, 1994, Paul Hill decided to step up his protests by trying to prevent patients from entering the [Pensacola Ladies Center] Clinic Property and screaming into Clinic windows. Since the FACE bill had been signed into law by the President the week before, I wanted him arrested under that law. Our local police had no guidelines for such an arrest. I then telephoned the local office of the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] to ask who had the authority to make such an arrest and was referred to the FBI and explained what had happened; they sent out an agent. The agent said he would "take down the information," but could not make an arrest as he had no guidelines.... I decided to go to the top. I telephoned the Justice Department, Attorney General Janet Reno's office, and after two explanations, was put in touch with Kevin Forder in the Civil Rights Division. I explained who I was, what had happened, and what I was seeking. Mr. Forder informed me he was familiar with the Clinic and Paul Hill's activities; but this was not the time to arrest him. He said, 'These problems have always been a local police problem, and would continue to be so..."

-- Linda Taggart, Clinic Administrator, Testimony before a hearing of the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice, September 21, 1994

During the first five months after FACE was enacted, 16.6% (52) of the clinics sampled reported FACE violations. The majority of clinics that reported FACE violations were non-profits (42.3%), followed by for-profit clinics (28.8%) and private doctor's offices (26.9%).

Federal officials rarely chose to pursue FACE claims themselves, instead directing clinics to seek assistance from local law enforcement or to pursue claims on their own. One quarter of the clinics that identified a FACE violation to federal law enforcement officials were either told that federal authorities would not prosecute or were directed to turn to local law enforcement officials for relief. (See Table 7.) Moreover, even though 55.7% (29) of clinics reporting FACE violations were visited by federal authorities, these visits rarely resulted in the filing of formal charges under FACE.

Table 7: Federal Law Enforcement Response to Clinics Reporting FACE Complaints

To date, only two FACE prosecutions have been sought by federal authorities. Blockaders were charged and convicted in November under FACE for physically obstructing the entrance to a clinic in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Paul Hill was convicted of the murders of Dr. Britton and James Barrett and the attempted murder of June Barrett under FACE.

In responding to questions about FACE enforcement in the survey, one clinic director reported that, "[Since passage of FACE there has been] little change in response by local law enforcement. They don't appear to know how to handle complaints and are awaiting their legal department's "interpretation" of FACE law. Another particularly besieged clinic administrator reported that over the course of the first seven months of 1994 her facility experienced blockades, invasions, bomb threats and bombs, arson and arson threats and chemical attacks. Her staff was picketed at home and staff members received numerous death threats. When the administrator contacted federal law enforcement officials in order to report potential FACE violations, she was referred back to local authorities whose previous responses to requests for assistance was minimal.

Inadequate enforcement of FACE was a central concern expressed at oversight committee hearings of the Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice of the House Judiciary Committee held on September 21, 1994. At those hearings, clinic workers detailed continuing anti-abortion threats and harassment and the lack of federal response to possible FACE violations.

At the hearing, a four-member panel comprised of a physician, a clinic owner, a police sergeant and a clinic administrator related numerous incidents of anti-abortion violence and intimidation that law enforcement officials did not pursue as FACE violations. Susan Hill, President of the National Women's Health Organization, which owns nine abortion clinics across the country, testified that neither local nor federal law enforcement officials were making arrests under FACE.

Death threats, in particular, have not been dealt with by federal authorities even though FACE expressly prohibits the use or threat of force in connection with the provision of abortion services. While this survey shows that the number of clinics reporting death threats has climbed dramatically, FACE charges have not been instituted against anti-abortion extremists issuing direct death threats to specific health care providers.