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1994 Clinic Violence Survey Report

Summary

The 1994 Feminist Majority Foundation's Clinic Violence Survey revealed that anti-abortion violence during the first seven months of 1994 continued to plague the lives of health care workers who provide abortion services. The key findings of our survey include:

  • violence directed at abortion clinics and health care workers remained at essentially the same high levels as in 1993;
  • anti-abortion extremists are increasingly turning to death threats as their primary strategy;
  • blockades, invasions, chemical attacks and home picketing decreased since 1993;
  • following the murders of Dr. Bayard Britton and clinic escort James Barrett, death threats escalated;
  • fewer clinic staff resigned this year than in 1993 as a result of anti-abortion violence;
  • increases in clinic violence are related to poor law enforcement response; and
  • law enforcement response to clinic violence generally has improved, but enforcement of the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act during its first five months has been limited.

Of the clinics surveyed, 51.9% experienced one or more types of violence, including death threats, stalking, chemical attacks, bombings and bomb threats, invasions, arson and arson threats, and blockades. Last year, 50.2% of clinics reported one or more of these types of violence. When additional forms of violence such as home picketing, gunfire, and vandalism were considered this year, 66.7% of clinics reported one or more types of violence.

Death threats were the most frequently reported type of violence. Of the clinics, 24.8% indicated that members of their staff had received death threats. More clinics reported that death threats had increased since 1994 than any other form of violence; 14% of clinics experienced an increase in death threats during the first seven months of 1994. Death threats again increased significantly after the July slayings in Pensacola; 16.6% of clinics reported an increase in death threats after the murders of Dr. Britton and Barrett. Moreover, the survey found that death threats were directed at non-profit clinics, which are generally more economically vulnerable, in significantly higher numbers than at for-profit clinics or private doctor's offices.

Anti-abortion violence resulted in fewer clinic staff resignations in the first seven months of 1993 than in 1994. Of clinics responding to the 1994 survey, 8.9% had at least one staff member quit because of clinic violence, compared with one-third of clinics in 1993.

The survey found that clinic violence imerils not only abortion access, but also a wide ranize of low-cost health care services. Of the clinics in the survey sample, 94.9% provide services in addition to abortion such as cancer screening, birth control, infertility treatment, vasectomies, tubal ligation, and adoption services.

The survey also measured the responses of local, state, and federal authorities to reports of anti-abortion violence. Enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE), an act passed by the U.S. Congress to protect clinics from anti abortion violence, during the first few months since its enactment was extremely imited. Fifty-two clinics reported FACE violations to law enforcement officials. One quarter of these clinics were told that federal officials would not prosecute under FACE or were directed to local law enforcement agencies. Many of these clinics said that law enforcement response was inadequate even when their reports of FACE violations elicited visits from federal law enforcement officials and clear directions on how to pursue FACE claims.

In the wake of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions upholding clinic buffer zones and allowing clinics to sue under federal conspiracy laws, and after FACE passage, clinics reported some improvement in the response to clinic violence by local, state, and federal law officials. The survey also found that clinics did not often seek assistance from state and federal authorities. Clinics relied primarily on local law enforcement for assistance in contending with anti-abortion extremist activities. Yet local authorities were the most unlikely or unable to provide adequate protection for clinics.

Poor law enforcement response, in fact, appears to have a direct relationship to violence at clinics. Statistically significant relationships were found between law enforcement response and changes in the level of specific types of violence since 1993.

The following sections examine important findings from the 1994 survey related to the types and levels of anti-abortion violence, the rise in death threats, clinic staff losses, the disruption of women's health services, anti-abortion violence since the July murders, and law enforcement effectiveness.