Women’s reproductive healthcare providers are the targets of an orchestrated campaign of harassment and intimidation. Feminist Majority Leadership Alliances and affiliates can help by adopting their local reproductive health clinic. Pro-choice mobilization is crucial to reducing anti-abortion violence and harassment.
By adopting your local clinic, you will help improve law enforcement response to anti-abortion harassment, bolster the morale of your local clinic and its staff, and bring anti-choice bullies to the attention of your local community. Your grassroots mobilization efforts can and will make a difference!
Overview of Violence Against Women’s Health Clinics
Since the 1970s, anti-abortion extremists have targeted women’s health care providers as a part of an orchestrated campaign of violence and intimidation. Many clinics have suffered arson, butyric acid attacks, and death threats,
as well as demonstrations and harassment. In the 1990s, anti-abortion violence turned deadly and claimed the lives
of nine people.
From its peak in 1994, anti-choice violence decreased as a result of tougher federal and state laws and massive pro-choice organizing to support clinics.
Following the 2008 election, however, extremist anti-abortion leaders vowed to “return to the streets.” Tragically, on May 31, 2009, women’s healthcare provider Dr. George Tiller was murdered by an extremist in Wichita, Kansas. Protests and threats against vital women’s health clinics increased in Alabama, California, Florida, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.
Anti-abortion violence and intimidation threatens access to abortion services as well as a host of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services. Most women’s health clinics provide a whole range of services including gynecological and prenatal care, routine cancer screening, HIV testing, menopausal treatment, infertility treatment, sexually transmitted infection screening and treatment, and adoption and family planning services.
According to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s research, one in five clinics experience unacceptably high levels of anti-abortion harassment and violence. Pro-choice organizing is more important than ever to preserve access to comprehensive reproductive health care.
Federal and State Laws Against Anti-Abortion Violence
In 1994, national abortion rights advocates won passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). FACE creates federal civil and criminal penalties for anyone who intentionally uses force or the threat of force to injure, intimidate or interfere with access to reproductive health services. However, the federal FACE Act is not always enough. California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin have enacted tougher state FACE laws to provide even greater protection for reproductive health care providers.
Many states, counties and cities have passed buffer safety zone laws as well as laws prohibiting residential picketing for additional protection. Buffer safety zones create limits prohibiting anti-abortion protesters from “congregating, picketing, patrolling, demonstrating or entering” a specific area around a clinic. Colorado, counties in New York State, and Montana all have buffer safety zone laws.1 Residential picketing laws help keep clinic doctors, staff, and family members safe from intrusive and harassing picketing.
There are many startling examples of violence and intimidation directed at clinics and abortion providers across the country. In Wichita, the South Wind Women’s Center, has faced an onslaught of threats and harassment. The clinic, which opened in 2013 in the same building that housed the former practice of Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered in 2009 by anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder, provides comprehensive reproductive health services to women throughout central and western Kansas and eastern Oklahoma.
Extremists associated with Roeder have threatened the clinic director at her home, distributing WANTED-style posters featuring her photograph and home address, and accusing her of “mass murder.” During one demonstration, extremists positioned themselves on her lawn with a large sign reading “WHERE’S YOUR CHURCH?” – a clear threat as Dr. Tiller was murdered in his church. Extremists in Chicago, acting in concert with the extremist group Operation Rescue in Wichita, have targeted South Wind’s doctor, who flies in from Chicago to provide abortion care.
Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska, who worked with Dr. Tiller, has vowed to continue his work – to save women’s lives by being a clinic of last resort for difficult late abortions. But Nebraska passed a law imposing onerous and medically unfounded restrictions on abortion, forcing Dr. Carhart to literally travel halfway across the country to provide these services. Dr. Carhart, who now provides services at a clinic in Germantown, Maryland, has been the focus of Operation Rescue’s “Keep It Closed” and “Kick Out Carhart” campaigns, which are trying to drive him out of Nebraska and Maryland.
Operation Rescue of Wichita sponsors AbortionDocs.org, a website to collect detailed information on every abortion provider in the country. Some of the providers listed have – as pro-choice advocates feared – become the targets of stalking by anti-abortion extremists.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, Operation Rescue operatives have teamed up with local anti-abortion extremists to target the Southwestern Women’s Options clinic, where two of Dr. Tiller’s former colleagues now practice and provide difficult late abortions, as well as the University of New Mexico’s Center for Reproductive Health. Over the summer and fall of 2013, Operation Rescue and others staged demonstrations at the clinic and at the homes of doctors.
Anti-abortion extremists from the national group Operation Rescue / Operation Save America continue to target the Jackson Women’s Health Organization – Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic – with staged demonstrations. Extremists have been arrested for disorderly conduct and interfering with clinic access; in 2014 two were found guilty of obstructing the entrance and one of interfering with a lawful business. One is an outspoken advocate for “Justifiable Homicide,” or the murder of abortion providers. There has also been severe harassment in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Operation Rescue has circulated WANTED-style posters in the neighborhoods of abortion providers.
Some anti-abortion fanatics have criminal records of violence or harassment related to extreme anti-choice activity. Ms. magazine’s investigative report found connections between Scott Roeder, the man who murdered Dr. Tiller, and some extreme anti-abortion groups such as Army of God. He is not a “lone wolf” as some of the media have claimed.
What is happening in Pensacola, Wichita, Germantown, Albuquerque and Charlotte are just a few examples of extreme harassment and intimidation; these tactics are being used in many towns and cities across the country in many different ways.