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.
Last summer, a new anti-abortion group, the Center for Medical Progress, began releasing deceptive and surreptitiously recorded videos falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of operating an unlawful tissue donation program. Anti-abortion violence and threats abortion providers have escalated nationwide in the wake of these misleading videos. On November 27, 2015 an anti-abortion extremist shot and killed three people and wounded nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO.
Anti-abortion violence and intimidation threatens access to abortion services as well as a host of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care services. Most reproductive 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 2014 National Clinic Violence Survey, one in five clinics experience unacceptably high levels of anti-abortion harassment and violence. In addition, over 51% of clinics are reporting higher levels of threats and targeted intimidation of doctors and staff than in prior years of this survey. 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. Residential picketing laws help keep clinic doctors, staff, and family members safe from intrusive and harassing picketing.
In July 2015, a new anti-abortion group began releasing deceptive videos that falsely claimed Planned Parenthood was operating an unlawful tissue donation program. These misleading and surreptitiously recorded videos, together with incendiary political rhetoric and actions by state and federal officials, have fanned the flames of violence and threats against women’s health clinics, doctors, and staff nationwide.
Since the first misleading video was released, arsonists set fire to Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana, California and Washington. The number of death threats against doctors and clinic workers has increased. And clinics in Maryland, California, Ohio, and several other states have reported incidents of serious vandalism.
An Operation Rescue affiliated group in California called The Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust has “declared war” against Planned Parenthood and announced a new campaign of intimidation and terror called “The Irregulars” – a “group of soldiers or warriors… that employ irregular military tactics” including small hit and run engagements to harass and sabotage Planned Parenthood clinics.
Then, on November 27, 2015 Robert Lewis Dear shot and killed three people and injured nine others at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs. Dear has been charged with 179 felony counts, including eight counts of first-degree murder and 131 counts of attempted first degree murder. Dear’s rampage was one of the worst acts of violence carried out by an anti-abortion extremist in the United States. Dear used the language “no more baby parts” upon his arrest, leading many to believe that his motivation for attacking the clinic was related to the release of the misleading videos.
Even before the videos, clinics and doctors were experiencing higher levels of threats and intimidation. For example the last remaining clinic in Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic, was attacked by a vandal who destroyed clinic property just days before several national anti-abortion extremist groups targeted the facility with demonstrations.
In Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Los Angeles, California extremists have targeted physicians at their homes, private offices, clinics, and hospitals with WANTED-style flyers and giant posters labeling them as “Killers Among Us” and featuring their photographs, names, home addresses, and other private information. Another extremist group launched a #COTK or Call Out the Killers Campaign to target physicians.
In Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina, anti-abortion extremists from the national group Operation Rescue/Operation Save America targeted doctors with WANTED-style flyers. They continue to routinely single out Mississippi’s last remaining abortion clinic. Some of these extremists include individuals advocating “Justifiable Homicide,” the murder of doctors.
These kinds of flyers and stalking tactics have been used to target doctors in the past that were ultimately murdered, including Dr. George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas, who was assassinated in 2009 by Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion extremist. Roeder participated in many Operation Rescue-led actions that relentlessly targeted Dr. Tiller before carrying out his execution.
After Tiller’s murder, Operation Rescue began to focus its efforts on doctors that had worked closely with him in Wichita. For example, Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska, who worked with Dr. Tiller, vowed to continue his work and began to provide services at a clinic in Germantown, Maryland as well as his own facility in Nebraska. Immediately, Operation Rescue launched a “Keep It Closed” and “Kick Carhart Out of Maryland” Campaign.
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.
When the South Wind Women’s Center opened in the same building that housed the former practice of Tiller, Operation Rescue and extremists associated with Roeder threatened the clinic director at her home and neighborhood, distributing WANTED-style flyers and holding signs in front of her house reading, “WHERE’S YOUR CHURCH?” and “PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER.” Dr. Tiller was killed in his church.
Operation Rescue also launched a new website called AbortionDocs.org, a website to collect detailed information – photographs, medical licenses, video, clinic addresses, etc. – on doctors, staff, and facilities that provide medical or surgical abortions. Some of the providers identified on the site have been stalked by anti-abortion extremists. In response to the increase in violence, threats and intimidation, FMF launched a bold new initiative – “When did the right to life become the right to terrorize?” taking on Operation Rescue and its president Troy Newman.
What is happening to doctors and clinics across the country is unacceptable harassment and intimidation – but you can make a difference. Since 1987, the Feminist Majority Foundation has trained over 64,000 volunteers – especially college students – to defend and assist women’s health care providers under siege by anti abortion extremist groups.