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Violence Aimed at Abortion Clinics Has Risen Dramatically

A new study, released as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, tracked stalking, invasions, assaults, and more at clinics.

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FILE - In this July 17, 2017 file photo, escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state's only abortion clinic. Anti-abortion groups are challenging a new Louisville law that creates a buffer zone around medical centers. It bars protesters from an area in front of a downtown abortion clinic. The new law passed by the Louisville Metro Council last May 2021 creates a 10-foot-wide zone outside healthcare facilities, including the EMW Women’s clinic. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan, File)
In this July 2017 photo, abortion clinic escort volunteers line up outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, Ky., the state’s only abortion clinic.
Photo: Dylan Lovan (AP)

On the same day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and with it our constitutional right to abortion, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) released its latest report on the state of violence and harassment aimed at abortion clinics. Despite suspected underreporting of many key anti-abortion tactics (likely due to pandemic closures), NAF found all types of violence increased.

In 2021, compared to 2020, NAF found:

  • 600 percent increase of in-person stalking incidents across its U.S. clinics
  • 450 percent increase in physical blockades
  • 163 percent increase in hoax devices and suspicious packages
  • 129 percent in clinic invasions
  • 128 percent increase in assault and battery of staff

Each of these actions is purposefully threatening, intended to scare abortion seekers out of getting care and abortion clinics out of providing it. The goal is to make providers and patients alike think twice about coming to a clinic. In the last two years there were more than a quarter million—229,610—instances of picketing at clinics, for instance. Those mark 229,610 times the anti-abortion front tried to intimidate people out of their then-legal access to abortion.

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But sometimes, staying outside with their little signs isn’t enough for anti-abortion protesters. In April, anti-abortion activists blocked a Michigan clinic entrance, with one person chaining themselves to the door with a bike lock, requiring police to cut it off. In Texas, a clinic reported a burglary where it appeared that someone broke in to look for patient charts right after the state’s six-week abortion ban went into effect.

“This kind of violence and disruption puts abortion providers’ lives at real risk and can interfere with abortion seekers’ ability to get the care they need,” NAF security directory Michelle Davidson said on Thursday in a call with reporters. “Once Roe is overturned, violence is likely to remain a routine part of our providers’ and clinics’ lives.”

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Amanda Kifferly has been with the Women’s Centers, a provider with abortion clinics in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Georgia, for 17 years. On one of her first days on the job, she learned how to properly conduct a bomb search of a facility. “It underlined for me from the very beginning that we were our first front-line providers in terms of our own safety. We were in charge. It can be an exhausting experience,” Kifferly, who is now the vice president of abortion access and clinic security director at the Women’s Centers, told reporters. “I witness every day our protesters outside of our clinics follow patients and follow staff, whether it be to a bus stop, onto a public transportation site, into their cars, or also into the pharmacy.”

Last year, NAF member clinics reported 123 incidents of assault and battery, a massive jump from the 54 incidents in 2020. The contrast can be explained a bit by clinic closures and general shutdowns during the beginning of the pandemic, but not entirely. Covid stretched abortion providers to the brink. Staff burned out or got sick or simply had to take regular time off. Gathering restrictions hampered clinic escort services, the largely volunteer force working on clinics’ sidewalks and usually reporting harassment incidents.

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Vandalism increased 54 percent in 2021, though “vandalism” really waters down all of what it encompassed for abortion clinics. In the last year, clinics reported multiple incidents of bullets fired, as well as bricks and rocks thrown, through clinic windows, and damaged HVAC equipment, power sources, and signage.

Clinics are also in danger online. Since 2015, incidents of hate email and internet harassment reached into the tens of thousands. While 2016 was the apex, with 42,726 instances of hate mail and online harassment, 2021 reported 25,026 such instances.

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As of Friday, abortion clinics, already under literal attack from anti-abortion protestors, are now under legal attack in states where the end of Roe means the end of bodily autonomy.

“It seems like the anti-abortion protesters outside of our clinic have a daily celebration, and that comes in the form of violence,” Kifferly said. “I’m not looking forward to their version of celebrating in the next few days.”