Each year, the National Abortion Federation, an association representing abortion providers, releases statistics on violence, harassment and death threats against their members. In a normal year, those numbers are depressing and terrifyingly high. But 2015 was not a normal year. It was worse.
In July, anti-abortion activist David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of sting videos aimed at Planned Parenthood and organizations who partner with them. The videos claim that Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue, or “baby parts,” as Daleiden charmingly refers to them, and changing their abortion methods to get better specimens. The underlying accusation is that Planned Parenthood pushes abortions on women in order to get specimens.
Neither of those things are true, and every state that’s investigated Planned Parenthood has turned up nothing. Daleiden and another CMP member have been indicted for fraud and are being sued in federal court by PP. The one place where the CMP has made a real difference: fueling hatred, violence, harassment, death threats, attempted murder and murder against abortion providers.
The NAF writes in their annual threat assessment that this year, they were unable to track all the threats to their member organizations themselves. They had to hire a security firm to do it. They found a shocking increase in hate speech and threats, noting:
They began their work in mid-November. With increased tracking capabilities, we were able to identify more than 25,000 incidents of hate speech and threats in just six weeks. We estimate that if enhanced tracking had begun immediately following the release of the illegally recorded videos, the number of online threats and hate postings would be well over 100,000.
They also found a specific anti-abortion activist who calls for arsons at clinics. His words are seemingly being heeded, the NAF says:
Through our monitoring work, we uncovered another anti-abortion extremist who called for arsons at every abortion clinic in the country. He posted online, “One person setting fire to an abortion clinic will not do anything but thousands setting fire to an abortion clinic will speak volumes….It is not violent to set a building on fire…If thousands rallied together to set each murder house on fire, we would see the end of abortion…” NAF identified the perpetrator and shared this threat with law enforcement officials who were able to investigate and interview the perpetrator. This type of rhetoric incites some to take the law into their own hands by firebombing clinics and threatening abortion clinic staff. Within three months of the post, facilities in Washington, Louisiana, California, and Illinois were victims of arson. Additionally, a facility in New Hampshire experienced extreme vandalism when an individual broke into the facility and used a hatchet to destroy medical equipment, exam rooms, computers, phones, and plumbing fixtures, flooding the entire clinic. The clinic was closed for nearly six weeks for repairs.
Overall, they write, every type of threatened, attempted, and completed violence went up this year, which they link directly to the CMP videos. They point to the murders by Robert Dear of three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood; Dear has admitted to the murders in court, saying, “I killed three and saved 3,000" as well as “No more baby parts.” From the report:
Our 2015 statistics reflect a dramatic increase in hate speech and internet harassment, death threats, attempted murder, and murder, which coincided with the release of heavily-edited, misleading, and inflammatory videos beginning in July. Since 1977, there have been 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 185 arsons, and thousands of incidents of criminal activities directed at abortion providers. Three of those murders happened in November 2015, when Robert Dear opened fire at an abortion facility in Colorado Springs, killing three people and wounding nine others. This clinic is part of the Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains affiliate, which was featured in the highly-edited, inflammatory videos. When police arrested Dear, he made a reference to part of the video smear campaign.
The NAF also reports more hoax phone threats designed to disrupt clinics, as well as more picketing and blockades. One doctor, they write, was being regularly picketed in front of her home, with protesters handing out flyers to her neighbors calling her a murderer.
The NAF is asking for both law enforcement and local communities to “seriously address” threats against abortion providers. They won’t get much help from the federal government; there are two active, Republican-controlled Congressional subcommittees “investigating” Planned Parenthood and related institutions. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is personally leading a charge to subpoena the names of medical researchers, lab technicians and administrators, potentially placing them at risk as well.
The full report is below.
Robert Dear in court, December 2015. Photo via AP