Harassment Outside Abortion Clinics Is On The Rise

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An annual report from the National Abortion Federation (NAF), which tracks instances of violence and disruption at abortion providers across the country found that 2016 suffered more picketing incidents outside abortion clinics than any year since they began compiling the report in 1977. Unsurprisingly, incidents rose sharply following the election in November, with anti-abortion protesters growing emboldened after Donald Trump's rise to power.

While NAF found that instances of extreme violence, such as murders, attempted murders, or arson, decreased in 2016, more "benign" forms of harassment, like vandalism, picketing, obstruction, invasion, trespassing, burglary, stalking, assault and battery, and bomb threats were increasingly common. For example, 2016 saw 61,562 incidents of picketing, compared to 21,175 incidents in 2015. In the month after the election, hate speech and internet harassment toward abortion providers tripled from the pre-election monthly average.

"This is significant," writes NAF in the report, "since we know that hostile rhetoric can incite some to take the law into their own hands by threatening abortion providers and committing acts of violence."

They go on to detail incidents that hinder patient care such as a bomb threat at a facility in Virginia which shut down the clinic for the day while police investigated. It delayed the care of 36 patients. In another incident, a man was charged with a federal crime and sentenced to a year and a day in prison for offering bounties online for the murders of an abortion care provider and the head of a tissue procurement lab.

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While there are laws on the books that prevent harassing patients seeking care at abortion clinics, like the The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), those laws are enforced locally by the police and nationally by the Attorney General. Depending on where in the country you live, that may cause a problem. NAF specifically outlined its concerns with current Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the report, stating:

"We also remain concerned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will not adequately enforce the laws that protect abortion providers and their patients from violence. Sessions has a long record of opposing protections for abortion providers, and was endorsed by the anti-abortion extremist group Operation Rescue. In addition to enforcing the FACE Act, the Attorney General oversees the work of the National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers, a unique collaboration among federal agencies that, when supported, has resulted in a documented decrease in violent crimes against abortion providers."

For now, with the current presidential administration, it seems as though organizing on the local level will be the best way to deter acts of hostility towards abortion clinics and patients who seek care there.