Frequent violent protests against abortion clinics, in the form of arson, firebombing, and vandalism, started in the early
1970's in the U.S. after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade
theoretically gave abortion access to all
women -- at least during their first trimester.
Then, as now, most of the violence appears to be mainly criminal activities
individual religiously-motivated individuals acting alone. However, cases
in the 1990s involving the assassination and attempted murder of
abortion providers in both the U.S. and Canada have shown that some perpetrators
appear to have been
sheltered by a network of sympathizers. That shows a degree of organization and
Beliefs about abortion and abortion access:
People hold diverse beliefs concerning the ethics of
abortion in general and the right of individual women to choose to have an abortion for
themselves. Public opinion pollsters and many commentators attempt to squeeze beliefs into
categories: pro-life and pro-choice. However, as a minimum, there are at least
three categories each with many sub-categories to consider:
Pro-life movement: They typically believe that human life -- in the
form of an ovum and spermatozoon -- becomes a human person during the process
of conception. They are motivated by a strong desire to reduce the
number of abortions -- typically by restricting abortion access.
Anti-abortion movement: Individuals in this movement also hold pro-life
beliefs. However, they go one step further and feel that acts of violence
against abortion clinics are justifiable in order to lower the number of
The pro-choice movement generally teaches that human life becomes a
human person at various stages later in gestation. They view a woman's access to a safe and affordable abortion
as a fundamental human right.
Level of violence and harassment at abortion clinics
One source reported in late 1996, that there has been "over $13 million in
damage caused by violent anti-abortion groups since 1982 in over 150 arson attacks,
bombings, and shootings." 1
Many pro-choice individuals and groups blame these criminal acts on the most violent
extremists in the pro-life movement. Some believe that the violent rhetoric heard from
pro-lifers motivates the more radical pro-life fringe to resort to violence.
Many pro-life individuals and groups blame the violence on groups which are quite
separate from the pro-life movement -- anti-abortionists who have little regard for human life.
The National Abortion Federation reports "Incidents of Violence and
Disruption Against Abortion Providers" in the U.S. and Canada. 2 Their data from 1989 to 2004 is shown below. The number of incidents of
picketing is also shown:
Murders, Attempted Murders
Bombing, Arson, Attempted Bombing or Arson
Invasion, Assault & Battery, Vandalism,
Trespassing, Death Threats,
Hate Mail, Harassing Phone Calls, Bomb Threats...
Arrests Made at Blockades
Number of Blockades
Number of Incidents of Picketing
Includes 554 Anthrax hoaxes.
Effects of the FACE law:
The "Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994", the FACE law, was signed into law in 1994. First-time offenders can
receive fines of $100,000 and jail sentences of up to one year. In 1994-JUL, the U.S.
Department of Justice announced that federal marshals will provide protection to any
abortion clinic requesting it. These actions seem to have had a sudden dampening effect on the
number of blockades and the number of arrests at blockades. Protestors seem
to have changed tactics, and engaged in hate letters, harassing phone calls,
bomb threats, etc. There has been a fairly steady rise in the number of
incidents of picketing.
The RICO law, which was originally aimed at combating organized crime, has been used
against organizers of abortion clinic blockades in the mid 1990's. More recently, RICO has been used against the Pro-Life RescueLeague and Operation Rescue.
Multiple instances of anti-abortion violence in Florida:
Pensacola, FL: This city was a focal point for anti-abortion crimefrom mid 1984 to mid 1994: 4
1984-JUN: An abortion clinic was bombed.
1984-DEC: The same clinic was bombed again.
1986-MAR: A second clinic was broken into and vandalized; two female employees were
assaulted. John Burt, a former member of the KKK, and his daughter were tried and
convicted. John Burt became the local leader of Rescue America.
1993-MAR: Michael Griffin, allegedly a member of Rescue America,
assassinated Dr. David Gunn outside an
abortion clinic. Griffin's lawyers claimed that Burt had brainwashed Griffin into
committing the killing. (There is a consensus among mental health professionals that this
sort of "Manchurian Candidate" programming is impossible). Griffin was
convicted and given a life sentence.
1994-JUL: Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister and leader in Defensive Action assassinated
a physician and bodyguard outside another abortion clinic; he also wounded the wife of the
bodyguard. He was sentenced to both life imprisonment on federal charges, and execution on
1994-AUG: Five KKK groups demonstrated adjacent to an abortion clinic in Melbourne FL.
They were opposed to abortions given to whites; they encourage abortions to persons of
other races. They named Hill their hero of the month.
The "killing season" in Canada and northern New York state:
During the 1990s. late October and early November were referred to as the "killing
season" by some abortion-rights advocates. Abortion providers in northern
New York state and Canada were attacked on five of the six years from
1994 to 1998:
1994-NOV-8: Dr. Garson Romalis of Vancouver BC was shot in the leg.
1995-NOV-10: Dr. Hugh Short of Ancaster ON (Near Hamilton) was shot in the
1996: No shootings occurred.
1997-OCT-28: A physician in Rochester NY received minor shrapnel wounds.
1997-NOV-11: Dr Jack Fainman of Winnipeg MN was shot in the shoulder.
1998-OCT-23: Dr Barnett Slepian from Amherst NY (near Buffalo) was murdered,
although the perpetrator claimed that he only wanted to wound the doctor.
All five were shot through a glass window or door at their homes. Rewards
totaling $547,000 (about $365,000 in US funds at the time) were offered by Canadian
authorities for information leading to the conviction of the person(s)
Some speculated that the timing of many of the shootings was linked to Remembrance
Day, celebrated in Canada on NOV-11, and to Veteran's Day celebrated in the U.S.
on the same day. This is an occasion when the country
remembers its war dead. The shooter in each case used a rifle, and shot from the
rear of the doctors' homes at dusk or in the evening. James Charles Kopp (a.k.a.
Atomic Dog) was indicted in 1999-JUN for the murder of Dr. Slepian. He was on the
FBI's "10 most wanted Fugitives" list for years until he was
arrested in France and returned to the U.S. for trial. It is obvious
that Kopp was helped to remain out of sight by an underground group.
In 2003-MAY, James Kopp was given the maximum sentence of 25 years to life in
prison for the Slepian murder. Some speculate that Kopp was also responsible for
the other "killing season" attempted murders.
Other violence and harassment in Canada:
Long known for their love of peace and tranquility, Canadians
have not been immune to the abortion controversies. In addition to the attempted
murders cited above, there were other examples of violence and harassment:
1990-FEB: A clinic in Vancouver, BC was broken into in 1990; medical equipment was
1992-MAY: An explosion generated by a sophisticated gas weapon leveled the Morgentaler
abortion clinic in Toronto, ON.
During the late 1990's, two Canadian pro-life groups lost their charitable
status with Revenue Canada, because of excessive political activity. The Roman Catholic church withdrew its
funding of some pro-life groups after they started to cause disturbances in the neighborhoods of
abortion providers. Attendance at abortion protests now fail to
attract large numbers of supporters. They are reduced to the occasional
candlelight vigil or peaceful march.
Between 1998 and 2000, more than 80 letters which threatened Anthrax
contamination were sent to U.S. clinics in 16 states. Anthrax is a potentially fatal
bacteria if its spores are inhaled into the lungs. All of the letters turned
out to be hoaxes.
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York
City and Washington on 2001-SEP-11,similar Anthrax letters
started appearing in political offices and news media in New York, Washington, and other cities. Some
contained the deadly bacteria.In late October, abortion clinics
in 13 states throughout the U.S. received about 150 letters marked "Time
sensitive security information enclosed" with return addresses from law enforcement groups.
They were mailed from five states. Inside was
a powder and a death-threat letter allegedly signed by the "Army of God."
That group allegedly advocates violence against abortion providers. Heather
Herndon, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania said: "I absolutely believe it's the anti-choice extremists who are
taking advantage of our national crisis." As of OCT-17, four letters
had been given preliminary field tests and had been found to be hoaxes. 5
Resolution to clinic violence:
Since there appears to be no possibility of compromise on abortion access, the conflict
pro-life, anti-abortion, and pro-choice groups in the U.S. will probably continue into the foreseeable future. This
will inspire anti-abortion radicals to continue attacks on people and facilities.
It is to be noted that the essentially all pro-life groups are opposed to violence.
Most anti-abortion groups that advocate violence tend to be small, often one-person organizations.
Perpetrators of violent crimes often work independently. The U.S. Justice Department has
investigated attacks on clinics and has determined that no conspiracy is involved.
The American Life League has written a "Pro-life Proclamation Against Violence"
which was endorsed by 31 other pro-life groups by 1999-MAR-13. 6Neither RescueLeague nor Operation Rescue had signed
California leads nation in violence:
A report prepared by the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California (PPAC)
and quoted in a 2003 California Senate report showed that abortion clinics in
that state were torched and bombed more than in any other state: 30 incidences
out of 224 crimes nationwide. Most of the clinics in the state who responded reported threats,
vandalism, assaults, blockades and other crimes from 1995 to 2000. 30% reported
that their personnel was "stalked, harassed, threatened and otherwise
targeted at their homes or in other places away from clinics and medical offices."
Other states with large numbers of attacks are: Florida with 19, Texas with 14,
New York with nine. 7
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Anti-Abortion Violence Movement," Office of International
Criminal Justice of the University of Illinois at Chicago at: http://www.acsp.uic.edu/