Jun 24, 2022 - Health

Assaults against abortion clinics, patients rose 128% in 2021: report

Change in violent incidents against abortion providers from 2020 to 2021, by type
Data: National Abortion Federation; Chart: Nicki Camberg/Axios

Assaults directed at abortion clinic staff and patients increased 128% last year over 2020, according to a new report from the National Abortion Federation.

Why it matters: Heated political rhetoric, the passage of more restrictive state abortion bans and increased media coverage all factored in the increase in violence, emboldening those "who want to harass and terrorize abortion providers," Melissa Fowler, NAF Chief Program Officer, told reporters.

  • Fowler added that the NAF expects a continued escalation of violence and is "on heightened alert."

By the numbers: Beyond the surge of assaults outside of clinics, NAF documented the following:

  • A 600% increase in stalking.
  • A 63% increase in burglaries.
  • A 54% increase in acts of vandalism (which included multiple incidents of bullets being fired through clinic windows).
  • A 163% increase in hoax devices or suspicious packages at clinics.
  • An 80% increase in bomb threats.
  • A 128% increase in invasions, including instances in which anti-abortion protesters forcefully entered clinics.

NAF found that arson, death threats and trespassing attempts dropped off last year.

  • The organization is bracing for fallout from a forthcoming Supreme Court decision that could decide the fate of Roe v. Wade.

Zoom in: Some clinics closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a dropoff in protest activity.

  • Additionally, pandemic restrictions limited the presence of clinic escorts who often witness and report trespassing and other incidents.
  • As a result, NAF suspects underreporting in several categories, including harassment, obstruction, trespassing and picketing.

What they're saying: Anti-abortion protesters are "feeling supported by politicians who are coming right out and speaking their anti-choice views, and so therefore, they feel supported in committing acts of violence and targeted harassment," said Michelle Davidson, NAF security director.

Between the lines: The NAF said those targeting abortion clinics are often the same people who participate in other violent and extremist activities.

  • There is an "overlap" between white nationalists and the anti-abortion movement, with some individuals who have targeted abortion clinics also having participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, according to the report.

The big picture: The new numbers come as the federal government prepares for a potential surge in political violence once the Supreme Court hands down the ruling that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, Axios' Sophia Cai and Stef Kight report.

  • Law enforcement agencies are investigating social-media threats to burn down or storm the Supreme Court building and murder justices and their clerks, as well as attacks targeting places of worship and abortion clinics.

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