‘Heightened alert’: Abortion providers brace for ruling

In her first week on the job at a Philadelphia abortion clinic, Amanda Kifferly was taught the right way to search for bombs. About a year later, protesters blocked the entrances and exits of the The Women’s Centers, at one level pulling Kifferly into one thing resembling a mosh pit, the place they surrounded her and shoved her round.

And on the night time of final winter’s arguments earlier than the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that would finish the nationwide proper to abortion, folks gathered exterior a clinic in New Jersey with garden chairs, a cooler and a flaming torch — a sight that delivered to thoughts lynchings and different horrors of the nation’s racist previous, says Kifferly, who now serves as vp for abortion entry.

Such scenes have turn into acquainted for providers and sufferers throughout the nation over the a long time for the reason that landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion. At occasions the violence has been way more extreme, together with bombings, arson and murders — from the 1993 killing of Dr. David Gunn exterior a Florida abortion clinic to the 2015 deadly capturing of three folks inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood.

Now providers and a few in legislation enforcement fear what is going to come subsequent. They’re making ready for a rise in violence as soon as the Supreme Court guidelines, saying there has traditionally been a spike when the difficulty of abortion will get widespread public consideration, resembling after a state approves new restrictions. If the choice ends Roe v. Wade — as a leaked draft opinion signifies might occur — in addition they anticipate protests, harassment and different violence to be extra concentrated and intensify in states the place abortion stays authorized.

“We know from expertise, it’s not just like the folks protesting clinics in banned states simply pack up and go residence,” said Melissa Fowler, chief program officer for the National Abortion Federation.

The group and the hundreds of abortion clinics it represents have been on “heightened alert” since the opinion leaked, Fowler said. The organization has staff who specialize in security on call around the clock. They go out to clinics to do drills with employees and volunteers on scenarios such as bomb threats or active shooters and advise them on things like where to position security cameras. They also conduct safety assessments at the homes of physicians, monitor online threats and consult with local law enforcement.

In some places, local police are working with clinics to try to tamp down the potential for violence. In Jacksonville, Florida, the sheriff’s office said last month they would station an officer outside the clinic, and police in Little Rock, Arkansas, installed a camera atop a crane near an abortion clinic that has been the site of protests, hoping to deter bad actors.

Immediately following the leak and for days afterward, police in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, initiated extra patrols around The Women’s Center location, Kifferly said.

But the relationship between clinics and local police isn’t always a positive one, and clinics must weigh whether having a heavy police presence will frighten patients, Fowler said. In Kifferly’s experience, how well clinics and police departments work together varies by city and state. She recalled asking an officer for help as she was assaulted outside the Philadelphia clinic, and the officer responding that she should “call 911.”

NAF, which collects monthly data from its over 500 members on harassment and violence, reported a spike in incidents in 2020, the most recent year for which the group has published data. The number of death threats or threats of harm and of assault and battery both increased by more than double, and providers reported more than 24,000 incidents of hate email or internet harassment.

Abortion providers reported an uptick after Donald Trump became president, and “extremists felt like it was OK for them not to be in the shadows,” Fowler said. The coronavirus pandemic seemed to exacerbate things, Kifferly said, and in all four states where The Women’s Centers operates — New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia and Pennsylvania — “we were besieged by protesters” angry that abortion clinics were open while their churches or businesses were closed.

Abortion opponents also have been targets of violence, and say they’ve also seen an increase in incidents since the draft opinion leaked, though the FBI in a 2020 memo described the incidents as historically “rare.”

Shortly after the draft opinion became public, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis said the draft had made extremist violence — by people on either side of the issue — more likely.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said there were more than 40 incidents of violence, intimidation and vandalism at pregnancy centers and churches in recent weeks.

In early June, a man with a gun, knife, zip ties and other items was arrested near Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home in the middle of the night. He told police he wanted to kill the justice because he was upset about the draft opinion as well as the fatal mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The court is expected to issue its ruling in the coming days or weeks.

As for what would possibly happen subsequent for abortion providers, a lot focus has been on the right way to present care to folks in search of it, ought to abortion be banned in additional states. But Fowler mentioned one other concern can be entrance of thoughts: “We also need to focus on safety.”

Back to top button