Amanda Kifferly learned how to look for bombs during her first week of work at an abortion clinic in Philadelphia. A year or two later, demonstrators obstructed the Women’s Centers’ entrances and exits, at one point dragging Kifferly into what resembled a mosh pit where they surrounded and shoved her.
People gathered outside a clinic in New Jersey on the night of last winter’s arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court with lawn chairs, a cooler, and a flaming torch — a sight that, according to Kifferly, who is now the vice president for abortion access, reminded him of lynchings and other atrocities of the nation’s racist past.
Since the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision allowing abortion, such encounters have been commonplace for healthcare professionals and patients across the nation.
From the 1993 murder of Dr David Gunn outside a Florida abortion clinic to the 2015 deadly shooting of three persons inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood, the violence has occasionally been much more extreme and has included bombings, arson, and murders.
Providers and several law enforcement officials are already concerned about what may happen next.
They anticipate an uptick in violence after the Supreme Court rules because there has traditionally been one when the abortion debate receives significant public attention, such as with the approval of additional limits by a state.
They also expect protests, harassment, and other acts of violence to increase in number and intensity in places where abortion is still legal if the ruling overturns Roe v. Wade, as a leaked draught opinion suggests may occur.
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According to Melissa Fowler, chief programme officer for the National Abortion Federation, “We know from history that it’s not like the individuals protesting clinics in banned states just pack up and go home.”
Since the opinion leaked, the association and the numerous abortion facilities it represents have been on “heightened alert,” Fowler said. Security experts work for the company and are available round-the-clock.
They visit clinics to conduct drills with staff members and volunteers in situations like active shooter drills or bomb threats, and they offer advice on topics like where to place security cameras.
Additionally, they monitor online threats, conduct safety audits at doctors’ houses, and communicate with local law police.
In certain areas, clinics and local police are collaborating to try to reduce the likelihood of violence.
To deter criminal activity, police in Little Rock, Arkansas, installed a camera atop a crane near an abortion clinic that has been the scene of protests.
The sheriff’s office in Jacksonville, Florida announced last month that they would station an officer outside the clinic.
Police in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, increased patrols around The Women’s Center location immediately after the leak and for days afterwards, according to Kifferly.
Clinics must consider whether having a significant police presence may alarm patients because the connection between clinics and the local police isn’t always positive, according to Fowler.
Depending on the city and state, Kifferly’s experience has found that clinics and police agencies collaborate differently. As she was being assaulted outside the Philadelphia clinic, she recounted asking a police officer for assistance and getting the response to “call 911.”
In 2020, the most recent year for which the group has published data, NAF, which gathers monthly data on harassment and violence from its more than 500 members, recorded an increase in instances.
Providers reported more than 24,000 instances of hate mail or online harassment, a more than twofold increase in the number of death threats or other threats of harm as well as assault and battery.
After Donald Trump was elected president, abortion clinics reported an increase in business, and “extremists felt that it was OK for them to not be in the shadows,” according to Fowler.
In all four of the states where The Women’s Centers operates—New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia, and Pennsylvania—”we were besieged by protesters,” who was upset that abortion clinics were open while their churches or businesses were closed, according to Kifferly. The coronavirus pandemic appeared to make matters worse.
However, the FBI described the incidents as historically “rare” in a memo from 2020. Abortion opponents have also been the targets of violence and claim to have noticed an increase in incidents since the draught opinion leaked.
The Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the Department of Homeland Security claimed shortly after the draught opinion was made public that it had increased the likelihood of extremist violence on both sides of the debate.
More than 40 instances of violence, intimidation, and vandalism at pregnancy centres and churches have been reported recently, according to Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
Early in June, a man was detained in the middle of the night close to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s residence while carrying a gun, knives, zip ties, and other weapons. He admitted to authorities that he was angry over both the draught opinion and the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas and that he wanted to murder the justice.
In the upcoming days or weeks, the court is anticipated to render its decision.
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Concerning what would happen next for those who offer abortions, significant attention has been paid to how to treat those who need it should more states outlaw the procedure. However, Fowler noted that a different issue is also top-of-mind: “We also need to focus on safety.”