Roe v. Wade: Abortion providers in U.S. brace for ruling

During her first week on the job at a Philadelphia abortion clinic, Amanda Kifferly learned to look for bombs. About a year later, protesters blocked the entrances and exits to women’s centers, at one point dragging Kifferly into something resembling a mosh pit, where they surrounded and pushed her.

And on the evening of last winter’s oral arguments before the United States Supreme Court in a case that could end the nation’s abortion rights, people gathered outside a clinic in New Jersey with lawn chairs, a cooler and a flaming torch — a sight that reminded me of lynchings and other horrors of the country’s racist past, says Kifferly, who is now vice president for abortion access.

Such scenes have become familiar to providers and patients across the country over the decades since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion. At times, the violence has been much more serious, including bombings, arson and murder – from the 1993 murder of Dr David Gunn outside a Florida abortion clinic to the fatal 2015 shooting of three people inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood.

Now suppliers and some law enforcement are worried about what’s next. They brace for an increase in violence once the Supreme Court rules, saying there has always been a spike when the abortion issue comes to public attention, such as after a state has approved new restrictions. If the decision ends Roe v. Wade — as a leaked draft notice indicates — they also anticipate that protests, harassment and other violence will be more concentrated and intensified in states where abortion remains legal.

“We know from experience that it’s not like people protesting clinics in banned states pack their bags and go home,” said Melissa Fowler, program manager for the National Abortion Federation.

The group and the hundreds of abortion clinics it represents have been on “high alert” since the opinion leak, Fowler said. The organization has specialized security staff on call 24 hours a day. They go to clinics to drill with staff and volunteers on scenarios such as bomb threats or active shooters and advise them on things like the placement of security cameras. They also conduct physician home safety assessments, monitor online threats, and consult with local law enforcement.

In some places, local police work with clinics to try to reduce the potential for violence. In Jacksonville, Florida, the sheriff’s office announced last month that it would place an officer in front of the clinic, and police in Little Rock, Arkansas installed a camera atop a crane near a clinic in abortion that has been the scene of protests, hoping to deter bad actors.

Immediately after the leak and for days after, police in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, launched additional patrols around the location of the Women’s Center, Kifferly said.

But the relationship between clinics and local police isn’t always positive, and clinics need to consider whether a heavy police presence will scare off patients, Fowler said. In Kifferly’s experience, collaboration between clinics and police departments varies by city and state. She remembers asking an officer for help when she was assaulted outside the Philadelphia clinic, and the officer told her she had to “call 911”.

The NAF, which collects monthly data from its more than 500 members on harassment and violence, reported a spike in incidents in 2020, the most recent year for which the group released data. The number of death threats or threats of physical harm and assault and battery more than doubled, and vendors reported more than 24,000 incidents of hateful emails or internet harassment.

Abortion providers reported a slight increase after Donald Trump became president, and “extremists felt it was okay that they weren’t in the shadows,” Fowler said. The coronavirus pandemic appeared to exacerbate matters, Kifferly said, and in the four states where the women’s centers operate — New Jersey, Connecticut, Georgia and Pennsylvania — “we have been besieged by protesters” angry as clinics d abortion services were open while their churches or businesses were closed.

Abortion opponents have also been targets of violence and say they have also seen an increase in incidents since the draft notice was leaked, although the FBI in a 2020 memo described the incidents as historically “rare “.

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

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America said it was 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 Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s home in the middle of the night. He told police he wanted to kill the judge because he was upset about the draft notice as well as the fatal shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

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

As for what might happen next for abortion providers, the focus was on how to provide care to people who seek it, if abortion were banned in more states. But Fowler said another concern was also on the mind: “We also need to focus on safety.”

Leave a Comment