Following Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that formalized a woman's constitutional right to seek an abortion, protest activities surrounding abortion clinics increased. Much of this activity constituted legal protest and picketing, but reports of blockades, trespasses, and attempted arsons also grew.
During the 1980s, there was a rash of bombings, arsons, and other violent conduct directed towards reproductive health care providers and facilitites. Anti-abortion activists also engaged in a series of blockades of reproductive health care clinics in major cities across the U.S. These clinic blockades drew national media attention and drained resources of local law enforcement agencies who were at times forced to make hundreds of arrests in sequential days on charges of disorderly conduct, trespass, and resisting an order of an officer.
In the early 1990s anti-abortion activists continued to create large-scale blockades, and the number of violent clinic- related incidents -- including bombings and murders -- increased. Since 1993, ten individuals who were employed in clinics as medical doctors, staff employees or patient or doctor escorts have been murdered in incidents motivated by anti-abortion animus. Several others have been dealt life-threatening injuries.
In response to the escalating violence, Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, in 1994. This statute established federal criminal penalties and civil remedies for violent, obstructionist, or damaging conduct affecting reproductive health care providers and recipients, and supplemented the penalties available under then-existing federal criminal statutes such as the Hobbs Act, the Travel Act, and federal arson and firearms statutes.
Although the number of large-scale blockades declined after the enactment of FACE, serious violence and threats toward clinics have continued. In addition to the offenses described above, offenders in 1998 and 1999 employed sham anthrax threats and butyric acid attacks in an attempt to frighten clinic employees and interrupt operations and clinics nationwide.
National Task Force on Violence Against Reproductive Health Care Providers
On November 9, 1998, the Department of Justice established the Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers two weeks after the October 23, 1998, shooting death of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a reproductive health care provider who lived and worked in western New York.
The Task Force is led by the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The Task Force is staffed by attorneys and other staff from the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and by investigators and other representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The Attorney General charged the Task Force with several wide-ranging functions:
Coordinate national investigation and prosecution of incidents of abortion violence, with a focus on connections that may exist between individuals involved in criminal anti-abortion activities
Incident investigations: Task Force members have worked with U.S. Attorney's offices (USAOs) and field agents to investigate incidents of force, threats, and blockades that targeted reproductive health care providers, patients, and facilities. View the recent prosecutions.
Serve as a clearinghouse for information relating to acts of violence against abortion providers, and collect and coordinate data identifying national trends related to clinic violence
Task Force analysts have collected information on incidents of violence, and have compiled a database for the use of investigators and prosecutors. The Task Force uses this data to look for connections between incidents, and to respond to requests for information from USAOs and field offices.
Make security recommendations to enhance the safety and protection of providers
- Technical assistance and outreach on security to clinic personnel: Task Force personnel provide briefings on FACE protections and security issues to reproductive health care providers. These briefings include discussions of assessing the dangerousness of threats and other behavior, security precautions, and procedures for alerting law enforcement authorities of troubling activity.
- To further promote clinic security, the Task Force developed a resource booklet, which will be made available to U.S. Attorneys' Offices, clinics, and their security directors.
Assist the work of the U.S. Attorneys' local working groups on clinic violence
As discussed above, the Task Force provides extensive technical assistance and support to USAO working groups involved in the investigation and prosecution of clinic violence. The Task Force also issues periodic e-mail updates on civil and criminal developments on clinic violence issues to all 93 US Attorney Working Group points of contact.
Enhance training of federal, state, and local law enforcement on issues relating to clinic violence
- The Task Force will coordinate and provide (along with USAOs and law enforcement partners) briefings on clinic violence. These briefings will discuss: outreach and law enforcement response to potential FACE Act violations; techniques for the investigation and prosecution of criminal and civil FACE Act violations; potential Federal criminal laws applicable to clinic violence; and implementing appropriate security measures. The briefings will include stakeholders, and discuss national and regional trends in clinic violence, and address security resources.
- The Task Force has developed this website that provides information about the statutes available to combat violence against reproductive health care providers, security measures available to providers, and relevant law enforcement agencies' areas of responsibility.
Support federal civil investigation and litigation of abortion-related violence
- Monitoring and Enforcing Existing Injunctions: We monitor and, where necessary, work to support and enhance enforcement of such injunctions to prevent unlawful interference with patients and/or providers.
The Departments of Justice has committed extensive resources to the reduction of threats and violence against health care providers on a national level. View the recent prosecutions.
Offenses Against Health Care Providers
Learn about the variety of legal actions, both criminal and civil, to combat clinic violence.