October 01, 2006

No Deterring Abortion Foes

Apparently a new study has found that state laws protecting clinics from abortion violence are less effective than previously believed:
During a wave of anti-abortion violence in the early 1990s, several states enacted legislation protecting abortion clinics, staff and patients. Some experts predicted that these laws would provide a deterrent effect, resulting in fewer anti-abortion crimes. Others predicted a backlash from radical members of the anti-abortion movement, leading to more crimes in states with protective legislation.

"We tested these competing hypotheses and found no support for either one," Pridemore said. "In other words, states with laws protecting abortion clinics and reproductive rights are no more or less likely than other states to have higher or lower levels of victimization against abortion clinics, staff or patients."
Well... I wouldn't say that these laws were ineffective, exactly. In 1994, Congress passed the FACE Act, preventing abortion protestors from using physical force in order to stop women from entering clinics and made it a federal crime to damage abortion facilities. Then the Supreme Court ruled that states could establish buffer zones around clinics to protect their patients and staff from violent protestors. Both of those things, combined with racketeering suits against anti-abortion groups, really did help decrease certain types of violence, especially clinic blockades, which could shut down facilities for weeks. Clinic blockades basically have nearly disappeared. That was a huge accomplishment.

But the larger point—that laws haven't deterred anti-abortion extremists from finding other ways to terrorize clinics—seems sound. A survey of 361 abortion facilities in 48 states found that 7 percent had faced major violence or vandalism and 27 percent had endured minor vandalism. Abortion foes aren't murdering doctors and firebombing providers at the rate they used to, but they're still plenty disruptive. One imagines it's a bit difficult to run a clinic properly under this sort of onslaught:
The reported victimizations involved many forms of violence, harassment and intimidation, including physical violence, bombing, arson, death threats, bomb threats, facility invasion, burglary, break-ins, broken windows, glue in locks, nails in driveways, graffiti, clinic blockades, stalking of staff or physicians, home picketing, posting of "wanted" posters and harassment via the Internet.
I'd be interested to know just how many abortion providers have had to shut down (or not start up in the first place) over the years because of these sorts of attacks. That might be hard to count, because intimidation can work in so many indirect and subtle ways (and because right-wingers are also waging a stealthy legal campaign to shut down clinics), but seeing as how 87 percent of U.S. counties—where over a third of women age 15-44 live—have no abortion providers, I'm guessing the answer is: a lot. And if this study is correct, it's the sort of intimidation that's incredibly hard to deter. Religious fanatics aren't exactly fazed by legal threats, at least not the ones currently on the books.
-- Brad Plumer 6:11 PM || ||