Terrifying Facts About Violence Against Abortion Providers

Abortion providers face growing violence. 89 percent of all counties in the U.S. have no abortion provider, and that number may shrink even further in the face of new state laws and continued threats.

This story is part of our continuing coverage on Abortion in America: The Tipping Point. On the cusp of a possibly historic decision on abortion access by the Supreme Court, we'll be investigating how the latest abortion legislation is impacting women and doctors; answering your most commonly asked questions; and looking at what’s next for activists on both sides of this ongoing debate. 

On May 31, 2009, a man named Scott Roeder walked into a Wichita, Kansas church and fatally shot Doctor George Tiller. Tiller was one of the few abortion providers in the country who performed the procedure late in pregnancy, making him a target for threats, intimidation, and more than one murder attempt. What's more, his murder was only one in a growing wave of violent acts against abortion providers and advocates. From clinic bombings in the 1970s to the shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood that left three dead in 2015, anti-abortion activists have used tactics that are closer to terrorist attacks than protests in an effort to shutter clinics and discourage providers. 

Seven years after Tiller's killing, here are some of the most chilling facts about the growing violence abortion providers face.

1. Since abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1973, 11 people have been killed, and another 26 have been victims of attempted murder. These acts of violence ranged from shootings to bombings, but they have led some abortion providers to rededicate themselves to their work. Five years after Dr. Tiller's murder, for example, a group of women opened a new clinic in the exact space his had occupied.

2. Some protesters are using tech to spy on the smartphones of women seeking abortions. According to a report by Rewire, some anti-abortion activists are using geo-fencing technology to target women with anti-abortion propaganda. That means that they can send messages to women they see are in the vicinity of an abortion clinic.

3. In addition to the killings and murder attempts, there have been hundreds of acts of violence over the past four decades, including bombings, acid attacks, and even anthrax threats. There were four acts of arson in 2015 alone, all of which remain unsolved. 

4. There have been nearly 200,000 instances of disruptions aimed at abortion providers—from threatening phone calls to protests. Things got so bad in the 1990s that Congress passed a law banning certain forms of protest that had become particularly menacing. Protesters still station themselves near clinics to try and deter women from going inside, but it's now illegal to actually block a clinic entrance.

5. Anti-abortion threats and violence have forced abortion providers to take chilling measures to protect themselves and their patients. In addition to safeguards like bulletproof glass, security vests, and guards, some clinics—like the Colorado one targeted in 2015—also have "safe rooms," where people can retreat in the event of an attack.

It remains unclear what effect, if any, all this violence has on abortion providers. One recent paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the overall effect on abortion rates in areas that were the target of violent attacks was negligible, and the attacks on Planned Parenthood in 2015 served, for many, as a rallying cry: "These doors stay open."

At this point, however, 89 percent of all counties in the U.S. have no abortion provider, and that number may shrink even further in the face of new state laws and continued threats.

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Glamour / Meredith Clark / May 31, 2016