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feminist wire | daily newsbriefs

January-15-98

War of Attrition Targets Abortion Clinics Nationwide

Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal Releases Fifth Annual National Clinic Violence Survey Results

Washington DC -- Eleanor Smeal, national feminist leader and one of the nation's leading experts on anti-abortion terrorism, released the results of the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual National Clinic Violence Survey Report, the most comprehensive study of anti-abortion violence in the United States and its territories. The 1997 National Clinic Violence Survey also includes a five-year analysis of trends in anti-abortion violence.
The 1997 survey shows that in the first seven months of 1997, 24.8% of clinics experienced one or more forms of severe violence including blockades, invasions, bomb threats, and bombings, arson threats and arsons, chemical attacks, death threats, and stalking. This percentage is slightly down from 27.6% in 1996 and sharply down from its high mark 51.9% in 1994. Severe violence still plagues about 25% of clinics nationwide, and is becoming more concentrated.

Smeal explained, "Public opinion supporting legal abortion in the United States is solidly pro-choice. Anti-abortion extremists are trying to win in the streets a battle that they can not win in the political arena. The strategy of the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement is a stealth 'war of attrition' - extremists target one clinic, attempt to wipe it out or close it down, and then, move on to another. The fact that one-quarter of the women's health clinics in this country are battered day after day with violence, harassment, and intimidation is unconscionable. We must have zero tolerance for domestic terrorism."

Smeal continued, "We fear that neither the public nor the press fully comprehend the gravity of this war of attrition and will accept violence at abortion clinics as part of the normal landscape. In 1997 there were thirteen bombings or arsons at abortion clinics -- thirteen incidents of serious domestic terrorism including, for the first time, a second bomb aimed at law enforcement, which is a classic terrorism tactic. If this strategy wins on the abortion front, you bet these extremists will use it to attack the lesbian, gay, and civil rights communities and as we saw in Atlanta, the federal government itself."

The survey results also indicate that the percentage of clinics reporting "no violence" has nearly doubled from 33.3% of clinics in 1994 to 61.1% in 1997. The vigilance of the pro-choice community and the increased responsiveness of law enforcement coupled with the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) has contributed to the dramatic decrease in levels of violence over the past five years.

Once again, the 1997 National Clinic Violence Survey found a strong correlation between lower levels of violence and better law enforcement response. Of clinics that reported law enforcement response as "excellent" in 1997, only 7.5% experienced high levels of violence, compared with 35.7% of clinics that characterized local law enforcement as "poor."

Smeal explained, "We are encouraged by the impact of improved law enforcement response in reducing clinic violence. Working together, we have won major battles to protect clinics and have dramatically reduced the proportion of clinics that experience day to day violence and harassment. We call upon every law enforcement officer, every citizen, and every political organization to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards this stealth war of attrition, which is being waged against one quarter of our nation's abortion clinics."

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