The way many abortion advocates tell it, pro-life individuals are modern-day domestic terrorists. They report near-constant “harrassment“and even violence toward abortion clinic doctors and staff, as well as the women coming for abortions themselves. Are their claims true? Or are they exaggerated or even fabricated stories trumped up for political motives? Is being anti-abortion the same thing as being pro-life?
Before we continue, we must make one thing clear: we are against violence of any kind including against those in the abortion industry. If we want respect for life in the womb, we must also respect all lives involved in abortion.
What is “Abortion Violence”?
“Abortion violence” includes a broad range of activities and actions, according to several abortion rights organizations like the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and the Feminist Majority Foundation. For instance, they consider posting a pro-life comment on a pro-choice social media page “harassment,” reportable as “abortion violence” in national surveys.
The NAF tracks “abortion clinic violence and disruption”. They send out a questionnaire annually to all known abortion clinics and then release a report of their findings. Their annual report has three categories: violence, disruption, and clinic blockades, tracked over four time periods: 1977-1989, 1990-1999. 2000-2009, and 2010-2017. Their latest report does not state how many clinics responded.
NAF report: Violence
The Violence category includes: murder, attempted murder, bombing, arson, attempted bombing/arson, invasion, vandalism, trespassing, butyric acid attacks, anthrax/bioterrorism threats, assault and battery, death threats or threats of harm, kidnapping, burglary, and stalking. Of note, several of these categories have had between zero and three events reported since 2000. Also of note, trespassing includes any person entering an abortion facility with the intent to dissuade patients from going through with the procedure, regardless of whether they are doing so peacefully.
NAF Report: Disruption
The Disruption category includes: Hate Mail or Harrassing Calls, Hate Email or Internet Harrassment, Hoax Devices/Suspicious Packages, Bomb Threats, Picketing, and Obstruction. For clarification purposes, Hate Mail or Harrassing Calls along with Hate Email or Internet Harrassment includes any mail or phone call or e-mail or internet posting to a pro-abortion organization or clinic which does not support abortion and/or encourages abortion clinic workers to consider quitting.
Picketing includes any person standing outside or nearby a facility where abortions are performed, regardless of whether they are praying out loud or shouting or standing silently or attempting to speak to clinic staff or patients. In short, anyone present outside of an abortion facility who does not support abortion is considered a picketer. According to Reports of picketing are far and away the most reported form of disruption.
Obstruction includes various methods of attempting to delay business operations at an abortion facility. This could include linking arms to block the doorway of a clinic, blocking the driveway of a clinic, or otherwise physically blocking entry.
NAF Report: Clinic Blockades
The third category, Clinic Blockades, includes Clinic Incidents and Clinic Arrests. Clinic Incidents is not defined in the report, but perhaps refers to times that an abortion facility called law enforcement? Clinic Arrests refers to a total number of arrests, and the report notes that “Many blockaders are arrested multiple times.”
The full report is here.
National Clinic Violence Survey
The Feminist Majority Foundation conducts a yearly survey of abortion clinics encouraging them to self-report “anti-abortion violence, intimidation, and harassment of abortion providers.” Their 2018 survey contacted 729 abortion clinics and 219 responded, for a response rate of 30%.
According to their report, 24% of the 219 clinics reported at least one incident of severe violence OR threat of severe violence as defined below. They classified as severe violence: “blocking clinic access (also known as blockades), invasions, bombings, arson, chemical attacks, stalking, physical violence, gunfire, bomb threats, death threats, arson threats, as well as other incidences of severe violence.” The most common form of severe violence was “blocking clinic access.” 9.1% of respondents reported it. Stalking was second most common, reported by 7.3% of respondents, followed by “invasions,” (called “trespassing” in the NAF report above) reported by 6.8%.
Categorizing “blockades” and “invasions” as “severe violence” seems disingenuous, given that these types of activities did not cause physical harm to anyone anywhere during 2018. See more on invasions below.
Abortion Restrictions and Rates of Violence or Disruption
Do states with more abortion restrictions have higher rates of abortion clinic violence and disruption? A 2012 article in the medical journal Contraception examined this question. They analyzed self-reported responses from the Feminist Majority Foundation’s 2010 National Clinic Violence Survey.
They found that states with more restrictive abortion laws had more acts of “harrassment” and/or minor vandalism than states with less restrictive abortion laws. Harassment was defined as “videotaping or photographing patients, approaching or blocking cars, recording patients’ license plates, making threatening phone calls, filing frivolous lawsuits, creating noise disturbances, forming clinic blockades, and posting patient or staff information on the Internet.”
Fact vs. Fiction
Unfortunately, it is all too true that 11 abortion providers or clinic workers have been murdered in the last 30 years. 7 murders occurred in the 1990s, 1 in 2009, and 3 during one incident in 2015.  Their deaths are horrific, unconscionable, unjustifiable. Violence of any kind is in direct opposition to the reverence for every human life that the pro-life movement represents. There can be no exceptions to respect and care for the dignity of each person’s life.
Murders at Abortion Clinics
2015 Garrett Swasey, Ke’Arre Stewart, and Jennifer Markovsky
2009 Dr George Tiller
1998 Barnett Slepian
1998 Robert Sanderson
1994 Leanne Nichols and Shannon Lowney
1994 Dr John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett
1993 Dr Dravid Gunn
Documented Incidents of Violence
The NAF and Feminist Majority Foundation conclude that all acts of violence or harrassment that occur at abortion clinics or towards abortion clinic staff are by pro-life individuals. They further imply that the individuals who pray on the sidewalk in front of their hometown abortion clinics are the same individuals who go and vandalize clinics or (attempt to) harm workers. A sampling of recent documented incidents of violence or vandalism at abortion clinics is not consistent with this stereotype.
In 2018, a man drove a truck into a New Jersey abortion clinic. Three people were injured. The motive was unknown. The man had no ties to pro-life organizations.
In 2017, bricks were thrown through a window of a Cleveland abortion clinic facility on three separate days. The motive was unknown.
Also in 2017, three members of the White Rabbits militia group bombed a Minnesota mosque and attempted to bomb an Illinois abortion clinic. No one was injured. Their motive in bombing the abortion clinic was unclear. [
In 2015, a man shot and killed three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood. Nine others were injured. The man was recorded saying that he specifically targeted the clinic because it performed abortions. He had no previous connection to pro-life work or organizations.
In 2015, an individual destroyed several security cameras and a power generator at an abortion clinic in Mississippi. The vandalism occurred after hours with no reported injuries.
In 2009, abortion provider Dr George Tiller was shot in the head inside his church in Kansas by a man who targeted him because he performed abortions. His killer, Scott Roeder, had a Post-It note on the dashboard of his vehicle with the phone number for pro-life organization Operation Rescue. Operation Rescue’s statement is here.
But what about….?
Operation Rescue is a well-known national pro-life organization. It was founded in 1986. It was most famous in the late 1980s and 1990s, particularly the Summer of Mercy of 1991, for leading “the largest movement involving peaceful civil disobedience in American history. During those early years, thousands of men and women willingly sat in front of abortion mill doors to prevent the killing of innocent children and paid the penalty in arrest and prosecution on trespassing charges,” according to the organization’s website.
Over the years, their leadership has changed, and their focus has shifted to ending abortion through documentation. They track 911 calls by abortion clinics, unsafe abortion providers, women injured or killed by abortion, and abortion clinic closings. Their partner website AbortionDocs.org is a comprehensive listing of abortion clinics in the nation along with hundreds of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. These documents tell of failed health inspections, abortion providers who sexually abused their patients, malpractice lawsuits and more.
Abortion rights organizations routinely accuse Operation Rescue of fomenting hate and violence, and their response is here. Abortion rights organizations also cite vice president Cheryl Sullenger’s past criminal conviction, and their response is here.
Operation Save America
Operation Save America formed in 1991 as a split off of Operation Rescue. Their message is broader than Operation Rescue’s, and includes supporting traditional marriage and exposing the dangers of Islam. They strongly favor the “rescue” approach to ending abortion. A “rescue” is when activists enter an abortion clinic and sit in the waiting room, encouraging women scheduled to have abortions to keep their babies instead. Typically, the activists do not leave when asked. They are then arrested by police for trespassing and/or blocking the clinic doors. They are more controversial than Operation Rescue, in part because they have stated that some women who have abortions should be criminally prosecuted. They also have ties with several individuals who signed a 1993 statement that homicide of abortion providers was morally acceptable.
Red Rose Rescues
As mentioned above, abortion clinic “blockades” and “invasions” are some of the most common forms of abortion clinic disruption. These modern-day protess have their roots in the pro life movement of the 1980s and 90s. Especially during the 1991 Summer of Mercy, thousands of pro-lifers were arrested for physically blocking abortion clinic entrances or parking lots. Their goal was to save lives by peaceful civil disobedience. In recent years, “rescues” have resurfaced.
Particularly in 2017, Red Rose Rescue activists entered women’s clinics across the country, presenting the women inside with roses and a plea not to have an abortion. One of the RRR founders, Dr. Monica Migliorino Miller, shared the rationale in a 2018 article for Celebrate Life magazine:
“Certainly not all of the women respond to our plea, yet we have firsthand experience of women actually leaving the abortion facility. We know that their babies were saved at least that day. Every sidewalk counselor knows that’s a victory! The women who left had a chance to reconsider their decision to abort. That would not have happened unless we had been inside the clinic to urge them to give life to their babies!”
Sidewalk Advocates for Life Respond
Also in 2017, Sidewalk Advocates for Life released a 20 minute Youtube documentary called “Desperate Measures: Saving the Movement that is Saving Lives”. In it, several former abortion clinic workers offer perspective on what sit-ins and trespassing or invasions look like from the inside. They state that any time a person “breaks the law” by trespassing, they reinforce a stereotype about pro-lifers. These protestors, nonviolent and peaceful though they may intend to be, become aggressors in the eyes and hearts of clinic staff. Clinic staff figure that if pro-lifers are capable of trespassing, they could be capable of causing actual physical harm.
Furthermore, pregnant women who come for abortions are routinely moved behind closed doors per protocol. And behind those closed doors, the abortions continue.
The Sidewalk Advocates’ video argued that sit-ins or other clinic invasions may achieve a short-term gain of delaying or stopping abortions for a day. In the long-term, though, other methods are more effective in ending abortion.
Other Methods More Effective
This approach is consistent with Operation Rescue’s own statements. From their book “Abortion Free: Your Manual for Building a Pro-Life America One Community at a Time,” Operation Rescue leaders Troy Newman and Cheryl Sullenger note:
“Changes in culture and the advent of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994….forced Operation Rescue to develop new tactics to close abortion clinics. The peaceful sit-ins, known as Rescues, would close an abortion clinic for a few hours or maybe a full day, but they would result in lengthy court hearings, fines, and often jail time. Today, Operation Rescue employs new tactics that are closing abortion clinics permanently.” (from the book’s preface)
What Does the Law Say?
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Law, enacted in 1994, prohibits use of force, threat of force, or physical obstruction of entrances to abortion clinics. 
FACE specifically prohibits “the use of force or threat of force or physical obstruction” to intentionally injure, intimidate, or interfere with someone seeking to enter a facility that provides abortions. FACE also prohibits the same actions at places of religious worship.
The penalty for a first violation of FACE is 6-12 months in prison, and a fine of $10,000 to $100,000. Subsequent convictions carry a punishment of 18-36 months in prison and a fine of $25,000 to $250,000. These penalties are far more severe than the penalties already imposed by state law for the acts prohibited by FACE. 
A Better Way
Two organizations utilizing best practices in ending abortion include 40 Days for Life and And Then There Were None.
The 40 Days for Life Approach
40 Days for Life began in 2004, and is now an international organization. Their methods are simple: end abortion through 40-day campaigns of prayer and fasting at local abortion clinics or hospitals that perform abortions. The results in these last 15 years have been remarkable. They report 15, 256 babies saved, 186 abortion clinic workers leaving their jobs, and 99 locations of prayer campaigns closed.[
And Then There Were None
In 2009, Planned Parenthood Clinic Director Abby Johnson quit her job. In 2011, she founded And Then There Were None. Their mission is to: “love an abortion clinic worker out of the industry” and to “end abortion from the inside out.” They provide financial assistance to abortion clinic workers who leave their jobs, as well as help with resumes’ and finding new jobs. They also offer healing retreats for former clinic workers. As of January 2019, nearly 500 abortion clinic workers have quit their jobs.