clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Before Colorado, pro-choice groups urged feds to call abortion clinic attacks "domestic terrorism"

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

A pro-choice group petitioned the Obama administration to categorize attacks on abortion clinics as "domestic terrorism" last Wednesday — two days before the deadly shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

NARAL Pro-Choice America began circulating a public petition in October urging the Department of Justice to categorize a growing wave of attacks on abortion clinics as "domestic terrorism" incidents.

Privately, it also organized 140 groups to sign onto a letter urging the DOJ to change how it categorizes attacks on abortion clinics.

"These despicable attacks on trusted women's health-care providers are not just acts of hatred and violence but acts of domestic terrorism—and we urge the DOJ to treat them as such," the private petition says.

"The technical term really reflects the use of violence against limited targets to scare a lot of people into doing their bidding," says Sasha Bruce, NARAL's senior vice president for campaigns and strategy. "These actions are intended to scare women away from seeking an abortion. It fit the bill even before the awful, awful incident Friday in Colorado."

NARAL delivered its petition on Wednesday, Bruce told Vox. It will release that petition, backed by 140 other pro-choice organizations and abortion providers, publicly on Monday.

What would change if the federal government called abortion clinic attacks "domestic terrorism"?

The FBI defines domestic terrorism as events that appear intended to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population" or "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."

The Department of Justice does not have any public policy related to how to handle domestic terrorist attacks and whether that requires a commitment of certain resources. A call for comment to the agency was not immediately returned.

NARAL's Bruce argued that categorizing these attacks as domestic terrorism could allow the agency to devote different resources toward investigation. She pointed to the Obama administration's new Domestic Terrorism Counsel as one possible group that could become involved in investigations if the agency treated abortion clinic attacks as domestic terrorism incidents.

Attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics have increased since sting videos

Threats, vandalism, and violence against abortion providers and clinics have escalated since this summer, when anti-abortion activists released deceptively edited videos that accused Planned Parenthood of "selling baby parts."

An FBI Intelligence Assessment at the time found these attacks were "consistent with the actions of lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats, all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement." Moreover, the report said it was "likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities."

Less than two weeks after CBS reported that, another abortion clinic was firebombed in California. It was the fourth arson at a Planned Parenthood location in as many months.

Back in September, CBS reported that the FBI had noticed an uptick in attacks on reproductive health care facilities since the first video was released by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). There were nine criminal or suspicious incidents (including cyber attacks, threats, and arsons) from July, when the videos first came out, through mid-September.

And this was all before the Friday shooting in Colorado.

"The toxic rhetoric directed at Planned Parenthood has dangerous consequences," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a press release at the time of the California arson incident. "It sends a signal that using violence to close clinics and intimidate healthcare professionals and women is 'OK.' It is not."

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.