After an attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs killed three people and injured nine, reproductive rights supporters blamed the overheated rhetoric of abortion opponents for helping to incite the attacks. They petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate these kinds of attacks as domestic terrorism, since violence against abortion providers has been a systematic pattern since the 1970s. They note that harassment and intimidation is a daily reality for abortion clinic workers and patients, and that harassment can and does escalate into more serious violence.
On top of this kind of activist messaging, several legislative and legal actions in the wake of the shooting are pushing back against the worst of anti-abortion protest activity.
Democrats in Congress introduced a resolution against clinic violence
Democrats in the Senate and House, led by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Reps. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), introduced a resolution December 3, standing against the deep-rooted problem of violence against abortion providers. The resolution also mentioned that since 40 percent of Planned Parenthood's patients are people of color, clinic violence disproportionately impacts them.
The resolution says Congress "denounces the attacks on women’s health care centers, providers, and patients," and that it "affirms that all women have the right to access reproductive health care services without fear of violence, intimidation, or harassment."
This would seem to be a pretty basic sentiment that most people could get behind. Pro-life leaders largely reject violence against abortion providers, and abortion clinic protesters consider themselves sidewalk counselors who have women's best interests at heart and don't harass anybody. But the mention of women's "right to access reproductive health care services" is clearly a nonstarter for Republicans; only one Republican, Rep. Richard Hanna of New York, has signed on.
A charter school in Washington, DC, is suing anti-abortion protesters
This one actually doesn't come from pro-choice advocates. It comes from school administrators who just want disruptive protesters to let kids walk to school in peace, the Washington Post reports.
DC's Planned Parenthood clinic is about to open a new location near the Two Rivers Public Charter School in Northeast Washington, and local anti-abortion protesters aren't happy about it. But the school's administrators and parents are really unhappy with their tactics, which allegedly include showing gruesome posters of supposedly aborted fetuses to children as young as 3, following kids up to the front door of the school, and yelling things like, "They kill kids next door!"
The complaint says that the protesters engage in "a pattern of extreme and outrageous conduct," and cited an email from one protester that sounded like a veiled threat if the school didn't try to stop Planned Parenthood from moving in next door: "I’m sure you don’t want to see me, my anti-abortion friends, and our graphic images any more than we want to be in your neighborhood," the email said.
The school was considering closing on the day before the massive annual anti-abortion March for Life because of the protest activity, according to the complaint.
Some Ohio lawmakers want to criminalize clinic harassment
Members of the Ohio House of Representatives introduced a bill this week that would let health care facility employees sue if they are harassed or intimidated by protesters. The bill would make it illegal to "follow or harass" another person within 15 feet of clinics. The bill would also make it a crime to physically block or obstruct a person from entering a reproductive health clinic, or threatening to do so.
Some of these activities, like blocking a clinic entrance, are already crimes under federal law. But others, like harassment, aren't covered — and they're also harder to prove or prosecute, which is why the law allows for civil action. Some states have passed laws to add protections for abortion providers, including three states with "bubble zones" that require protesters to stay a certain distance away from people entering a clinic.
"We cannot allow our medical professionals and clinic employees to repeatedly be targets of harassment at their businesses and homes," said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio executive director Kellie Copeland in a statement. "This bill gives physicians and their staff another tool to stop protesters from interfering with their ability to provide reproductive health care to their patients."
But pro-choice advocates also note that it's hard to fully protect patients and providers from harassment and violence using legal tools. Part of this is because the existing laws aren't strong enough, or because police don't always take clinic harassment seriously. But the other part, writes legal analyst Jessica Mason Pieklo at RH Reality Check, is that "even with federal protections and the state-level policies that mirror them, we don’t have the law enforcement tools to end a culture of anti-choice violence."