National Partnership for Women & Families

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Advocates, providers report increase in threats, harassment following election

Online threats and reported instances of harassment targeting abortion providers increased in the 30 days following the presidential election, CNBC reports (Pattani, CNBC, 12/15).


In November, Donald Trump won the presidential election, while conservative lawmakers won the majority of seats in the House and Senate and two-thirds of state governorships. In addition, abortion-rights opponents won many state legislative races.

During his campaign, Trump pledged to defund Planned Parenthood and appoint antiabortion-rights justices to the Supreme Court in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade. In addition, Trump said he would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) (PL 111-148), under which almost all insurance plans are required to cover all birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/1).

Many members of the new administration also oppose abortion rights. Vice President-elect Mike Pence proposed a federal bill to defund Planned Parenthood during his time in Congress, and he has signed multiple antiabortion-rights bills while he served as governor of Illinois.

In addition, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Trump's pick for Attorney General, has expressed support for defunding abortion providers, voted in favor of multiple abortion bans and voted against a fund that would help keep clinics secure. Similarly, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trump's nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, has voiced opposition to abortion rights as well as contraception coverage under the ACA.

NAF reports increase in online threats

The National Abortion Federation (NAF) reported that the percentage of online threats against abortion providers in the 30 days after the election was 46 percent higher than in the 30 days prior to the election. Overall, according to NAF President Vicki Saporta, the number of online threats against providers in November was more than triple the annual average.

Saporta said the increase was driven by antiabortion-rights rhetoric from political leaders. "I think it's become more acceptable to espouse threats," she said. Citing instances of violence against abortion providers over the last year linked to increases in online antiabortion-rights language, Saporta added, "You can't whip up a firestorm of hate and not think it has any consequences."

Saporta said NAF reports threats directed at specific clinics or providers to the U.S. Department of Justice's Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers. Saporta said the task force was particularly crucial in responding to threats because local law enforcement sometimes views abortion-rights opponents who violate buffer zone laws, vandalize facilities or behave aggressively as political protesters rather than people engaging in criminal behavior.

However, Saporta expressed concern over the nomination of Sessions for Attorney General. "We are concerned if we have an AG who thinks [the antiabortion-rights group] Operation Rescue is a legitimate organization and takes cues from them versus understanding that the law is the law and it needs to be enforced," she said.

Clinics experiences surge in antiabortion-rights protests

Clinics across the country also have reported an increase in the number of protesters and their level of aggression, CNBC reports.

For instance, Camille Barbone, vice president of operations at Choices Women's Medical Center in New York, said protesters used to be comparatively peaceful. However, since the election, they have increased in number, with many screaming and trying to take pictures of patients as they enter the clinic.

"Their behavior has become incredibly more aggressive to the point we've had to call the police the last three to four weeks," she said, adding, "There's much more condemnation than I've ever seen before. They're pushing cellphone cameras into patients' faces."

Separately, a Kentucky-based clinic reported that protesters used rocks to break the windows of the facility following the election. Another clinic in North Carolina in one day saw twice the usual number of protesters, around 2,500, many of whom held political signs with slogans such as, "We won, you lost."

Supporters, advocates take action to protect reproductive rights

Following the election, abortion-rights supporters also have increased their advocacy efforts to ensure women can still access the full range of reproductive health care under the new administration.

For instance, Planned Parenthood reported receiving 260,000 donations in the days following the election. According to Planned Parenthood, 25 percent of those donations were from donors who pledged to donate on a monthly basis.

Cecile Richards, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of America, said, "We are so grateful to this community across the country, and we will never stop fighting for them." She added, "We've stood defiant in the face of opposition for the last 100 years. We will never back down, and we will never stop providing the care our patients need. These doors stay open, no matter what."

Separately, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) also reported a surge in support, receiving 2,000 percent more in monthly donations than average in November. CRR said about 90 percent of those donations were given by first-time donors.

In addition, multiple clinics have reported an increase in volunteers seeking ways to help, whether with administrative tasks or as clinic escorts. One clinic said it received 80 volunteer applications in the week following the election, compared with the 20 it usually receives all year, while another reported a 300 percent increase in volunteer applications.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, acknowledged the potential threat to abortion rights under the new administration, but she and other advocates said the outpouring of support following the election shows that the election was not a referendum on abortion rights. According to a recent Gallup poll, the majority of U.S. residents say they support abortion rights.

"I think we are facing the fight of our lives," Dalven said, but advocates "will be working to get [abortoin-rights] voices out there to make sure politicians know what their constituents want" (CNBC, 12/15).