National Partnership for Women & Families

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Report finds increase in threats against abortion providers after release of misleading videos

Threats and violence against abortion providers increased dramatically following the release of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood, according to a report by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), The Guardian reports (Redden, The Guardian, 4/5).

Background

Last year, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) began releasing a series of misleading videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing fetal tissue donation. CMP secretly filmed the videos by meeting with Planned Parenthood staff while posing as buyers of fetal tissue (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/27).

Planned Parenthood has stated that the videos were heavily edited and that the filmed officials did not conduct any illegal activities. The organization, which said it has never profited from fetal tissue donations, no longer accepts any reimbursement on such donations.

A report submitted to Congress by forensic experts last year found the videos were manipulated, making them unreliable for official inquiries into the organization. In addition, several state and federal investigations into Planned Parenthood have found no evidence of wrongdoing by the organization. One of the state investigations, in Texas, not only cleared the organization of wrongdoing, but resulted in indictments for CMP Director David Daleiden and CMP employee Sandra Merritt (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/1).

In January, Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against CMP, citing the substantial increase in threats that the organization has received since the videos were released, among other things (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/15). NAF also filed a lawsuit against the organization, which has resulted in a temporary restraining order barring CMP's release of footage recorded at NAF meetings while the lawsuit continues (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/8).

Report findings

The report found 94 specific threats against abortion providers in 2015, up from one threat in 2014. Threats included a vow to "kill all … abortion providers" at a North Carolina hospital and a voicemail to a provider threatening to "pull a Columbine and wipe everyone out" (The Guardian, 4/5). Another online threat called for the mass arson of all the abortion clinics in the United States. According to Time, four clinic arsons -- in California, Illinois, Louisiana and Washington -- were reported in the three months after the threat was posted (Alter, Time, 4/5). Separately, a clinic in New Hampshire was vandalized, The Guardian reports (The Guardian, 4/5).

In addition, the report found the deadly shooting at a Colorado abortion clinic last year brought the total number of deaths stemming from antiabortion-rights violence to three, up from zero in 2014. That attack also resulted in the injury of nine others. Overall, since 1977, NAF has recorded 11 abortion-related murders in the United States (Time, 4/5).

According to the report, the number of instances in which abortion-rights opponents physically blocked the entrance to abortion clinics doubled in 2015 (The Guardian, 4/5). Further, the report found that the number of suspicious deliveries and "hoax devices" found at clinics increased fourfold, from nine in 2014 to 35 in 2015. NAF also found that picketing at clinics quadrupled to 21,715 reported incidents in 2015, accounting for the most antiabortion-rights picketing events ever recorded in one year.

In the report, NAF said the increase in antiabortion-rights violence and harassment last year "directly correlates" with CMP's release of the videos (Time, 4/5).

NAF noted in the report that it had to hire an online security company to help keep track of the increasing number of threats (The Guardian, 4/5). According to the report, the company within just six weeks identified more than 25,000 incidents of threats and hate speech (NAF report, 4/5). NAF President Vicki Saporta said, "It was frightening and alarming in the breadth and volume of the vitriol," adding, "We could barely keep up" (The Guardian, 4/5).

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, commented, "This report shows in stark black and white what our brave and committed doctors, providers, patients, and health center staff face every day." She added that the report "shows the real impact that political attacks and inflammatory rhetoric can have on Americans' ability to access reproductive care" (Time, 4/5).