In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion extremist, the very real problem of extremist violence against abortion providers and clinics has gained a fresh spotlight, even though that violence is not new. After the 1993 murder of an abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which made any use of “force, threat of force or physical obstruction” against doctors and patients a federal crime. The law was an attempt to put an end to the constant wave of death threats, acts of vandalism, and clinic bombings.
According to the National Abortion Federation, the “FACE law has had a clear impact on the decline in certain types of violence against clinics and providers, specifically clinic blockades.” Under the Bush Administration, however, criminal and civil enforcement of the law by the Department of Justice declined dramatically, the Washington Independent’s Daphne Eviatar reports:
The day after Dr. George Tiller was murdered, TWI obtained data revealing that under the Bush administration, criminal enforcement of the federal law designed to protect abortion providers and clinics had declined by more than 75 percent over the last eight years.
But there’s also a civil component to that federal law, known as the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act. That part of the law allows the attorney general to seek an injunction and compensatory damages for anyone who’s been harmed by any activity that violates the law. And it turns out that the Department of Justice over the last eight years didn’t use that part of the law to protect abortion providers, either.
Eviatar found that, according to DOJ statistics, the Bush Administration “brought only about two criminal prosecutions per year in the entire country under the FACE Act, and never more than four in any single year.” In contrast, under President Clinton the Justice Department “prosecuted 17 defendants for violations of the FACE Act in 1997 alone, and an average of about 10 per year since the law was enacted in 1994.” Evitar reports though that the Bush Justice Department had an even more abysmal record of enforcing the civil component of the FACE Act:
Yet despite these broad powers that Congress granted the attorney general in 1994 to prevent and combat violence against abortion clinics and providers, the Bush administration almost never used them. From 2000 until 2008, during the eight years of the Bush administration, the Justice Department filed only one civil case under the FACE Act. From 1994 until 1999, in contrast, in just five years of the Clinton administration, the Department filed 17 civil cases under the FACE Act — in addition to its much heavier load of criminal cases that we’ve reported before.
Between 2000 and 2008, the National Abortion Federation recorded 3,291 acts of violence against abortion providers and “at least 17 cases of ‘extreme’ violence against abortion providers in the United States, such as arson, stabbing and bomb attacks.” However, the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice “prosecuted only 11 individuals for any acts of violence against abortion clinics or providers.”