CARAL Factsheet On Clinic Violence
CLINIC VIOLENCE, INTIMIDATION, AND TERRORISM
On Friday, July 29th, Dr. John Britton and Mr. James Barratt were gunned
down in front of the Ladies Clinic in Pensacola, Florida. The Reverend Paul Hill, Director
of Defensive Action, an organization that advocates the use of violence against Doctors who
provide abortions, was arrested and charged with murder. These brutal murders are the
latest of numerous violent attacks, orchestrated and perpetuated by opponents of a woman's
right to choose, against medical professionals who provide abortion services.
- Since 1977, opponents of choice have directed more than one thousand reported acts
of violence at abortion providers, including bombings, arson, death threats, kidnappings,
assaults, shootings and clinic invasions. Since that time, they have also committed over
five thousand acts of disruption, including clinic blockades, bomb threats, hate mail,
harassing phone calls and demonstrations.1
- Cases of arson have tripled, and incidents of reported vandalism have more than
tripled from 1990 to 1992.2
- In December 1991, a man in a ski mask opened fire with a sawed-off shotgun at a
clinic in Springfield, Missouri, wounding two clinic workers, including the clinic's office
manager who is paralyzed as a result of the shooting.3 In 1984, a part-time abortion
counselor in Alabama found her cat decapitated.4 Most recently, clinics across the country
have been sprayed with butyric acid,5 and in February 1992, a Texas clinic and three nearby
buildings were leveled by arsonists.6
The inflammatory rhetoric and tactics of anti-choice extremists created a climate of
intolerance, tension and violence that escalated to these latest murders.
- Operation Rescue leader, Randall Terry, has described their objective as forcing
physicians to stop providing abortion services: "We're going to shame them, humiliate them,
embarrass them, disgrace them and expose them."7 Mr. Terry predicted that a January 1992
U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of Operation Rescue "will open up the floodgates for
activists to join [in blockades] without any fear. . . . We'll continue to be the
child-killing industry's worst nightmare."8
- Operation Rescue's executive director, Keith Tucci, said of doctors who perform
abortions: "They are killers and murderers."9
- Dr. David Gunn, who also performed abortions in Pensacola, Florida, was murdered
March 10, 1993, after heroically enduring years of harassment, threats and clinic blockades.
During the summer of 1992, "wanted" posters targeting Dr. Gunn and containing his
photograph, home address telephone number and daily schedule were distributed at a rally
sponsored by Operation Rescue in Montgomery, Alabama.10
- Melbourne, Florida is the site of a 12-week training camp organized by Operation
Rescue, where opponents of a woman's right to choose are learning tactics for blockades.
The recruits are being trained in tracing license numbers of clinic employees and patients,
jamming clinic phone lines, picketing and videotaping doctors at their homes.11
The reaction of some anti-choice leaders to Dr. Gunn's slaying in 1993 reveals the extremism
and callousness of some elements of the anti-choice movement.
- Michael Bray, a Project Rescue leader stated, "From the standpoint of preventing
further murders at the hands of Dr. Gunn, the actions of Mr. Griffin could be looked at as a
good thing. [Mr. Griffin] should be acquitted of any charges, because his actions were done
in defense of people who were scheduled to die: the unborn."12
- Rescue America leader, Don Treshman, stated, "While Gunn's death is unfortunate,
it's also true that quite a number of babies lives will be saved."13 The group is
collecting donations to help the family of the man who shot and killed Dr. Gunn.14
- Debbie Dykes, a member of the American Family Association, said, "I think the man
that was killed . . . should be glad he was not killed the same way that he has killed other
people, which is limb by limb."15
- Randall Terry, leader of Operation Rescue, attacked Dr. Gunn as a murderer and went
on to say "we must grieve for the thousands of children that he has murdered."16
- John Burt, the organizer of the protests at the Pensacola clinic and former member
of the Ku Klux Klan, promised to continue blockading the Pensacola clinic after the murder:
"More babies are going to die, so we are going to try to stop that from happening. . . . If
it causes trouble, so be it."17
- A press release from the Missionaries to the Pre-born stated, "We will not be
outraged over the one death and not the other 4,000."18
- Workers at the Aware Women's Center in Melbourne, Florida said of the protestors
outside of their clinic, "They cheered and danced on the sidewalk when they heard the news
[of Dr. Gunn's shooting]."19 The clinic also received a death threat in which the caller
stated, "One down. How many more do we have to go?"20
Anti-choice groups have also reacted by placing the blame for Dr. Gunn's death on the
pro-choice federal government.
- Rev. Joseph Foreman said that the shooting "could be the tip of the iceberg if the
government silences abortion protestors . . . if the government insists on suppressing
normal and time-honored dissent through injunctions, it turns the field over to the
rock-throwers, the bombers and the assassins.21
- Operation Rescue's Rev. Pat Mahoney said, "It is President Clinton, who by signing
those administrative orders his first week of office, is pushing people to extreme
The slaying of Dr. Gunn prompted more physicians to go public with their own reports of
death threats and harassment. The personal accounts of these physicians illustrate the
widespread violence and harassment abortion providers must endure in order to provide basic
health care to their patients.
- In Boulder, Colorado, abortion providers have installed bullet-proof windows and
doctors are purchasing bullet-proof vests.23
- The day after Dr. Gunn's murder, a clinic in Kansas City, Missouri hired armed
- The anti-choice group, Lambs of Christ, broke into a doctor's home in Minnesota,
followed her teenage daughter to school, and passed out leaflets at the school saying "Dr.
Wicklund is a baby killer."25
- Dr. Warren Hern, medical director of an abortion clinic in Colorado, said that
"death threats are so common they are not remarkable." While recently attending a pro-choice
meeting in Denver, a protestor told Dr. Hern, `You should die.'"26
- Dr. Buck Williams, the only doctor who provides abortions in South Dakota, got a
licensed revolver after he was confronted several years ago by a man who threatened to cut
off his fingers.27 o In Melbourne, Florida, a staff member's 13-year-old son was
asked out on a date and harassed by an Operation Rescue trainee. The boy was driven to a
Burger King where a girl and a woman in her 30's requested the names of patients at his
mother's clinic, and told him that he and his mother were going to burn in hell.28
More and more women are at risk of losing access to safe abortion because of the escalating
shortage of physicians who are trained, qualified and willing to perform the procedure. The
violence and terrorism of anti-choice extremists is discouraging many medical residents from
even learning how to perform abortions.29
These terrorist attacks against clinics and clinic personnel also impose considerable
financial costs to the communities in which they occur.
- Currently, 83% of the counties in the United States have no abortion providers.30
- In 34 states, the number of physicians who performed abortions declined between
1985 and 1988.31 North Dakota and South Dakota each are left with only one abortion
- Many residency programs in obstetrics and gynecology have eliminated abortion
instruction from their routine course work and many offer abortion training as an elective,
or not at all. A recent study found that the number of programs that offer first trimester
abortion training as a normal part of studies declined to 12% in 1992 from 23% in 1985. For
second-trimester abortion training, the number of residency programs fell to 7% from 23%.33
- At a rally in Melbourne, Florida, Randall Terry stated, "we've found that the weak
link is the doctor."34 Terry has also noted "that fewer schools now train residents to
perform abortions. . . . We hope that in 10 years, there'll be none."35
- In 1992, after six months of searching for a physician to provide abortions, a
clinic in York, Pennsylvania decided to fly in a physician from Nebraska once a week.36
- In Wichita, Kansas, in 1991, blockades that disrupted the operation of clinics for
six weeks produced more than 2,600 arrests of anti-choice protestors and cost more than
$650,000 in police time and court expenses.37
- In Buffalo, New York, in 1992, anti-choice protests left the city with a bill
exceeding $250,000 for police overtime.38
Recent escalations of violence and blockades at reproductive health care clinics highlight
the urgent need for the enactment of federal legislation that will protect access to
reproductive health care services, as well as for the vigorous enforcement of existing laws
that protect against assault, arson, trespass, and harassment. The United States Congress
recently passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act ("FACE"), which President
Clinton signed into law. This law makes it a federal crime to blockade health care clinics,
while respecting the right of anti-choice protestors to demonstrate peacefully as protected
under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. FACE protects the ability of medical
professionals to provide, and women to receive critical health care without risking physical
- National Abortion Federation, Incidents of Violence & Disruption Against
Abortion Providers, (Washington, D.C.: National Abortion Federation) 1993.
- Richard Lacayo, "One Doctor Down, How Many More?" Time, 22 March
- Ellen Goodman, "Portrait of Fanaticism," Boston Globe, 29 November 1984,
- Frank Fisher, "Acid Attacks," Associated Press, 3 March 1993.
Death of Dr. Gunn," New York Times (editorial), 12 March 1993, A28.
- Mimi Hall,
"Abortion Foes Target Doctors," USA Today, 5 February 1992, 3A.
- Joyce Price, "Operation Rescue Chief Expects Increase in Pro-Life Protesters,"
Washington Times, 14 January 1993, A10.
- Deborah Sharp, "`Boot Camp' Takes
Abortion Battle to Florida City," USA Today, 1 February 1993, 5A.
- Larry Rohter,
"Fathoming the Abortion Clinic Gunman," New York Times, 12 March 1993, A17.
Rimer, "Abortion Foes' Boot Camp Ponder Doctor's Death," New York Times, 19 March 1993,
- Amy Goldstein, "Area Feels Shockwave of Fla. Killing," Washington Post, 13
March 1993, B1.
- "The Death of Dr. Gunn," New York Times (editorial), 12 March
- Rescue America, Press Release, 10 March 1993.
Barringer, "Slaying is a Call to Arms for Abortion Clinics," New York Times, 12 March 1993,
- Garry Mitchell, "Abortion Shooting," Associated Press, 11 March 1993.
- "Volunteer Doctors Step in for Gunn," Washington Times, 14 March 1993, A3.
- Missionaries to the Pre-born, Press Release, 10 March 1993.
Bumpus-Hooper, Orlando Sentinel, 10 March 1993.
- Richard Lacayo, "One Doctor Down,
How Many More?" Time, 22 March 1993, 47.
- Garry Mitchell, "Abortion Shooting,"
Associated Press, 11 March 1993.
- Lynne Bumpus-Hooper, Orlando Sentinel, 10 March
- Felicity Barringer, "Slaying Is a Call to Arms for Abortion Clinics," New
York Times, 12 March 1993, A1.
- CBS, "60 Minutes," 2 February 1992,
- Felicity Barringer, "Slaying is a Call To Arms for Abortion
Clinics," New York Times, 12 March 1993, A1.
- Richard Lacayo, "One Doctor Down,
How Many More?" Time, 22 March 1993, 47.
- Helene Cooper, "Medical
Schools, Students Shun Abortion Study," Wall Street Journal, 12 March 1993, B1.
- Stanley K. Henshaw and Jennifer Van Vort, "Abortion Services in the United States,
1987 and 1988," Family Planning Perspectives 22, no. 3 (May/June 1990), 106.
- Stanley K. Henshaw and Jennifer Van Vort, eds., Abortion Factbook, 1992 Edition:
Readings, Trends, and State and Local Data to 1988 (New York: Alan Guttmacher
Institute, 1992), 190-95.
- Henshaw and Van Vort, "Abortion Services in the United
- Helene Cooper, "Medical Schools, Students Shun Abortion Study,"
Wall Street Journal, 12 March 1993, B1.
- Larry Rohter, "Doctor is Slain During
Protest Over Abortions," New York Times, 11 March 1993, A1.
- Helene Cooper,
"Medical Schools, Students Shun Abortion Study," Wall Street Journal, 12 March 1993, B1.
- "Clinic Works to Find Doctor for Abortions," Associated Press, 27 November 1992.
- Mimi Hall, "Abortion Foes Target Five Cities," USA Today, 3 September 1991, 4A.
- "Operation Rescue to Leave Buffalo," Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3 May 1992, A2.
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