According to the National Abortion Federation, since 1977 there have been 7 murders, 17 attempted murders, 41 bombings, 143 arson attacks, 89 attempted arsons/bombings, and 375 invasions at health care centers where abortions are performed in the United States. Furthermore, there have been thousands of reported cases of vandalism and trespassing. Health care providers and patients have endured hundreds of physical assaults, nearly 400 recorded death threats, and close to 500 reported cases of stalking. In 1994, in one of the most extreme acts of violence, Paul Hill, a Presbyterian minister and member of an anti-abortion group, murdered Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard Lt. Col. James Barrett as they were entering the health care center where Dr. Britton provided reproductive care to women. Also injured was Dr. Britton’s wife. Hill was convicted of capital murder and ultimately executed. He is now revered by many as a “martyr” to the cause of ending legal abortion and “restoring” America to its “Christian” roots.
Health care facilities for abortion patients are on the front lines of the culture war, putting patients’ and workers’ safety in serious jeopardy. Of course, one may question how “pro-life” ideals can inspire protesters to violate the law and, perhaps, endorse killing those who are present at these centers. Extreme antiabortion protesters who have killed or used criminal violence to achieve their political goals espouse the view that abortion is morally equivalent to premeditated murder and should therefore be illegal. Some have advanced the belief that such “murders” should be classified as capital crimes so that abortion providers could be subjected to the death penalty.
In the United States, most extreme anti-abortion protesters who participate in, advocate for, or excuse these violent attacks adhere to a very conservative Christian fundamentalism that embraces physical punishment, retribution, and vengeance. Attempts to find “common ground” with nonviolent abortion foes or with pro-choice groups have failed largely due to the strict absolutist and authoritarian ideological stance taken by extreme anti-abortion activists.
Official nonprofit organizations that promote the recriminalization of abortion formally disavow such violence, yet some privately praise the fervor that leads people to act on those extreme views. Pro-choice organizations lobby for stricter laws regulating protesters’ proximity to specific locations and people, in addition to conducting their own legislative efforts to retain legal access to abortion services. Having to promote reproductive rights and safety has resulted in increased need for public support by way of donations, volunteers, and public awareness campaigns. Only a small fraction of the public endorses the extreme views of the violent anti-abortion protesters, and yet 25% of the public adhere to the punitive religious views that embolden violent anti-abortion protests.
- Cook, K. J. (1998). Divided passions: Public opinions on abortion and the death penalty. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
- Cook, K. J. (1998). A passion to punish: Abortion opponents who favor the death penalty. Justice Quarterly, 15(2), 329–346.
- Cook, K. J., & Powell, C. (2003). Christianity and punitive mentalities: A qualitative study. Crime, Law, and Social Change, 39, 69–89.
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