Lately, I’ve become interested in timelines, and their usefulness in helping to create a kind of narrative. So, when I saw the AP list of abortion-related violence, after Dr. Tiller’s murder, I thought it would make a good timeline.
But then it seemed to be missing something.
The perpetual theme in the media seemed to be that Dr. Tiller’s murder represented a surge in violence that abated during the Bush presidency, presumably because the right was satisfied that it was a sign they were winning. Now, with the Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they’re apparently ratcheting up the paranoia and violence.
That may be true, to some degree, but abortion-related violence didn’t come to a screeching halt upon the inauguration of George W. Bush. At least that’s what my research suggested, since I decided to check other sources, to see what was missing from the AP Timeline. I kept finding incidents of violence that didn’t appear to be in the timeline.
Then I read that the violence didn’t stop. It’s just that the Bush administration didn’t do anything about anti-abortion violence.
Under the FACE Act, in addition to criminal charges, the Justice Department can obtain damages and an injunction against anyone who “by force or threat of force or by physical obstruction, intentionally injures, intimidates or interferes with or attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with” anyone who provides or receives reproductive health services. It also allows the government to prosecute and sue anyone who “intentionally damages or destroys the property” of an abortion clinic, because they are frequently vandalized as part of protesters’ intimidation tactics. The clinic where Dr. Tiller worked, for example, was repeatedly vandalized, including just days before his murder.
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.
It’s possible, of course, that the law was so effective in its early years that it deterred all future violations. “I do think that the statute was very effective,” and “for the most part there were fewer complaints coming to us,” said Cathleen Mahoney, vice president and general counsel of the National Abortion Federation and director of the Justice Department’s Task Force on Violence Against Reproductive Health Care Providers until 2006.
But crime statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation show that violence did not stop when the Bush administration came into office. The group reports 3,291 acts of violence against abortion providers in the United States and Canada between 2000 and 2008 – and that’s only the number of incidents they know about. (The total number of incidents in the U.S. alone was not available.) The group warns on its Website that “actual incidents are likely much higher.” That number does not include threats, vandalism and harassment, which are also violations of the FACE Act.
You can read the rest of the article for yourself. But it’s no stretch of the imagination that the Bush administration wouldn’t break a sweat prosecuting abortion-related violence.
Here’s the timeline I cobbled together.
I’ll definitely update it as I come across other information in my reading, etc.