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Majority of U.S. Residents Consider Recent Attacks on Abortion Clinics 'Domestic Terrorism,' Poll Finds

Majority of U.S. Residents Consider Recent Attacks on Abortion Clinics 'Domestic Terrorism,' Poll Finds

December 3, 2015 — A majority of U.S. residents say that recent attacks at abortion care facilities should be labeled as domestic terrorism, according to a recent poll by Ultraviolet, a women's rights advocacy group, Vox reports.

Background

The National Abortion Federation reports that since 1976, there have been more than 200 incidences of arson and bombings at clinics, 26 murder attempts on providers of abortion care and 11 murders of abortion care providers.

According to Vox, abortion-rights advocates consider such attacks a form of domestic terrorism, which the FBI defines as dangerous, illegal actions that "intimidate or coerce a civilian population." Sasha Bruce, NARAL's senior vice president for campaigns and strategy, said, "These actions are intended to scare women away from seeking an abortion," adding, "It fit the bill even before the awful, awful incident Friday in Colorado."

Meanwhile, abortion-rights advocates have noted that media and law enforcement often do not "connect the dots" among attacks against abortion providers, Vox reports. According to Vox, attackers are not part of one antiabortion-rights group, but they tend to share an antiabortion-rights ideology and use similar tactics, such as arson, gun violence, stalking and targeted vandalism (Crockett, Vox, 12/2).

Poll Details, Timing

The poll, conducted between Nov. 10 and Nov. 11, surveyed 624 registered voters (Ultraviolet poll, November 2015). Respondents were asked about the "attacks against Planned Parenthood clinics in five states, including arson, destruction of property, and firebombing" that have occurred since July.

At the time of polling, the U.S. "was already experiencing a surge of increased violence and threats against abortion providers," Vox reports. However, the poll was conducted prior to the deadly shooting that occurred last week at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

According to Vox, the uptick in antiabortion-rights violence and harassment follows the release of a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program.

Key Findings

According to the survey, 67% of U.S. residents said clinic attacks should be considered domestic terrorism.

Such views were expressed by a majority of both liberals and conservatives. Specifically, the poll found the attacks were considered terrorism by 77% of Democrats, 66% of independents and 54% of Republicans.

The poll also found that 79% of respondents said the FBI should investigate attacks against abortion providers.

Implications for Calling Attacks 'Domestic Terrorism'

While the FBI already investigates attacks against abortion providers, some abortion-rights advocates have called on the FBI and the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute such attacks "specifically as domestic terrorism," Vox reports.

However, although abortion-rights supporters agree that such attacks should be categorized as domestic terrorism, they have different ideas about which investigative tactics should be used. Ultraviolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas said requiring DOJ to look into the attacks as domestic terrorism would "elevate the level of investigation" and make it easier for law enforcement to identify similarities in the attacks, particularly when they occur in different states.

Meanwhile, NAF President Vicki Saporta, who works with DOJ to report antiabortion-rights threats and attacks, raised concerns about moving investigations out of the FBI unit that specializes in investigating them and into the domestic terrorism division (Vox, 12/2). Saporta told Slate, "We have gotten attention from the civil rights division. The task force is there. They take the threats we've given them seriously; they conduct investigations." She added, "That said, I think more needs to be done. But I don't think that we necessarily want to go to another division where they're not familiar with our issues and cases and where we wouldn't get as high a priority in terms of investigations and would be competing for scarce resources with all the other kinds of domestic terrorism threats that might be prioritized" (Caplan-Bricker, Slate, 11/30).

Bruce noted, "The effort is to get them to say something definitively in a public way," adding, "Just knowing [the government is] taking a serious look at these crimes over the summer as potential acts of domestic terrorism is what we want to hear from our government" (Vox, 12/2).

Abortion-Rights Advocates Bolster Campaign for DOJ To Label Attacks as Terrorism

In related news, abortion-rights advocates following the Colorado shooting are bolstering a campaign to have DOJ consider attacks against abortion clinics a form of domestic terrorism, the New York Times reports (Goodnough, New York Times, 12/2).

Abortion-rights advocates say such a designation would increase urgency surrounding the issue and could boost the amount of federal resources sent to local investigations (Zanona, CQ News, 12/2). According to the Times, DOJ in October announced that it was establishing a special counsel position that would aid in the prosecution of domestic terrorism cases throughout the U.S.

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said her group launched the campaign in October after threats and attacks targeting clinics escalated following the misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood (New York Times, 12/2). According to NAF, the number of harassment incidents at Planned Parenthood clinics in July was nine times as high as the number reported in June (CQ News, 12/2).

Two days prior to the shooting, the campaign sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch (D) calling for DOJ to "investigate the recent attacks on reproductive-health clinics using all appropriate federal statutes, including domestic terrorism." The letter was signed by more than 140 organizations and abortion providers, according to Hogue (New York Times, 12/2).

Abortion-Rights Advocates Call for 'Civil,' 'Fact-Based' Discourse

In other related news, abortion-rights advocates on Tuesday rallied at the Colorado Capitol to urge opponents to curb the use of extreme antiabortion-rights rhetoric following the latest clinic shooting, the Colorado Springs Gazette reports (Schrader, Colorado Springs Gazette, 12/1).

Law enforcement has not disclosed the motivations behind the shooting in Colorado. However, following his arrest, the suspect reportedly made antiabortion-rights statements to law enforcement (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/1).

ProgressNow Colorado Executive Director Amy Runyon-Harms said, "We're here today to stand up against those who use hateful, misleading and false statements to further their own agenda," adding, "We're here to demand a more civil and fact-based discourse and less fear mongering, especially from those in positions of power like our elected officials" (Colorado Springs Gazette, 12/1).

Planned Parenthood To Hold Day of Solidarity

Following the Colorado clinics shooting, Planned Parenthood will hold a national day of solidarity on Saturday, Time reports.

According to Time, Planned Parenthood allies will demonstrate against antiabortion-rights rhetoric that the group says contributed to the shooting. The main events will be held in Colorado and Washington, D.C., while smaller events will take place elsewhere. Planned Parenthood also is encouraging supporters to participate via social media.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "One of the lessons of this awful tragedy is that words matter, and hateful rhetoric fuels violence." She added, "It's not enough to denounce the tragedy without also denouncing the poisonous rhetoric that fueled it" (Frizell, Time, 12/2).