In March of 1993 Dr. Gunn was murdered outside of an abortion clinic in Florida; a few months later Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms, he survived but was fatally shot in 2009. They are by no means the only incidents of violence against abortion doctors though; in July of 1994 Dr. Britton, also of Pensacola, Florida was murdered and in 1998 Dr. Slepian was killed in his New York home. These incidents were just the more extreme attacks focusing on abortion providers and clinics in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. They spurred then President Bill Clinton and the members of Congress to create a federal to enhance protection of reproductive health care providers and clinics.
To protect aboriton doctors and patients Senator Ted Kennedy introduced the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act to Congress; it was passed and signed into law by President Clinton in May of 1994. The FACE Act has two main aspects; it protects reproductive health clinics and the people who work in them and it also protects people seeking services at a reproductive health clinic. It is important to note that the FACE Act does not only apply to abortion clinics, but to all reproductive health facilities, including abortion providers, family planning providers or even crisis pregnancy centers. Any facility that provides services for reproductive health or pregnancy qualifies for protection under this act. The act makes it a federal crime to “use force, the threat of force or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, interfere with, or attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with” anyone providing or seeking reproductive health services as well as the facilities.
Since the FACE Act was passed, reports of severe violence have dropped from 52% of clinics to only 20% in 1999 and 2000. Between 1994 and 2005 the DOJ obtained convictions of 71 individuals. Rates of prosecution dropped under President Bush, but since President Obama was inaugurated, the DOJ has started prosecuting more FACE Act violations, as of May 2011 6 individuals had been prosecuted during the Obama administration, and since then at least two additional individuals have been charged with FACE Act violations.
In addition to the federal laws, many states have passed their own versions of FACE laws, including Massachusetts; which places a 35 ft. buffer zone around clinics. Anti-choice protesters in the state have filed suit with federal courts to try and get the law creating the buffer zone overturned. They claim it infringes on their right to free speech because it makes it harder for them to share their message with patients seeking abortion services. Considering that one of these protesters dresses up as the grim reaper, I can’t imagine anyone, much less the court system taking the claim as anything other than a request to intimidate people who are seeking reproductive services. Yep, that’s right, I said grim reaper.