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Context of 'May 1994: FACE Act Becomes Law; Protects Abortion Providers, Women’s Clinics'

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A prison photo of Michael Griffin.A prison photo of Michael Griffin. [Source: Bonnie's Life of Crime (.com)]Dr. David Gunn, a women’s doctor and abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, is shot to death by anti-abortion advocate Michael Griffin, while members of the anti-abortion organization Rescue America protest outside his clinic. The protesters scream, chant, and wave signs declaring, “David Gunn Kills Babies.” Griffin steps forward from a group of protesters, yells, “Don’t kill any more babies!” and fires three shots into Gunn’s back as he is exiting his car. Gunn dies during surgery at a nearby hospital. Griffin informs police that he shot Gunn with a .38 revolver he is carrying, and surrenders to police officers without incident. Steve Powell, an employee at the office park which houses the clinic, later tells reporters that the Rescue America protesters seemed “just happy” after the shooting. Gunn had just opened the clinic a month before, and commuted to work from his home in Eufaula, Alabama. Gunn’s is one of two clinics providing abortions in Pensacola; the city also houses three “abortion counseling” facilities, operated by anti-abortion groups whose objective is to convince women not to have abortions. Gunn has received threats for several years, but in recent months the threats have become more dire. Recently, anti-abortion group Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986) featured Gunn in a “Wanted” poster (see 1995 and After) distributed in Montgomery, Alabama; the poster included Gunn’s photo, home phone number, and other identifying information. OR spokeswoman Margeaux Farrar says the organization knows nothing about the posters and did not print them. The Reverend Joseph Foreman, one of the group’s founders, says Gunn’s murder is just the beginning if the government continues to try to “silence” anti-abortion protesters. Foreman tells reporters, “I’ve been saying for years that 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.” Many of Griffin’s colleagues and fellow protesters will argue that Gunn’s murder was “justifiable.” Many of those advocates are members of a newly formed organization, the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA—see July 1993). [Washington Post, 3/11/1993; Ms. Magazine, 12/2002; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39; CBS News, 4/19/2007] Griffin will be represented by Florida lawyer Joe Scarborough at some court proceedings, though Scarborough will not represent him at his actual trial. Scarborough (R-FL) will go on to represent his Florida district in the US House of Representatives. [New York Times, 10/25/1994]

Entity Tags: Joseph Foreman, Rescue America, Joseph Scarborough, David Gunn, American Coalition of Life Activists, Michael Griffin, Steve Powell, Operation Rescue, Margeaux Farrar

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Dr. George Tiller, a women’s health doctor and abortion provider, is shot once in each arm outside the Women’s Health Care Services clinic in Wichita, Kansas, by anti-abortion activist Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon. Shannon has a long history of violent attacks against abortion clinics on the West Coast, using both fire and acid to disrupt or close women’s health care clinics. [Washington Post, 1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39] Shannon is a member of the violent anti-abortion group Army of God (see 1982). After her arrest, she will tell authorities that her attempt to murder Tiller was a means of “enforcing God’s will.” Police will find a copy of the secret “Army of God Manual” (see Early 1980s) buried in her backyard. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006] In 2009, Tiller will be murdered by another anti-abortion activist (see May 31, 2009).

Entity Tags: Women’s Health Care Services, George Tiller, Rachelle (“Shelley”) Shannon, Army of God

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

President Clinton signs the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act into law. The law provides for the legal protection of abortion clinics and women’s health clinics against violence perpetuated against them. The law was proposed after an abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn, was shot to death in Florida in 1993 (see March 10, 1993); that same year, 12 arsons, one bombing, and 66 blockades were carried out against abortion clinics. FACE forbids the use of “force, threat of force, or physical obstruction” to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services. The law also provides for both criminal and civil penalties for those who break the law. [US Department of Justice, 7/25/2008; National Abortion Federation, 2010] The FACE Act works in concert with two Supreme Court decisions, Madsen v. Women’s Health Center and NOW et al v. Scheidler to establish “buffer zones” around women’s clinics and allow anti-abortion organizations to be investigated under federal racketeering statutes. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 40] Signing the FACE Act into law, Clinton says, “We simply cannot—we must not—continue to allow the attacks, the incidents of arson, the campaigns of intimidation upon law-abiding citizens that [have] given rise to this law.” Clinton cites the murder of Gunn and the shooting of Dr. George Tiller (see August 19, 1993) as incidents that FACE is designed to address. He adds: “No person seeking medical care, no physician providing that care should have to endure harassments or threats or obstruction or intimidation or even murder from vigilantes who take the law into their own hands because they think they know what the law ought to be.” [Washington Independent, 6/12/2009] In 2010, the National Abortion Federation will note that while FACE “has had a clear impact on the decline in certain types of violence against clinics and providers, specifically clinic blockades,” violence against abortion clinics and abortion providers has continued. [National Abortion Federation, 2010]

Entity Tags: Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, National Abortion Federation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

During this six-month period, 52 percent of the women’s health clinics providing abortions in the US are subjected to violence, including arson, bombings, and shootings (see July 29, 1994, September 1994, and December 30, 1994 and After). Numerous abortion clinics and providers in Canada are also targeted by anti-abortion activists (see November 8, 1994). According to author and researcher Harvey Kushner, anti-abortion extremists escalated their violence against abortion providers because of the Clinton administration’s repeal of many anti-abortion regulations perpetuated by the Reagan and Bush administrations, and the passage of the FACE Act (see May 1994). [Kushner, 2003, pp. 39-40]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Harvey Kushner

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Four doctors and two abortion-provider organizations file a lawsuit under the civil section of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act (see May 1994). The case names the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA—see July 1993) as the primary defendant, and asks that the court enjoin the organization to stop publishing threats against doctors (see 1995 and After). The case also seeks monetary damages. One of the defendants is the Reverend Michael Bray of Bowie, Maryland. Bray, a co-founder of ACLA, wrote a book called A Time to Kill: A Study Concerning the Use of Force and Abortion (see September 1994). Bray served four years in federal prison in the 1980s for his role in the arson attacks and bombings of seven abortion clinics. The case will become commonly known as Planned Parenthood v. ACLA. [Ms. Magazine, 12/2002]

Entity Tags: Planned Parenthood, American Coalition of Life Activists, Michael Bray, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

The Christian Defense Coalition (CDC) urges the Bush administration to show “restraint” in its handling of the arrest of accused murderer James Kopp, whose anti-abortion beliefs triggered his shooting of Dr. Barnett Slepian (see March 29, 2001). The CDC says that the “vast majority of the pro-life community” condemns violence against abortion doctors such as Slepian, and urges Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice “not to use this episode to harass and intimidate the pro-life movement as the Clinton administration did” (see May 1994 and January 1996), and makes the same request of pro-choice organizations. The CDC also urges the general public to remember that Kopp is “innocent until proven guilty.” [Christian Defense Coalition, 3/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Christian Defense Coalition, Barnett Slepian, Bush administration (43), US Department of Justice, Clinton administration, James Kopp, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda

In an 8-0 decision, the US Supreme Court reverses the findings of earlier courts and finds for the defendants in the NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit (see June 1986, September 22, 1995, and March 29 - September 23, 1997). The Court, ruling on technical grounds (see April 22, 2002), determines that it was improper for the National Organization for Women (NOW) to use laws covering racketeering and organized crime against anti-abortion advocates who committed violence against women’s clinics. The Court also notes that Congress’s 1994 passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE—see May 1994) Act indicated that Congress did not view the law as pertaining to this area. [FindLaw, 2/28/2006; Los Angeles Times, 3/1/2006]

Entity Tags: National Organization for Women, US Supreme Court, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

James Kopp, convicted of murdering abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian (see March 17-18, 2003), is found guilty of violating the FACE Act, which makes it a crime to deny access to women’s health clinics (see May 1994). Because of the severity of his violation, Kopp is sentenced to life in prison without parole. Assistant US Attorney Kathleen Mehltretter says in court filings: “The fact that the defendant has been convicted in New York State Court is irrelevant to this proceeding. The United States has the obligation and the right to enforce its criminal laws.” [Buffalo News, 1/7/2007; National Abortion Federation, 2010]

Entity Tags: James Kopp, Kathleen Mehltretter

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism

Journalist Daphne Eviatar writes that during the eight years of the Bush presidency, prosecutions and enforcement of the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE—see May 1994) “cratered,” with Justice Department officials refusing to prosecute or sometimes even investigate complaints of vandalism, harassment, and assault. After the recent murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), Eviatar and the Washington Independent obtained government data showing that enforcement of the FACE law, and other federal laws designed to protect abortion providers and clinics, declined by 75 percent during the Bush presidency. Between 1994 and 1999, when President Clinton was in office, the Justice Department filed 17 complaints under the FACE Act. Between 2001 and 2009, when President Bush was in office, the Justice Department only filed a single case. Tiller’s own clinic was vandalized numerous times, but complaints against the actions were ignored by the department. Statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) show that over 3,200 acts of violence against abortion providers in the US and Canada were committed between 2000 and 2008, and the organization says the number of actual incidents was probably “much higher.” The number does not include threats, vandalism, and harassment. NAF statistics show that at least 17 cases of “extreme” violence against abortion providers in the US were reported, including arson, stabbings, bombings, and fake anthrax mailings. But the Bush Justice Department only prosecuted 11 individuals for these attacks. The two highest-profile anti-abortion prosecutions were those of anthrax mailer Clayton Waagner (see 1997-December 2001) and bomber Eric Rudolph (see April 14, 2005). However, none of Waagner’s or Rudolph’s associates in the extremist organization Army of God (see 1982) were ever prosecuted as accessories to the two activists’ crimes. Neither was the Army of God ever investigated as a potential domestic terrorist organization (see Early 1980s). [Washington Independent, 6/12/2009]

Entity Tags: National Abortion Federation, Bush administration (43), Clayton Waagner, Clinton administration, Daphne Eviatar, Eric Robert Rudolph, US Department of Justice, George Tiller, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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