Louisiana Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, who is now speaker of the House of Representatives, suggested in May that Republicans should consider amending a law that protects reproductive health care clinics.
The federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, was signed into law in 1994 by President Bill Clinton in response to escalating attacks on abortion clinics. The law makes it a crime to vandalize reproductive health care clinics or to attempt to block patients or providers from entering them.
In May, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Limited Government held a hearing titled “Revisiting the Implications of the FACE Act.” At the hearing, Johnson claimed that under President Joe Biden, the U.S. Department of Justice has ignored attacks on churches and “crisis pregnancy centers” and has only focused on investigating attacks on abortion clinics.
“We believe that the facts show the Biden administration has shown a clear double standard of enforcing the FACE Act in a way that protects pro-abortion activists and facilities while substantially ignoring attacks on pro-life advocates, facilities, and churches,” Johnson said.
“Unfortunately, there’s been a very long and well-documented history of violence against abortion providers, and the FACE Act was passed in direct response to that major violence,” Melissa Fowler, chief program officer at the National Abortion Foundation, a professional association of abortion providers, told the American Independent. “At that time, we were seeing large-scale blockades and people physically obstructing the entrances to clinics for long periods of time and blocking people’s access to care.
“And then they started murdering providers,” Fowler added.
A 2022 report issued by the federation found a marked rise in serious incidents at reproductive health clinics across the country since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022. According to the report, stalking incidents rose from eight incidents in 2021 to 81 in 2022, while incidents of obstruction of clinic access increased from 45 in 2021 to 287 in 2022.
“Even though clinics have closed in the last year, we have seen an increase in some activities, things like arson, burglaries, death threats, and clinic invasions. And this year, we actually looked at and saw that there was a sharp increase in violence and disruption in the states where abortion has remained legal and where they have protections in place,” Fowler said.
In August, the Department of Defense convicted five defendants in FACE Act-related offenses committed at a clinic in Washington, D.C. Defendants could face up to 11 years behind bars and a fine of up to $350,000.
“It’s well-documented that the FACE Act has led to a decrease in some of the major acts of violence. And there’s no reason to be questioning it or thinking about repealing it now, other than this is just one more part of their attack on abortion providers,” Fowler said.
In September, Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy and Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee introduced legislation to repeal the FACE Act. Anti-abortion groups, including the Family Research Council and Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, have signed on in support of the Republicans’ bill.
“We should not conflate some acts of vandalism against buildings where we don’t know who committed them with this well-documented history of very extreme violence that has even resulted in the murder of abortion providers over the years,” Fowler said.
Since 1977, 11 people have been killed in attacks on U.S. abortion clinics. In 2015, a 57-year-old man opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people and injuring nine.
On Oct. 5 this year, two shots were fired at the front door of a Helena, Montana, Planned Parenthood clinic. No one was injured.
The following day, Planned Parenthood of Montana communications coordinator Mary Sullivan said, “Our doors will remain open, and Planned Parenthood of Montana will never step back from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that Montanans rely on and trust.”
Like many independent businesses, reproductive health care clinics must pay for their own security. Some state governments have stepped in to help with those security costs. In May 2022, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced $10 million in security grants for reproductive health care clinics in the state. In January, California set aside $20 million for clinic security.
But the cost can often be too much, particularly for smaller clinics in rural areas that primarily serve low-income patients. The National Abortion Federation offers clinics safety assessments prior to their opening, but the clinics often cannot afford the needed safety modifications or upgrades, Fowler said.
“It is a huge burden that these small, community-based health care providers have to take on just to provide health care that their communities need. And it shouldn’t be that way,” Fowler said. “People who do this work, or health care providers; they feel very called to this work. It’s a mission for some people, and they shouldn’t have to live in fear or have to come up with all kinds of additional security measures just to be able to do their jobs every day.”