CBS News highlights increasing rates of anti-abortion violence and harassment


Citation Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

In a September 17 article, CBS News’ Kate Smith highlighted the increasing severity of violence and harassment against abortion providers, noting how continued use of sensationalized rhetoric contributes to this harmful trend.

Despite right-wing media’s claims to the contrary, anti-abortion harassment is a serious and ever-increasing problem. The Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, interim president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), told CBS News there has been “a dramatic increase in violence and disruption against clinics.” As CBS News explained:

In 2017, violent acts against abortion providers more than doubled from the year prior, according to data compiled by NAF. The group recorded 1,081 violent acts, the most since the group began tracking these incidents.

Last year, the group recorded another new record high: 1,369 reported violent acts, including 15 instances of assault and battery, 13 burglaries, 14 counts of stalking and over a thousand episodes of illegal trespassing.

With right-wing media and anti-choice lawmakers consistently invoking sensationalized rhetoric, anti-abortion violence is a continuous threat to providers in the United States. On Monday, a man was arrested after being “accused of threatening to blow up” a Planned Parenthood in Ohio. Already in 2019, there have been numerous similar incidents -- there were at least three separate arrests of young men threatening violence against abortion clinics in Ohio, Illinois, and Washington, D.C, in August alone.

In addition to quantifying the increasing rate of anti-abortion violence, CBS News also relied heavily on the testimonies of abortion providers to emphasize the increasing threats that they and their colleagues face. Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region and Southwest Missouri, noted that in addition to the passage of anti-choice laws, the rhetoric used by abortion opponents has been concerning. Expanding on this point, Ragsdale explained, “you can pretty much always draw a line from public rhetoric to violence.” In particular, Ragsdale said that inaccurate rhetoric such as referring to abortion as “infanticide” and mischaracterizations of providers as “baby killers” can serve as “a 'dog whistle' to anti-abortion extremists.”

From CBS News: 

Colleen McNicholas, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, is one of many providers who told CBS News they've seen an uptick in violence this year, both against themselves and their clinics. They say the increased harassment has coincided with newly enacted state laws restricting legal abortion and polarizing rhetoric surrounding the procedure.

The National Abortion Federation has been tracking violence against abortion providers and clinics since 1977. The Very Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, an Episcopal priest and interim president & chief executive officer of the organization, said the violence that providers face today is "beyond anything we've ever seen before."


Ragsdale said anti-abortion violence tends to go hand in hand with anti-abortion legislation, adding that "you can pretty much always draw a line from public rhetoric to violence." Inflammatory language — like referring to abortion as "infanticide" and doctors as "baby killlers" — can be a "dog whistle" to anti-abortion extremists and can push them into action, Ragsdale said. 

At Whole Women's Health, a network of seven abortion clinics across Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia, anti-abortion protestors are a constant, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the group's chief executive officer and president. But earlier this year, as states were passing abortion bans and federal lawmakers considered the "Born-Alive" bill, the situation worsened, Miller said in an interview with CBS News. 

"These aggressive bills that keep getting introduced have a tone to them that's incredibly fringe and introduces violent language," Miller said, noting that in Alabama's legislation for a near total ban on abortion, lawmakers compared the procedure to the Holocaust, the Khmer Rouge "killing fields," and other modern genocides.

This spring, protestors scaled her clinic's fences, blocked clients from entering the parking lots and even stopped patients from closing their cars' doors as they tried to leave, Miller said. In April, her clinic in McAllen, Texas, was the target of an arson attack, something Miller believed to be directly related to President Trump's comments on the Senate's failed "Born-Alive" bill, legislation that would require doctors to resuscitate infants born after a "botched abortion." 
However, as many abortion rights advocates pointed out at the time, the instance described in the bill "virtually doesn't happen." Even if it did, it's already covered: a bill passed in 2002 already requires physicians to provide that care.