State Sen. Deborah Ortiz

LOS ANGELES (WOMENSENEWS)–A new California state senate report says that from 1982 to 2000, California led the nation in arsons and bombings at abortion clinics, with 30 incidents out of a total of 224 reported nationwide. The report warns, however, that the number might be artificially low because the state’s law enforcement agencies are not required to identify pro-choice targets or anti-abortion motives in arsons and bombings.

California has far more clinic violence than Texas, for example, a state that has about two-thirds as many residents but half as many arsons and bombings, according to the reports. And indications are that the number of violent acts have been increasing, the report adds.

At the same time, the California state senate has passed legislation meant to ensure freedom of access to clinic entrances, known as the FACE act. The California state assembly opens hearings on the measure today, and an intense partisan battle is expected. If the bill survives, pro-choice Gov. Gray Davis is expected to sign it into law. At that point, California would be among some 14 states and the District of Columbia to enact clinic protection acts of varying degrees of protection. The others include Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon and Wisconsin, according to the National Abortion and Reprodctive Rights Action League, NARAL.

The California state senate report, “Crimes Against Reproductive Rights in California,” also says that the Golden State may be a nexus for violent extremist groups that oppose abortion and hate gays, Jews, blacks and others.

“There is some evidence that anti-abortion incidents may be increasing,” said the report prepared for the Senate Office of Research in Sacramento by consultant Gregory deGiere, an expert on terrorism and anti-government extremist activity.

Evidence of Affiliation Between Hate and Violent Anti-Abortion Groups

“There is growing evidence that affiliations between hate groups and violent anti-abortion groups are occurring,” the report said. “Whether they are joining forces or combining resources is open to debate. However, there is well-documented evidence that some of the same people who have threatened or harmed reproductive health clinics, patients and personnel also have committed hate crimes against Jews, homosexuals and African Americans. Some authorities believe the resources and influence of such groups may be growing as the criminal elements within them join forces.”

The FACE act also includes protection for access to houses of worship, providing its additional protection to those who may be the target of harassment or violence because of their religious beliefs. And, because it is believed that hate groups target abortion clinics, Jews and homosexuals, the bill is believed to provide additional protection to gays and lesbians as well.

The bill would protect abortion clinic entrances and medical staff, clerical staff, clinic defenders, patients’ escorts and friends. It was sponsored by Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento, and is modeled after the 1994 Federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

California’s FACE act would also require the state attorney general, assuming adequate funding, to collect and analyze the data about crimes related to reproductive rights, report the results to local law enforcement and the legislature, and develop a plan for investigation and prosecution of reproductive rights crimes. The bill includes training law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting crimes at reproductive health centers and against personnel and families away from the centers.

The bill also would require jail terms for protesters convicted of blocking entrances to abortion clinics. It also would punish those using force or threatening to use force or physical obstruction to attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with someone’s attempt to use a place of worship.

Nonviolent obstructive conduct could result in jail sentences of up to six months, while violent offenses could lead to a year in prison. Fines range from $5,000 to $50,000. Jail sentences could be authorized for people who attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with someone involved with a reproductive health clinic or damage someone’s property because he or she was linked to reproductive rights activities.

Your Right to Swing Your Fist Ends Where My Nose Begins

During the state senate debate, anti-choice state Sen. Ray Haynes, R-Riverside, said the proposed law would “stop little old ladies handing out literature in front of abortion clinics.”

California state Sen. Sheila KuehlDemocratic state Sen. Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica responded, “The people protesting are opposing others’ constitutional rights to worship or go to clinics. As my grandmother said, ‘You’re right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.'”

At another moment during the debate, Sen. Haynes compared the anti-abortion movement to the anti-slavery and civil rights movements.

“We cannot turn the cheek and put up with this kind of force. This law deserves active protest and civil disobedience,” he said. He vigorously urged anti-abortion forces to stand up to “the excessive use of force and actively disobey the law” if the state FACE act passed the Assembly and were signed into law.

Ortiz responded, “I wish there was as much passion on the other side of the aisle regarding the rights of the unborn when it comes to prenatal care.”

The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances acts.

The second anniversary of the arsons at two synagogues and a Torah center in Sacramento motivated Ortiz to sponsor the bill. Abortion clinic arsons also occurred in her district, which she describes as either “very conservative or very liberal.”

The alleged hate crimes of brothers Benjamin and James Williams, charged with the murder of a gay couple in Redding, Calif., also propelled Ortiz.

The final impetus came in March, when a federal appeals court, citing the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, upheld the legality of the anti-abortion Nuremberg Files Web site which lists 61 Californians, including doctors, clinic owners, attorneys, elected officials, law enforcement officers, judges and others who support abortion rights. The site has pictures of physicians who perform abortions and uses extremely provocative language that some believe encourages violence.

Ortiz said a state law was needed because local law enforcement authorities did not have the resources to mount the complex investigations and prosecutions of orchestrated crimes against reproductive rights clinics. Moreover, federal law enforcement seldom investigates small-scale anti-abortion or related crimes such as arson, stalking and harassment. In addition, small abortion clinics often cannot assume the expense necessary to sue their harassers.

Reports Other Key Findings

The document reports other key findings:

The Senate Office of Research surveyed 172 publicly identified abortion providers in October 2000. More than half responded they were the targets of anti-reproductive-rights crimes between 1995 and 2000.
  • Follow up calls made in January and February of this year by the Senate Office of Research indicated increased threats, vandalism, obstruction and stalking. Many people interviewed said they feared increasing violence in some parts of the state.
  • Three of the country’s leading monitors of hate groups believe that anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists groups and conspiracy-minded Patriot movements share the same enemies’ list, including the Olympics and the United Nations. “The anti-abortion Army of God is against abortion, gays and the federal government,” the report said, adding that some extremists who believe gays should be put to death are now attacking abortion providers.
  • Deborah Prussel is a free-lance writer in Long Beach, Calif.

    For more information:

    “Crimes Against Reproductive Rights in California,” by Gregory deGiere:

    Senator Deborah Ortiz: