For more than a year, Kelly Flynn had to hire furloughed officers to provide security at her Florida abortion clinic, A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville, after a local anti-abortion group moved into the vacant building. neighbor and the police called for harassment. dope.
Now, however, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is assigning a duty officer to the clinic daily “to ensure the safety of all parties,” spokesman John Medina said in a statement, and expects to continue.” for the foreseeable future”. The regular presence of officers, Flynn said, has been reassuring to patients and staff: “We are a safe place.
The policy change began shortly after the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal highlighted an increase in harassment, unrest and violence at Florida clinics amid a lack of state and local protections for abortion providers and patients.
The Jacksonville decision reflects a growing awareness among local, state and federal officials of the growing risks abortion providers and patients will face now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down Roe v. Wade. The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is expected to spark a new wave of clashes because abortion is certain or likely to be banned in 26 states and the remaining open clinics will offer anti-abortion protesters and extremists fewer and clearer targets.
The US Department of Homeland Security is on alert for an increase in political violence in the wake of the Dobbs decision, according to a leaked memo. This was already happening even before the court ruling: On May 25, an arson attack was reported in a building slated to become Wyoming’s only clinic offering surgical abortions. On New Year’s Eve, a fire destroyed a Planned Parenthood in Tennessee. A handful of crisis pregnancy centers – which are usually run by faith-based organizations and try to dissuade people from having abortions – have also been vandalized or burned down across the country in recent weeks.
“We are on the cusp of a sea change in this country unlike anything we have ever seen, certainly when it comes to gender equality and reproductive health care,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, which advocates for legislation to protect the right to abortion. “We encourage states and localities to look at all of their options and to be really creative right now and also to be really proactive.”
Some lawmakers heeded the warnings. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul recently announced that the state would spend $10 million on safe abortion care providers and another $25 million on expanding access to abortion. Maine lawmakers passed a law in April that creates 8-foot “medical safety zones” around clinic entrances.
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One of the most sweeping laws targets the use of cell phones and cameras as tools of harassment. Signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom last year, it prohibits taking photos or videos of abortion patients and staff within 100 feet of a clinic if the intent is to intimidate, establishes training for law enforcement on crimes targeting providers and requires reporting of such crimes to the state.
“We’re really focused right now on what the future of abortion will look like and how can we, as California, remain a beacon of equity and access for every woman who needs it?” the bill’s lead author, Assemblywoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area, told Reveal. “And (supplier) security is a big part of that.”
Some cities are also taking action. The National Institute for Reproductive Health teamed up with advocates in Louisville, Ky., to help pass legislation last year creating 10-foot safety zones for all healthcare facilities, including two abortion clinics in the city. Those clinics have stopped providing abortion care now that Roe is gone, but the safe zone rule remains.
Local protection fills federal void
State and local efforts take on added importance because the only federal law aimed at protecting abortion clinics from violence does not cover the new kinds of harassment and intimidation that have skyrocketed, according to Reveal reports.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, enacted in 1994, empowers the Department of Justice to bring criminal or civil suits against persons who commit acts of “force” or “threat force” or “physical obstruction” against patients and providers entering clinics. But the FACE law was carefully crafted to avoid criminalizing free speech; anti-abortion protesters have also adapted their tactics to stay within the law. As revealed by Reveal, the federal government has only brought 101 cases against the FACE Act in 28 years, an average of four per year.
The FACE law “isn’t a viable option in many cases,” U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., said in an interview. Yet, by passing tough anti-abortion legislation that emboldens protesters, “states have made the political choice to increase the vulnerability of health care providers,” she said. Underwood, a trained nurse, is a co-sponsor of a new bill that would establish a federal grant program to help providers strengthen the physical and cybersecurity of their facilities. The legislation would apply to all healthcare providers, including, for example, those targeted to provide care to the LGBTQ community.
“Just as we protect the Supreme Court, we must protect health care providers, their patients, and people entering and leaving these facilities,” said Democratic U.S. Representative Veronica Escobar of Texas, the bill’s lead author. .
Abortion rights advocates applaud the subsidy approach, which leaves it up to clinics to decide how best to protect their employees and patients.
“Abortion providers know what they need and what works for them,” said Heather Shumaker, director of state abortion access at the National Women’s Law Center. For example, some might choose to rely on private security or volunteer escorts, as patients of color “may not feel safe when law enforcement shows up,” she said. declared. “Each clinic is unique,” she added.
A lack of protections in Florida
In Florida, West Palm Beach is one of the few cities with clinical protection. A noise ordinance, in place since 2011, prohibits shouting or amplified sounds within 100 feet of any healthcare facility, including abortion providers. But so far, the state’s Republican-dominated legislature has shown little interest in enacting broader protections for the state’s 55 clinics. A Democratic bill to create state law to mirror the federal FACE law failed in 2018. The same thing happened last spring when Democrats tried to weave protections for clinics into a ban on GOP-sponsored abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“It’s been a constant theme for us in the Legislature, to try to put in place more protections for clinics,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who served as a senior director. public affairs and communications in a regional Planned Parenthood. before taking office. “It’s not something we dramatize. It is true that people who work as abortion providers are specifically targeted for the work they do.
But a new Republican-sponsored law could end up inadvertently helping providers. Inspired by high-profile protests outside the homes of Sens Republicans. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, among others, the measure makes it a second-degree misdemeanor to picket someone’s home “with the intent to harass or disturb that person in his or her dwelling.”
In signing the bill into law in May, Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighted the protests following the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft opinion that spelled out Roe’s end. “Sending unruly mobs into private residences, as we have seen with the angry mobs outside the homes of Supreme Court justices, is inappropriate,” he said in a statement.
The new law protects all Florida residents, including employees of abortion clinics.
“The question is, will it also be enforced?” said Eskamani, who voted against the bill. “We just don’t know.”
Laura C. Morel is a reporter for Reveal, covering immigration. She was previously a reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, where she covered criminal justice issues.
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