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Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1991 Nov;165(5 Pt 1):1263-8.

An epidemic of antiabortion violence in the United States.

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  • 1Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Southern California School of Medicine, Los Angeles.


From 1977 to 1988, an epidemic of antiabortion violence took place in the United States, involving 110 cases of arson, firebombing, or bombing. The epidemic peaked in 1984, when there were 29 attacks. Nearly all sites (98%) were clinics that provided abortions. Facilities in 28 states and the District of Columbia were involved. The national rate of violence was 3.7 per 100 abortion providers and 7.2 per 100 nonhospital abortion providers. The national ratio of violence per 100,000 abortions performed was 0.6 Arson was both the most frequent (39% of all cases) and the most damaging (mean cost $141,000) type of violence. The epidemic appears partially attributable to multiple point-source outbreaks of violence caused by small numbers of individuals or groups. Thirty-three persons have been convicted to date. Vigorous prosecution of perpetrators and the reemergence of clinics after damage probably helped to curb the epidemic.


Between 1977-88 there was an epidemic of violence directed against abortion clinics. These attacks consisted of 110 cases of arson, firebombing, or bombing. In 1984 the epidemic reached a peak with 29 attacks. 98% of the sites were clinics that provided abortion services. This study surveys the frequency of attacks per states based on 3 different denominators: 1) number of abortion providers, 2) cumulative number of abortions performed from 1977-88, 3) estimated number of women in the 15-44 age group as of July 1, 1982. During the study period 1977-88, the National Abortion Federation reported the following violent acts against clinics: 222 clinic invasions, 220 acts of clinic vandalism, 216 bomb threats, 65 death threats, 46 assault and batteries, 20 burglaries, and 2 kidnapings. Vigorous investigation and convictions have slowed the epidemic. The longest sentence handed down was 30 years and the largest fine was $350,000. The biggest effect it has had is financial. The direct cost is $7.6 million, but this does not include the cost of clinics that were destroyed and not rebuilt. It does not include the cost of related expenses for lawyers and security, increased insurance, new licensing requirements, and staff recruitment. Also, lost time waiting for repairs and rescheduling of patients to other facilities are not included in this figure. Violence of this nature does nothing to end the debate over abortion, it also does not reduce the number of abortions. It only raises the cost of abortion, and inconveniences women seeking abortion. Sex education, personal responsibility, and more widespread and effective contraceptive use would all reduce the need for abortion.

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