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Violence Against Abortion Providers Increased After Release Of Videos

"In my almost 21 years [at NAF] I have not seen this level of escalation," NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta told BuzzFeed News.

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The National Abortion Federation on Tuesday reported stark increases in threats and violence against abortion providers in the U.S. since the release of a series of anti-Planned Parenthood videos.

"In my almost 21 years [at NAF] I have not seen this level of escalation," NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta told BuzzFeed News, "especially not this quickly."

The non-profit has collected the data for about 40 years: abortion providers self-report incidents, the group monitors media reports, federal law enforcement officials send reports of serious incidents, and NAF seeks out federal data for lower-level crimes, Saporta said. This year, after the videos were released, was the first time NAF hired an outside security agency to monitor online threats. Before that the group monitored those threats "though various searches and alerts."

The most recent report, which includes data for all 2015, showed that reported death threats to abortion providers increased from 1 in 2014 to 94 in 2015.

Cases of reported online hate speech about abortion providers increased from 91 in 2014 to 25,839 cases in 2015 – a conservative estimate, Saporta said, because NAF only hired the security team in November 2015.

Those increases coincided "totally and absolutely," Saporta said, with the release of the videos by anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) beginning in July.

The series of secretly-recorded and heavily edited videos attempted to show that Planned Parenthood was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue, which is illegal.

Some Republican politicians condemned abortion after the videos were released, while others defunded Planned Parenthood in their states. More than a dozen state-level investigations were also launched into Planned Parenthood — eight months later, none have found Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue for profit. The videos' creators face legal charges and numerous lawsuits.

In the months after the release of the videos, Planned Parenthood clinics across the country began receiving ​increased​ threats of arson, murder, and other methods of harm, the NAF report states. That includes 94 reported direct threats of harm — up from 1 in 2014 — and more than 25,000 incidents of online hate speech and general threats, up from 91 in 2014.

"NAF and Planned Parenthood’s insinuation that free speech equals hate speech is an attempt to shut down a debate they are losing and silence hundreds of millions of pro-life Americans," David Daleiden, CMP's project lead, said in a statement sent to BuzzFeed News. "CMP’s videos have a powerful message of non-violence and raise serious legal and ethical questions about Planned Parenthood and NAF’s unaccountable abortion-for-baby-parts business."

The number of clinic blockades nearly doubled from 2014 to 2015, according to NAF, and reported Incidents of picketing at facilities increased from 5,402 in 2014 to 21,715 in 2015— the largest reported number in the full 40 years of the study.

Four abortion clinics were declared victims of arson by local law enforcement within four months of the videos release. The last highest number of arsons was 5, in 2012.

After the videos were released, one abortion provider received a voicemail that said someone planned to, "pull a Columbine and wipe everyone out," according to the report. In North Carolina an "unknown male" called a hospital switchboard and threatened to "kill all [hospital] abortion doctors."

When the CEO of a fetal tissue procurement company was featured in one of the videos, a man writing under the name Josey Whales posted her address online and said she “should be hung by the neck using piano wire and propped up on the lawn in front of the building. ..." He added that he was going to her house and would "pay ten grand to whoever beat [him] to it."

NAF sent his threats to the FBI, which later reportedly charged the man, identified as Scott Orton, with violent online threats — he has not yet entered a plea. Orton's attorney did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment. For the first time in the history of NAF they had to hire an outside security team to protect abortion providers in their federation, Saporta said.

The DOJ did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment on the report.

"We were all thinking it's inevitable that something bad is going to happen," following the release of the videos, Saporta told BuzzFeed News.

The day after Thanksgiving, 2015 Robert Dear opened fire on an abortion clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people and injuring nine. He repeatedly made reference to CMP's videos, both during the shooting and in the ensuing court cases. The NAF's last reported murder was one, in 2009.

"This is not done," Saporta said, adding that there was another spike in online threats Tuesday morning following the release of yet another video by CMP.



Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Ema O'Connor at ema.oconnor@buzzfeed.com.

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