Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this guest post are solely those of the author.
This summer, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) released their annual Violence and Disruption report for 2021. The report received sympathetic coverage from a number of mainstream media outlets including The Washington Post, ABC News, Axios, and Bloomberg. All of these mainstream media outlets uncritically parroted NAF’s spin that there was an increase in abortion facility violence in 2021. However, the data contained in the NAF report actually indicates that incidents of abortion facility violence and abortion facility disruption both fell in 2021.
There are two reasons to be skeptical about the data contained in NAF’s annual violence and disruption reports. First, NAF is an advocacy group that supports both legal abortion and legislation that would penalize, and in some cases criminalize, various types of pro-life activism around abortion facilities. To generate political support for laws that would prevent various forms of pro-life activism around abortion facilities, it is in NAF’s interest to publicize and possibly overstate the amount of harassment and violence directed toward abortion facilities.
Second, there are serious questions about the reliability of the data that NAF publishes. Their 2021 reports states that NAF member facilities and allied organizations “submit monthly reports on the anti-abortion incidents that they experience.” However, since this data comes from surveys of abortion facilities, there is no way to verify the accuracy of the data that NAF reports.
NAF does not link to police reports, federal crime statistics, media coverage, or any other information that would verify that the information contained in their reports is accurate.
Even taking the NAF data at face value, the 2021 NAF report fails to make a convincing case that there was an increase in abortion facility attacks or disruption in 2021. The NAF report provides data on 1) violent incidents 2) disruptive incidents and 3) clinic blockades. According to the NAF report, the number of violent incidents against abortion facilities actually decreased between 2020 and 2021. Similarly, the number of disruptive incidents against abortion facilities also decreased between 2020 and 2021.
The NAF report places all “violent incidents” into one of 15 categories. These include murder, burglary, arson, and stalking. For only 5 of the 15 categories of violent incidents was there an increase between 2020 and 2021. For 4 of the 15 categories, there was actually a decrease in violent incidents. There was no change in the other six categories. Overall, there was no broad increase in the amount of violence directed at abortion facilities in 2021.
Similarly, the NAF report places all “disruptive incidents” into one of six categories. These include picketing, hate mail, and obstruction. The NAF data indicates that for three of the categories there was an increase between 2020 and 2021 and for three of the categories there was a decrease between 2020 and 2021. Again, there was no broad increase in disruptive events at abortion facilities in 2021.
Overall, the notion that there has been a long-term increase in abortion facility violence is not supported by the NAF data.
Since 2010, there has been only one incident where a murder took place at an abortion facility. This was the tragic shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2015. This tragic 2015 shooting was also the only time since 2010 where an attempted murder took place at an abortion facility. Since 2010, there have been no kidnappings or butyric acid attacks at abortion facilities. Since 2012, there have been no anthrax attacks on abortion facilities.
Not surprisingly, NAF and their allies in the mainstream media are trying to spin their 2021 data to appear that abortion facilities are facing an increase in violence and disruption. This is clearly an effort to obtain sympathetic media coverage and obtain political support for legislation that would hinder the efforts of pro-life sidewalk counselors and prayer warriors.
Policymakers should not be misled by NAFs attempts to spin the data from this 2021 report. Instead policymakers at both the state and federal level support pro-life laws, pregnancy help centers, and other policy tools to protect both mothers and their preborn children.
Michael J. New is an Assistant Professor at the Busch School of Business at The Catholic University of America and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New.
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