STOKING FIRE: Clinic Violence Needs to Be Controlled

From RH Reality Check:

by Eleanor J. Bader, RH Reality Check
August 5, 2011

When President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994, the prochoice community assumed that the years of violent assaults and harassment were finally over. After all, the Act prohibits “the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services.” What’s more, it gives the Department of Justice authority to bring criminal charges against violators, with potentially hefty financial penalties and jail time for those convicted, and empowers DOJ, state Attorney Generals, individuals, and health centers to bring civil complaints against anyone who breaches the law.

Seventeen years later, however, only 64 lawsuits—39 of them criminal—have been filed and 92 defendants have been charged. In total, FACE has led to just 86 convictions.

Meanwhile, clinics across the U.S. continue to be menaced. “Our protesters have learned to come as close as they can without stepping over the line to a FACE violation,” says Jen Boulanger, Executive Director of the Allentown Women’s Center.  Sadly, Boulanger’s experience is all too common and protesters have further sidestepped the law by developing tactics that fall outside FACE’s purview. One of the most insidious—and effective—is the boycott. Indeed, businesses and suppliers throughout the 50 states have been threatened with blacklisting unless they sever ties with providers. Just last month, for example, an Enterprise Rent-a-Car franchise in Redwood City, California was warned that if they didn’t revoke an agreement to rent nine parking spaces to a nearby clinic, the entire national chain would be boycotted.

Yep, they’re a wily lot, the antis.  Still, the question remains: Has the Obama administration done all it can to prosecute those who’ve run rough-shod over FACE, or has it backpedaled on the issue?

Much has been made of the fact that since Obama took office, DOJ has brought charges against seven individuals for violating the Act—a nearly 360-degree turnaround from the Bush years.  Among them: Richard Retta, an elderly Maryland man who has been a constant presence at Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, DC for a decade.  According to the complaint, Retta routinely interfered with patients entering the facility.  In one incident, he got so close to a woman that he broke her shoe. DOJ seeks to bar Retta from coming within 20 feet of PPMW’s entrance and physically obstructing patients, staff, and escorts. The agency is also requesting $15,000 in fines.

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