Will Anyone Be Held Responsible for Clinic Violence and Harassment?

After Kansas doctor George Tiller was murdered in his church in 2009, Wichita was without an abortion provider until 2013, when a new clinic opened in that space. While Dr. Mila Means considered providing services in the city, a letter from an anti-abortion activist telling her she would need to check under her car every day for explosives dissuaded her from following through.

When Robert Dear gunned down patients at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in November 2015, lives were lost and it then took months to reopen the center due to damage caused by police vehicles trying to apprehend him.

In both cases, direct violence or the threat of it stopped people from accessing safe, legal abortions, inspired fear and in the latter case even resulted in senseless murder. And neither perpetrator will at this point receive they punishment they should receive in order to stop future incidents from occurring.

Anti-abortion activist Angel Dillard admired Tiller’s murderer Scott Roeder and had conversations with Michael Bray – a man who said it was justifiable to kill an abortion provider to stop him or her from performing abortions. It was little wonder that when Dr. Mila Means received a letter from Dillard telling her that if she started providing abortions, thousands of people would look into her background and invade her life, she found it intimidating to say the least.

“They will know your habits and routines. They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live,” Dillard wrote. “You will be checking under your car everyday — because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”

Actions meant to stop abortion access are supposed to be banned under the FACE [Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances] Act. Yet Dillard’s lawyers have argued since that it wasn’t a “true threat” because Dillard herself allegedly wasn’t intending to place a bomb. Instead it was just a warning to the doctor about what could possibly come if she decided to go through with providing abortions in the city.

Five years after the letter was received, a jury has now agreed with Dillard’s legal team – mostly, at least. The jury decided that although Means was justified in finding the letter to be a threat, it wasn’t enough so that Dillard should be legally punished because Dillard was only acting out her religious convictions.

“The letter was intimidating, but it was a more spiritual threat, a more emotional threat,” Wichita juror Adam Cox told Rewire’s Jessica Mason Pieklo after the verdict was read. “It was not a threat of physical violence … and therefore it did not violate the law.”

Dillard was able to use religious convictions to justify threatening an abortion provider, and the ploy worked, unfortunately opening that avenue now for the literal thousands of other Christian anti-abortion activists who see their harassment of abortion doctors, clinic staff and volunteers to be a personal calling from God. In an era where abortion providers are seeing harassment at higher levels than ever, that’s a harrowing thought.

Of course, almost all of those who will harass abortion clinics in the name of Jesus and the unborn are going to avoid direct violence. But there is even greater fear now that those who do not will not be held responsible for their crimes. Robert Dear, who’s shooting spree in Colorado killed three and injured nine, has been found incompetent to stand trial for now, with a judge ruling he instead receive psychiatric treatment and be questioned again in August.

Dear himself had told detectives that he was competent, and that he feared that being declared incompetent would diminish his anti-abortion message. He also told them that he decided to end his standoff with police after receiving what he thought was a “message from God” telling him to stand down.

From the courtroom this month we have learned two lessons when it comes to anti-abortion violence. The first: Religious convictions allow a person to threaten physical harm to an abortion provider. The second: When someone commits a violent act against an abortion clinic, religious convictions make that person incompetent and unable to stand trial. Taken together, those two lessons should terrify anyone worried about the continuing escalation of violence at abortion clinics in the future.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

124 comments

Elisa F
Elisa F2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim V9 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Elaine W.
Past Member about a year ago

Apparently the privileged "christian" bigots are the ones who get to define the word "terrorist". Also are exempt from responsibility for inciting violence. This is insane.

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R Wheeler
R Wabout a year ago

So totally unbelievable that a "Christian" threat is not deemed to be illegal!

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Janet B.
Janet Babout a year ago

Thanks

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Bill Eagle
Bill Eabout a year ago

The big problem is that we have right wing talk shows with hosts using inflammatory rhetoric inciting violence.

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Deborah W.
Deborah W1 years ago

Not a true threat, so says the law (until it doesn't). Deal -- or work through change.

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Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

Domestic terrorists.

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