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Report: Abortion providers faced rising violence, threats in 2015

The pro-choice National Abortion Federation reported that cases of harmful direct threats toward abortion providers skyrocketed in 2015.
Right to Life advocate Linda Heilman prays during a sit-in in front of a proposed Planned Parenthood on Sept. 21, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty)
Right to Life advocate Linda Heilman prays during a sit-in in front of a proposed Planned Parenthood on Sept. 21, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Abortion providers and clinics saw an extreme uptick in violence, threats and disruption between 2014 and 2015, according to an annual report released last week by the National Abortion Federation. 

NAF, a pro-choice organization, has been tracking such cases since 1977. In the 2015 report, NAF found a shocking increase of death threats toward abortion providers, up from only one case reported in 2014 growing to 94 harmful direct threats in 2015. There were also nine murder attempts reported in 2015. The last previous attempt on the life of an abortion provider was recorded in 2000. Cases of vandalism increased more than five-fold in the year, with 67 reports in 2015. NAF blamed the series of "sting" videos released against Planned Parenthood last summer for its findings. 

The report also follows after the Nov. 27 shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado that resulted in three deaths and nine injured people. The incident caused the largest number of deaths in an anti-abortion attack since 1994. 

“The sharp rise in threats and violence in 2015 is alarming, and directly correlates to the release of inflammatory videos aimed at demonizing providers,” said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of NAF, in a statement. “In my more than 20 years with NAF, I have not seen such an escalation of hate speech, threats, and calls to action against abortion providers.”

Newly released arrest warrants also reveal that the man accused of the three murders, Robert Dear Jr., told police he was "happy" after the Planned Parenthood attack, and added that he imagined aborted fetuses would thank him in heaven for what he had done. Dear also initially said the phrase "no more baby parts" to police right after his arrest explaining his reasoning for the attack. The "baby parts" rhetoric followed after a set of videos released last summer by the pro-life organization Center for Medical Progress, which accused Planned Parenthood employees of discussing the illegal sale of tissue from aborted fetuses.

The report similarly revealed a significant growth in disruption efforts, with cases of picketing outside clinics rising from 5,402 cases recorded in 2014 to 21,715 last year. The number of hoax devices or suspicious packages also grew, from nine cases in 2014 to 35 cases in 2015. Such threats can sometimes cause clinics to close temporarily, if not all day, NAF explained. 

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In order to track online threats and incidents of hate speech directed toward abortion providers, NAF said in the report that it had to hire an outside security firm to track all the cases. Within just six weeks, beginning in mid-November, NAF said it found more than 25,000 cases of online hate speech as a result. The report added that had the organization began its advanced tracking after the initial videos were released against Planned Parenthood, it would have found more than 100,000 online threats and hate postings. 

In an emailed statement to MSNBC, CMP said NAF and Planned Parenthood's hate speech defense will not stop the pro-life organization's efforts to hold the pro-choice groups accountable for the videos. 

"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," CMP wrote. "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. We will continue to work for public officials to hold Planned Parenthood and NAF accountable under the law for their illicit baby-parts-for-profit scheme."

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David Daleiden, the founder of CMP and the anti-abortion activist behind the videos targeting Planned Parenthood, said his home was raided by police last week. During the raid, Daleiden claimed the office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris “seized all video footage” showing Planned Parenthood’s alleged “criminal trade in aborted baby parts, in addition to my personal information.”

Daleiden and another anti-abortion activist, Sandra Merritt, were indicted by a Houston grand jury in January on a felony charge for tampering with government documents, and a misdemeanor charge for the purchase and sale of human organs. However, the grand jury declined to indict Planned Parenthood.