NEW YORK (AP) — Threats and violence directed at U.S. abortion clinics increased sharply in 2015, according to the National Abortion Federation, which attributed the surge to the release of undercover videos intended to discredit Planned Parenthood.
"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," said Vicki Saporta, the federation's CEO.
According to the federation, death threats targeting abortion providers increased from one in 2014 to 94 in 2015, while incidents of vandalism at clinics rose from 12 to 67.
The most violent occurred in November, when a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing three people and wounding nine. The man accused in the attack, Robert Dear, has described himself as a "warrior for the babies."
Saporta said the level of threats and violence rose sharply after an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress began releasing secretly recorded videos in July alleging that Planned Parenthood sold fetal tissue to researchers for a profit in violation of federal law. Planned Parenthood denied any wrongdoing, and investigations by several congressional panels and states have produced no evidence that it acted illegally.
The increase in threats "correlates to the release of inflammatory videos aimed at demonizing providers," Saporta said.
David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who headed the undercover video operation, responded by accusing the federation of "an attempt to shut down a debate they are losing."
The videos "have a powerful message of nonviolence," Daleiden said in a statement. "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."
The abortion federation — alarmed by the heightened hostility — has for the first time hired an outside security firm to track online threats. Saporta said the firm began its work in mid-November and in a six-week span identified more than 25,000 incidents of hate speech and threats.
The federation report also cited an online post by a man urging abortion opponents to set fire to abortion clinics. Within three months of the post, clinics and health centers in Washington state, Louisiana, California, Illinois and New Hampshire were targeted by arson or vandalism, the report said.
Saporta said the federation has stepped up its efforts to help clinics tighten their security — sending out experts who conduct security assessments and train clinic staff on how to deal with threats.
"How you hire employees, how you admit patients into waiting rooms — there is so much involved in making sure clinics have the best protocols," Saporta said.
For some clinics, she said, security upgrades have been a financial burden.
"When you get into sophisticated security cameras and bullet-proof glass, the costs can be quite high," she said. "They're not the kind of security precautions that other similar health care facilities would need."
According to the federation report, incidents of picketing and blockades at abortion clinics increased from 2014 to 2015, as did cases where hoax devices or suspicious packages were found in or around clinics.