The Cable

Abortion Clinic Attacks Are Largely Limited to U.S. Shores

A research scientist at a reproductive health advocacy group says she can't think of any attacks at legal abortion clinics outside of the U.S.


Violence at abortion clinics, like Robert Lewis Dear’s killing of three people at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado last week, is abundantly an American phenomenon.

That’s according to Gilda Sedgh, a principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, a group that advocates for reproductive health. She told Foreign Policy Monday afternoon that attacks on clinics in European peer countries where abortion is legal, like France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, are exceedingly rare. In fact, “I am not aware of this kind of violence” there, Sedgh said, chalking the discrepancy up to Europe’s “social acceptance of premarital sexual activity and contraceptive use.”

“Abortion isn’t stigmatized there like it is here,” she said. “It’s socially accepted and encouraged for young adults to seek out family planning. It’s almost stigmatized to not do so if you’re sexually active.”

Dear’s attack on the Colorado clinic, which left Garrett Swasey, a police officer at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and civilians Jennifer Markovsky and Ke’Arre Stewart dead, is the latest in a long history of attacks on clinics that provide reproductive rights to women. According to the National Abortion Federation,  since 1977 there have been eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 186 arsons, and 42 bombings, as well as thousands of other incidents, at U.S. abortion providers.

Foreign attacks are rare, but not unheard of. There have been a handful of incidents in Australia, where a security guard at an abortion clinic was killed in 2001, and Canada, where a Canadian doctor who performed abortions was shot in 1998.

Recent controversy over Planned Parenthood has been brewing since July, when anti-abortion advocates released a video that appeared to show some of its employees discussing the sale of baby parts. Democrats pointed out that the videos had been heavily edited, but Republican lawmakers, governors, and presidential candidates are now routinely calling for the organization to be defunded.

Some leading GOP figures are going even further. In September, during a Republican presidential debate, candidate Carly Fiorina said the footage in question showed “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Her description is false.

And even though there is no evidence the reproductive health provider sells organs for profit, Dear said “no more baby parts” while he was being arrested.

Photo Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

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