In February 2022, around the time Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito drafted his opinion proposing ending Roe v. Wade, the Colorado Information Analysis Center issued a warning that the expected challenges to Roe might inspire civil unrest and violent incidents. It stated:
Law enforcement and public safety officials should anticipate an increase in abortion-related events, rallies, and protests with the potential for violence and criminal activity.
It added, such events will occur “particularly leading up to and directly following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mississippi case [i.e., Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization] … expected by June 2022.”
On May 2nd, Politico published the leaked draft opinion by Justice Alito to strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision granting women the privacy right to have an abortion.
Six days later, on Mother’s Day, May 8th, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the office of theWisconsin Family Action (WFA), a statewide anti-abortion group based in Madison, that started a small fire. A graffiti message was found spray-painted on the outside of the building: “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.” The warning included an anarchist symbol – the numbers 1312 — a shorthand acronym for ACAB, “All Cops Are Bastards.”
A group calling itself “Jane’s Revenge” claimed responsibility for bombing. “This was only a warning,” it stated in a communique. “We demand the disbanding of all anti-choice establishments, fake clinics and violent anti-choice groups within the next 30 days.”
Following the firebombing, Julaine Appling, WFA’s president, warned, “Americans see through the hypocrisy of the left.” She ranted on:
The violence needs to stop and stop now. It’s not the answer to any question or any problem. Just because the liberals don’t get their way, doesn’t give them license to threaten bodily harm or to burn and destroy.
Fox New warned, “Violent Antifa activists are active again in Portland and Seattle, inspired by a leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision this week reversing Roe v. Wade.” It added, “Neither city is ready for a repeat of Black Lives Matter-inspired left-wing riots and vandalism. But Antifa is now more dangerous than ever.”
Traditionally, abortion providers have been the target of violent attacks, but the presence of the anarchist symbol and the statement by Jane’s Revenge, if they accurately reflect who committed the Madison attack, may signal a change in the abortion wars.
Media reports following the Madison firebombing have failed to place the incident in an historical context. Much attention has been directed at “Antifa” (for anti-fascist) and “anarchists,” often recalling the demonstrations that swept through 140 cities across the country following the killing of George Floyd.
Donald Trump ignited the storm by labeling Antifa a terrorist group. In 2020, he notoriously tweeted, “The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.” Attorney General William Barr chimed in, “Some of it [the protests] relates to antifa, some of it relates to groups that act very much like antifa.” He said that Antifa’s tactics was a “new form of urban guerrilla warfare” in the legacy of Mao Zedong.
“Anarchists” or “Antifa” appear to have played no role in attacks on abortion clinics or on abortion providers that have taken place recently let along in the nearly half-century since Roe was decided.
However, the current sentiment may have contributed to the underreporting of attacks on abortion clinics that occurred prior to the Madison firebombing. For example, on December 31, 2021, the Knoxville, TN, Planned Parenthood clinic was firebombed and destroyed; the bombing took place when the clinic’s $2.2 million renovation and expansion project was nearly completed.
A few days later, on January 3, 2022, 18-year-old Samuel Gulick firebombed the Newark, DL, Planned Parenthood facility. The U.S. Attorney for Delaware points out, “Video surveillance captured Gulick standing on the front porch of the building and spray-painting the phrase “Deus Vult” in red letters.” “Deus Vult” (i.e., “God wills it”) was displayed at the Charlottesville, VA, “Unite the Right” rally in 2017 where Heather Heyer was killed.
The National Abortion Federation (NAF) reports that since 1977, a few years after Roe was decided, abortion providers have been repeatedly – and violently – attacked. It finds that 11 providers have been murdered and 26 suffered attempted murder. Among the murdered abortion providers were Dr. David Gunn, killed in 1993 during an anti-abortion protest at the Pensacola (FL) Women’s Medical Services clinic. Michael Griffin shouted, “Don’t kill any more babies!,” and shot the doctor three times in the back. In 2009, Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors who performed late-term abortions, was wearing a bulletproof vest and was shot in the head standing outside his church in Wichita, KS, by Scott Roeder, an anti-abortion activist.
In addition, abortion providers have been targeted for 42 bombings, 194 arson and “thousands of incidents of criminal activities ….” So serious was concern about these attacks that Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) in 1994.
More troubling, as Melissa Fowler, NAF’s chief program officer, points out, “It is no surprise given the political climate and the increase in hate incidents throughout the country in 2020 that we saw an escalation of actions meant to disrupt, intimidate, and harass abortion providers and their patients.” It reports an increase in death threats and threats of harm at clinics more than doubled in 2020 to 200 from 92 in 2019. Attacks on clinic providers witnessed a slight decline to 123,228 in 2020 from 115,517 in 2019.
In the wake of the Justice Alioto’s leaked draft opinion and the likely overturning of Roe v. Wade, demonstrations opposed to the document and the end to a woman’s right to privacy are taking place throughout the country. Since the Madison firebombing, there appears to have been no additional violent attacks by either “anarchists” or anti-choice extremists.
Sadly, as we get closer to the final Supreme Court release its decision per Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the fate of Roe, more attacks may occur.