Tuesday, 3 November 2009

New York Gets Tough on Anti-Abortion Violence

Here's a direct result of the assassination of Dr George Tiller -- a tough new law in New York intended to protect abortion clinic workers, patients, and volunteers.
Lynne Slepian picks her public appearances carefully — and sparingly — since she was thrown into the public eye after the slaying of her husband, Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, by an anti-abortion activist with a rifle in October 1998.

But she did not hesitate to attend Thursday’s news conference trumpeting the enactment of a law toughening state penalties for violence committed against reproductive health care workers.

“It’s extremely important,” she said of the new law after the news conference. “This is the crux of the whole issue. It’s going to set a precedent for the whole country, we hope. The issue [of clinic violence] is not going to go away. The issue will never go away. Hopefully, strong penalties will decrease the violence.”

The law was championed by Buffalo Assemblyman Sam Hoyt and was passed quickly with support from both parties in the Assembly and the State Senate.
The main provisions of the new law include:

• Causing physical injury to someone at a reproductive health clinic rises from a misdemeanor to a new Class E felony that can lead to a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

• Causing serious physical injury becomes a Class C felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

• Repeat offenders can face more serious charges and longer sentences than they now do.

• Volunteers are explicitly covered under the new law, in addition to people providing or obtaining reproductive health care.

And police are taking it seriously.
More than 80 law enforcement officials, reproductive health care providers and advocates from across New York last Wednesday held a conference at state police headquarters to discuss how to better protect reproductive health care workers from anti-abortion terrorism.
. . .

Reproductive service providers such as Planned Parenthood find themselves targeted by anti-abortionists, even if they do not provide abortions, said [deputy secretary for public safety Denise E.] O'Donnell.

"The employees and volunteers who provide reproductive health services face violent rhetoric and threats far too often," Hoyt said. "[The bill's] purpose is to penalize criminal, violent conduct that causes injury to these health care providers and patients."

Some reproductive health care workers shared their stories with police at the conference.

"We had a long history of dealing with harassment," said Paul Drisgula, co-president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson in Schenectady County. "We know what works and what doesn't work.

"Over the years, we have developed an incredible communications network," he added. "We wouldn't be able to have the communications that we have without the state police intervening for us."

Maybe the cops in Kansas will get the message.

A week before Dr Tiller's murder, accused assassin Scott Roeder was recognized as a 'regular' and chased away after trying to glue the locks shut at an abortion clinic in Kansas City. The clinic worker properly informed the FBI because damage or destruction at clinics is covered by the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). But there was no follow-up.

Remember that Roeder was well-known to the Kansas City FBI. In 2000, he was strongly suspected of glueing locks at the same clinic several times. The vandalism stopped then after the FBI had a word with him.

Lynne Slepian is probably right -- anti-abortion violence will never go away. But cooperation and vigilance from police plus stronger penalties would go a long way to help reduce the potential for it.

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