by Danielle White, Esq.
General Counsel, Heartbeat International
In light of the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion reversing Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson, we have witnessed the intensifying extremism of pro-abortion advocates. Heartbeat has received multiple reports of vandalism and death threats against pregnancy centers and personnel since the draft opinion was leaked. One would think that those claiming to care about pregnant women would not direct their violence at the very locations that support pregnant women. But unfortunately, we are not talking about reasonable people.
On Sunday, May 8, 2022, pro-life group Wisconsin Family Action was attacked with Molotov cocktails and the building set fire. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Shortly thereafter, an organization calling itself “Jane’s Revenge” claimed responsibility for the attack. While Wisconsin Family Action is not a pregnancy center, “Jane’s Revenge” called the attack “only a warning” and demanded the “disbanding of all anti-choice establishments, fake clinics [an extremist term for pregnancy centers offering help and hope to women] and violent anti-choice groups within the next thirty days.” The group claims to be “not one group, but many. We are in your city. We are in every city.” Since then, Jane's Revenge has been threatening and committing vandalism against pro-life organizations of many kinds, including pregnancy help organizations. The FBI is taking this very seriously and has an open investigation on Jane's Revenge.
Intimidation of pregnancy centers is not a new tactic, and, sadly, pro-abortion extremists have long hated pregnancy centers. However, given the news out of the Supreme Court and the realistic possibility that this is the year Roe v. Wade will be overturned, the temperature has reached new heights on the abortion issue. This is a time to review your safety and security policies and procedures, retrain your volunteers and staff as necessary, and be especially vigilant about your surroundings. Here are five more tips to better prepare and protect your pregnancy center now and in the days to come.
Invest in security systems and cameras both inside and outside your center. While this requires an investment of fiscal resources, a security system with cameras may deter criminal activity helps create a record that can be provided to law enforcement if, God-forbid, something does happen. Many companies that provide security systems and devices offer a free consultation and provide recommendations to protect your center. This would be a good ask for a certain level donor.
Local Law Enforcement
This is a great opportunity to build a relationship with local law enforcement! Most departments, particularly rural departments, would be happy to perform a walkthrough and security assessment of your center. Take this opportunity to share with them what the center does for women and to ask for their expertise about security. Ask them to identify vulnerabilities in your center’s security. Ask them to show you where they would allow protesters to congregate and to explain what the center should do if protesters trespass or engage in threatening behavior. Keep in mind that you could extend this invitation either to the City Police or the County Sheriff if they share jurisdiction. Building a relationship with a local law enforcement official might make it easier to call upon them if your center experiences threats.
You can also hire police on “special duty.” This involves an investment of funds and is usually available on a pre-scheduled basis, rather than in response to an ongoing situation. Your local law enforcement agency can advise you about the conditions for hiring a special duty officer. This option might be especially helpful if you become aware of a planned protest at your center or in your area. A special duty officer can assist with keeping people off the center’s property and act as a deterrent to property damage or violence.
Finally, you should mention the Jane’s Revenge threat to law enforcement if your pregnancy center contacts them for help with protesters or vandalism. Explaining the current climate with the Dobbs decision and the vandalism documented may be beneficial in keeping local law enforcement apprised should a need arise in the future. Threats of violence or vandalism of a PHO can be submitted through the FBI Tip Line at FBI.gov and also through state and major urban area fusion centers. They are owned and operated by state and local entities, and are designated by the governor of their state. Sometimes, this prompts a faster response than a local Police Department can or would provide. The FBI is taking this very seriously and has an open investigation on Jane's Revenge. Click here for an FBI resource booklet.
Private property owners can set their own rules for speech and protest activities on their property. The center is not required to allow protesters on its private property. Therefore, it is important to know the location of the property lines where your center is located. Is your center’s parking lot private property? Once protesters are on private property, they are trespassing, and you could contact law enforcement to ask for their removal. Keep in mind that protesters may be entitled to protest on public sidewalks.
If applicable, you may also consider talking to your landlord to find out what the landlord expects from the center in the event of protesters. If you are in a plaza or office space shared with other tenants, your landlord may be especially interested in ensuring that protesters do not disrupt the other businesses as well, and your landlord may be an ally in interfacing with police or installing cameras or barriers to deter protestors.
Policies & Procedures
Now is the time to revisit your Center’s policies and procedures relating to security and evaluate them given today’s climate and the intensifying extremism by the pro-choice movement. Here are a few policies and procedures we recommend you implement:
- Do not leave one employee to lock up the center by themselves. There should always be at least two people to close the center and ensure each other’s safety. Ensure that anyone involved in locking up knows how to turn on any security system that is installed.
- Be cautious about having packages delivered to your center and consider having mail delivered to a P.O. box instead of your center’s physical location. Likewise, if a package or anything looks suspicious near your center, contact your local authorities immediately.
- Pay attention to local social media and see what is trending in your area. If you are concerned with anything that you see, contact local law enforcement and have them review what you found.
- Take any threats seriously and work with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of your volunteers, staff, and clients.
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (“FACE Act”) likely applies to your center and could be a very powerful tool in dealing with protestors. The FACE Act prohibits violent, threatening, damaging and obstructive behavior towards anyone obtaining or providing reproductive health services. Violators of the FACE Act could be fined or even imprisoned. The Act also provides civil remedies to the victims, including compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief. The FACE Act provides for statutory damages, making it even easier to recover money from protesters who violate it. If protesters outside your clinic attempt to block or impede access to the clinic, to intimidate your clients, or cause property damage, please contact Heartbeat to discuss your options. We have been informed that from the FBI's perspective, pregnancy help organizations are covered under the FACE Act. Click here for an FBI resource booklet.
While we hope that you never need use of this information, it is always good to take the opportunity to review your security policies with staff and volunteers and ensure that you are ready, just in case.
“Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them.”