Anti-abortion incidents as violent as Friday’s shooting which left three people dead at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs are rare – more often, activists choose “disruption” tactics, according to figures from the National Abortion Federation (NAF).
If the shooting proves to have been motivated by abortion, it will be the ninth murder by anti-abortion activists since 1977. NAF has also recorded 17 attempted murders between 1977 and 2014.
Trespassing, vandalism, burglary and stalking are recorded far more frequently by the NAF, which builds its statistics using reports from member clinics as well as pro-choice organizations and news reports. Since 1995, there have been a total of 5,147 violent incidents recorded at US abortion clinics, not including 2015. They include 922 reported incidents of vandalism, 663 anthrax or bioterrorism threats, 354 stalking incidents and 204 reported death threats.
Overall, though, those violent incidents have become less frequent than they were in 2005 (when there was a sharp rise in trespassing, with 633 incidents in that year alone) and in 2001 (when 554 alleged anthrax or bioterrorism threats were recorded).
Incidents described as “disruption” by the NAF have also fallen considerably since 2008. That trend is almost completely attributable to a decline in picketing, by far the most common such incident to happen at an abortion clinic in America – 168,344 pickets took place between 1995 and 2014.
Opinion polling shows that attitudes to abortion have fluctuated over two decades. Gallup, which has asked the same questions for 20 years found that prior to 2009, Americans who described themselves as “pro-choice” significantly outnumbered those who said they were “pro-life”.
For most of the past six years, data has showed Americans evenly divided on the issue – with the exception of a survey from earlier this year, which showed that the anti-abortionists were outnumbered again by 6 percentage points, marking the first significant “pro-choice” lead since 2008.
A closer look at Gallup polling reveals which Americans are more likely to be anti-abortion. Since 2011, men have trailed behind women in their support for abortion, and, while an increasing share of Democrats say they are “pro-choice”, Republican support for abortion rights has dwindled since 2003. Though older Americans are less likely to say they support abortion rights, there is relatively little difference between age groups under 55.
No polling has been published since Friday’s killing. It’s not clear what effect, if any, such violence has on US public opinion about abortion.
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