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Public Order Policing: A National Survey of Abortion-Related Conflict

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Justice Volume: 30 Issue: 5 Dated: September/October 2002 Pages: 355-368
Dennis J. Kenney; Melissa Reuland
Date Published
September 2002
14 pages
This article describes the consequences of abortion- and clinic-related conflict and violence.
Abortion is one of the most controversial issues in the United States. In 1996, the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) conducted a national survey of major city police chiefs to determine the nature, scope, and frequency of abortion-related conflict in the community. A series of open-ended telephone and in-person interviews were held with advocacy groups from both sides of the issue. Incidents surrounding the abortion debate can be loosely categorized into four groups: demonstrations, non-physical harassment, civil disobedience, and violence. Since little research on abortion conflict had been undertaken, the frequency and extent of conflict and violence was difficult to determine. By the end of 1996, nearly 70 percent of jurisdictions with populations of more than 50,000 had at least 1 abortion provider -- one third of those had 3 or more. Of those jurisdictions with known providers, 67 percent had experienced actual incidents of abortion-related conflict or violence, ranging from protests and demonstrations to murder, in the previous 5 years. Larger jurisdictions had more providers that had experienced conflict. Most agencies reported that both the number and severity of incidents of conflict and violence had become less frequent and less severe. Slightly more than half of the agencies that had experienced incidents of conflict and violence reported that a single facility had attracted the greatest amount of conflict. Few agencies reported the use of Federal legislation involving abortion conflicts and most had little need for involvement from Federal agencies in responding to the incidents that did occur. The majority of protests and demonstrations were peaceful, but the related stress associated (for both police and advocates) with the regular interactions that demonstrations produced were challenging. Police procedures for responding to abortion-related conflicts need to address a broad range of activities to be effective. Seriously violent acts, although less prevalent than other forms of conflict, remained a primary concern for both police and the Pro-Choice community. Future research should determine whether smaller police agencies and rural communities experience incidents similar to larger jurisdictions; and develop better methods of measuring and evaluating incidents of violence. 10 tables, 4 notes, 9 references