Abortion ClinicsInformation on the Effectiveness of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act Gao ID: GGD-99-2 November 10, 1998
In response to escalating violence against abortion clinics, Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994, which made it a federal offense to engage in violent or obstructive conduct intended to interfere with people seeking or providing reproductive health services. A GAO survey found that most clinics experienced fewer types of incidents during the two years preceding the survey (April 1996 through March 1998) than they had in the two years before the act's passage (June 1992 through May 1994). Most clinics indicated that picketing continued but involved fewer and more peaceful protesters. Most of those GAO contacted believed that the act had deterred or reduced abortion clinic incidents. Most police departments responding to the survey told GAO that following the act's enactment they had taken steps to better prepare officers and clinics for potential incidents. Representatives of 31 of the 36 U.S. Attorney offices GAO surveyed reported that their districts had established abortion violence task forces, and 29 reported such accomplishments as improved coordination and communication. Most clinics were satisfied with both local and federal law enforcement. GAO identified 46 criminal and civil cases related to the act that were either completed or pending as of September 1998. Many of these cases raised constitutional challenges to the act, including freedom of speech and religious protection issues, which were all unsuccessful. Convictions were obtained in most of the reported criminal prosecutions under the act, and civil remedies were obtained in most of the civil lawsuits.
GAO noted that: (1) clinic survey responses indicated that most of the clinics experienced fewer types of incidents during the 2 years preceding GAO's survey than they had in the 2 years prior to the passage of FACE; (2) respondents from 35 of the 42 clinics GAO surveyed credited FACE with deterring or reducing abortion clinic incidents; (3) respondents from 21 of the 36 U.S. Attorney offices GAO surveyed thought that FACE had positively affected incidents, including deterring or reducing their occurrence; (4) most of the other officials whom GAO interviewed from DOJ and national abortion rights organizations also felt that FACE has been a deterrent to clinic violence; (5) representatives of the police departments and anti-abortion organizations that GAO contacted were less consistent in their views; (6) representatives of 9 of the 15 police departments GAO contacted said their officers had received training pertaining to abortion clinics, and 12 said their departments had conducted outreach and education with clinics since FACE became law; (7) about half reported engaging in prevention activities; (8) representatives of 31 of the 36 U.S. Attorney offices GAO surveyed reported that their districts had established abortion violence task forces, and 29 reported accomplishments that included improved coordination and communication; (9) nearly all the U.S. Attorney respondents whose districts had task forces reported that meetings were typically attended by representatives of federal and local law enforcement agencies; (10) most clinic respondents were satisfied with both local and federal law enforcement; (11) clinic respondents who observed negative aspects of local law enforcement most often cited poor response to incidents and poor enforcement of laws; (12) 30 of the 42 clinic respondents were generally satisfied with federal law enforcement, often citing good communication, proactive steps, and good response to and investigation of incidents; (13) GAO identified 46 criminal and civil cases pertaining to FACE that were either completed or pending as of September 11, 1998; (14) many of these cases raised constitutional challenges to FACE; (15) these challenges were all ultimately unsuccessful; and (16) convictions were obtained in most of the reported criminal FACE prosecutions, and civil remedies were obtained in most of the civil lawsuits in which a FACE violation was alleged.