The abortion debate first turned deadly in 1993, when Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed by an anti-abortion zealot in Pensacola, FL. In addition, twelve arsons, one bombing, and 66 blockades were carried out against abortion clinics during that year.
In response to this unprecedented act of political assassination, and with the support of pro-choice groups, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The bill was signed into law by President Clinton in May 1994.
The federal FACE law is designed to protect both those providing and those receiving reproductive health care services. It forbids the use of "force, threat of force or physical obstruction" to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services. The law also provides for both criminal and civil penalties for those who break the law. More (PDF file, 48K)
The FACE law has had a clear impact on the decline in certain types of violence against clinics and providers, specifically clinic blockades. The threat of the significant federal penalties for violations of the protections this legislation guarantees began to have an effect even before the bill was signed.
Since its enactment, though anti-abortion violence continues, clinic blockades have dwindled to their lowest levels since they were first used to prevent women from accessing reproductive health care.
Some other types of violence against abortion providers and their patients have also decreased. This is directly attributable both to the deterrent effect of the penalties the FACE law imposes, and the federal involvement in investigation of anti-abortion violence which was facilitated by the passage of FACE.