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Pro-life Activists Report Increasing Violence as Dobbs Decision Looms
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Pro-life Activists Report Increasing Violence as Dobbs Decision Looms

Activists on the ground are increasingly finding themselves in dangerous, sometimes life-threatening, situations.

Sometime last Friday morning, someone threw a gallon of red paint at the front door of the Capitol Hill Crisis Pregnancy Center, mimicking a bloodstain, and eggs at the windows. A neighbor alerted a past board member, who contacted the center’s director, Janet Durig, who has worked the center for 19 years. She arrived at the building at 9:30 a.m. to see the extent of the vandalism. 

She told The Dispatch the vandalism came as a shock. The center, located on Maryland Avenue, employs only four staff members and provides everything from material for women experiencing difficult or unexpected pregnancies to resources for single parents: “I’m not leaving work angry, it’s just a sad thing that’s happening all over.” By that afternoon, the police had power washed most of the red paint off of the front door, although some had seeped onto the floor inside the building. Sitting in her office, Durig said she remains undeterred despite the vandalism: “I’m concerned, but we are going to keep serving the D.C. metro area as best we can.”

But it wasn’t property damage that was worrying. Black graffiti scrawled on the side of the building—“JANE SAYS REVENGE”—indicated a connection to the abortion-rights advocacy group Jane’s Revenge, which claimed responsibility for the attempted arson of another pro-life center in Wisconsin weeks ago. Several days after The Dispatch interviewed Durig, Jane’s Revenge confirmed that it was also behind the Washington, D.C., attack.

The vandalism at Capitol Hill Crisis Pregnancy Center is hardly an isolated incident: As the temperature rises ahead of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and after a draft opinion was leaked to the press last month, harassment and violence toward pro-life advocates has also increased at an alarming pace. On Wednesday, a California man was charged with attempted murder in Maryland after police arrested him near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home. The man was armed with a handgun and ammunition and, according to an FBI affidavit, was upset that the court might overturn Roe v. Wade (as well as the fact that he thought Kavanaugh might vote against gun restrictions).  Activists have reported being harassed and assaulted, and other pro-life organizations have been victims of vandalism and arson. With protests continuing outside Kavanaugh’s home Wednesday night—less than 24 hours after the foiled murder plot—some worry about even more violence should the court overturn Roe.

A Mother’s Day arson attack using Molotov cocktails damaged the Madison office of Wisconsin Family Action, a pro-life lobbying group. “If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either,” read graffiti on the outside of the building. In Keizer, Oregon, one individual threw two Molotov cocktails at the Oregon Right to Life office building, leading to a small fire that damaged the building’s exterior, according to local police.

Kristi Hamrick, a spokesperson for Students for Life Action, told The Dispatch that street activists are increasingly becoming targets for abortion advocates. “We are finding a sharp increase in violence from those who go into the streets to agitate for the violence of abortion,” reports Hamrick, noting the recent attacks and harassment of pro-life activists.

After the investigation into the Wisconsin arson, Jane’s Revenge claimed responsibility for the fire, sharing a communique via Tor with a reporter at Bellingcat, Robert Evans. Evans later posted quotes from the file on Twitter. “This was only a warning,” the communique reads, asserting that its authors “are forced to adopt the minimum military requirement for a political struggle.” It also carries threats of further violence. “Wisconsin is the first flashpoint, but we are all over the US, and we will issue no further warnings.”

Jane’s Revenge also claimed responsibility for the recent firebombing of a Christian pregnancy center in Buffalo. On June 7, the pro-life center CompassCare posted photos of a burned office on Facebook, including the phrase “Jane Was Here” graffitied on a wall. “Because of this act of violence, the needs of women facing unplanned pregnancy will go unmet and babies will die,” CompassCare CEO Jim Harden said. 

On Monday, an Asheville, North Carolina, pregnancy counseling center’s windows were broken, and the area near the front door graffitied with an anarchist symbol, along with the same phrase from the Wisconsin attack: “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you!”

Hamrick points to rhetoric from abortion provider Planned Parenthood as contributing to the uptick in vitriol, citing statements from interim President Alexis McGill Johnson. “We know that this decision is going to enrage people,” Johnson told Anderson Cooper on CNN, referring to the looming Dobbs decision. “We’re going to continue to capture that rage … to make sure that they understand who is accountable.”

While Johnson spoke about activists “filling statehouses,” Hamrick points out that the situation on the ground has extended beyond peaceful activism. 

In the wake of the Wisconsin situation, Students for Life Action (SFLA) President Kristen Hawkins called on the FBI to “take seriously the clear and present danger” the attacks pose. SFLA also filed a complaint with the FBI, posting a video montage of pro-life activists being physically restrained and harassed by abortion-rights advocates, along with vandalized pregnancy centers and pro-life churches. One example comes from a May 4 “Defend Roe” rally held at Indianapolis’ Monument Circle. A YouTube video of the incident shows SFLA coordinator Mary Zakrajsek, wearing a blue shirt, assaulted by an abortion-rights advocate. “She restrained me, screaming in my ear before finally pushing me away,” Zakrajsek told The Dispatch of the woman who grabbed her. “Repeatedly I said, ‘I have a right to be here.’” Describing the situation at the Indianapolis rally, Zakrajsek said, “We were taunted, assaulted, shoved by hands and bicycle tires, screamed at, and pushed off the steps of the monument by the abortion lobby … This is the irony of the abortion lobby. They call themselves ‘pro-woman’ and yet physically assault women.”

Students for Life (SFL) coordinator Jordan Moorman noted that anticipation of the Dobbs decision has also raised the temperature on college campuses—often the site of intense protests and counterprotests—though not to the level that street activists are seeing. Moorman told The Dispatch about increasing bullying of pro-life students and harassment of campus advocates, including pro-choice activists throwing lit cigarettes at SFL organizers and accusing male pro-life advocates of encouraging rape. “Every pro-life activist has experienced this kind of stuff,” Moorman told The Dispatch. “All you can do is react as charitably and patiently as possible.”

While the Dobbs leak occurred when many colleges were entering final exams, limiting the amount of campus activism, pro-life activists worry worse is to come when the official Dobbs decision is released, and when students return to school in the fall. 

One college that experienced problems this semester was New York University. Gianna Guzzo, president of the NYU’s College Republicans, told The Dispatch that the club needed a security detail at a public campus meeting after the Dobbs leak. “The backlash has been insane,” said Guzzo, noting, though,  that it didn’t last long. “The next day, it was like they had moved on.” Guzzo believes the aftermath of the court’s decision represents the beginning of a new phase for pro-life activists. If Roe is overturned, and abortion again becomes a state-by-state issue, Guzzo says that activists will have to invest efforts in local communities to continue the pro-life mission: “I hope that there’s more activism from the pro-life community … there’s a lot of work to do.”

On the ground, Durig from Capitol Hill Crisis Pregnancy Center, says that despite the vitriol, the vandalism of the pregnancy center did evoke sympathy from some in the community. “People were astounded,” said Durig, speaking with thankfulness about the “kindness of others … people we’d never met.” 

As the Dobbs ruling inches closer, she plans to get back to work: “I’m not going to worry about it. We’re going to do our best to help those who need it.”

Isaac Willour is a former Dispatch intern.