Abortion Clinics Are Dealing with More Arson, Stalking, and Anthrax Threats Now

Abortion providers feared they’d see an increase in harassment and threats if Roe v Wade was overturned. They were right.

Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick has provided abortions for 26 years. And up until a few years ago, she never had to deal with protesters at her Phoenix, Arizona clinic. 

But in the year since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the protests at her clinic have become so large and loud that, for the first time, Goodrick has had to enlist people to help escort patients through the picketers. 

The men who show up to protest—because it is mostly men, Goodrick said—used to focus on praying. Now, they have a bullhorn; they scream and yell. “Not much we can do about it. So they stop cars, they scare people,” she said. “They try to stop me every time I come in.”


Goodrick’s not sure, exactly, where they come from. Maybe they’re locals. Maybe they’re out-of-state anti-abortion activists who are enraged that Arizona is continuing to permit abortions. But she does know that they disturb patients. “Some get angry, some get upset. Some talk to them,” Goodrick said. “Some feel like they have to, because they’re blocking their car and handing them something.”

As they prepared for Roe to be overturned, abortion providers and their supporters worried what would happen once clinics shuttered in red states. Would anti-abortion activists, deprived of their usual targets, cross state lines to protest at the remaining clinics? And if they did travel, would they become more aggressive?

The answer to both questions, nearly a year after Roe was struck down, appears to be yes, according to data released Thursday morning from the National Abortion Federation, which has spent decades tracking anti-abortion harassment and violence against clinics. As new abortion bans shuttered clinics across the country, states that have abortion protections on the books have seen a disproportionate surge in anti-abortion activity.

“The data shows that extremists do not stop at clinic closures and travel across state lines to target providers whose practices remain open,” Michelle Davidson, the federation’s security director, told reporters on a Wednesday press call. “Protected states saw a 100-percent increase in burglaries, a 200-percent increase in arson, [a] 538-percent increase in obstructions of clinic entrances, and an astounding 913-percent increase in stalking.”


States with abortion protections also experienced almost 41,000 reports of picketing in 2022, roughly 7,000 more than in 2021, the National Abortion Federation found.

Marva Sadler works at Whole Woman’s Health, a group of abortion clinics that recently opened up a location in New Mexico after closing all its Texas clinics. There, she told reporters, anti-abortion activists have started to do what’s called “schedule-packing,” filling up clinics’ schedules with appointments they don’t need and have no intention of showing up to.

“At the time when abortion is already hard to access, with so many clinics closing and the only ones having limited capacity and times, [anti-abortion activists] are successfully booking appointments to prevent even more patients from access to care,” Sadler said.

Anti-abortion activists, particularly ones who make a career out of opposing the procedure, have long traveled across the country to organize protests at abortion clinics—the bigger the better. Perhaps most famously, at the height of its fame in the 1990s, the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue summoned thousands of supporters to Wichita, Kansas, to besiege the city’s three abortion clinics. At least 2,600 people were arrested during this so-called “Summer of Mercy.”


Earlier this year, an anti-abortion group called Free the States held its annual conference in Wichita. Free the States is a self-proclaimed “abolitionist” organization, meaning its followers believe that abortion should be prosecuted like murder—and abortion patients should be prosecuted like murderers, an unpopular position among more mainstream anti-abortion circles. 

Zachary Gingrich-Gaylord, who handles communications for a Wichita abortion clinic called Trust Women, estimated that the conference drew in a few hundred out-of-state supporters. But Trust Women has a tall metal fence that surrounds its property, as well as a parking lot that wraps around the entrance. Those barriers often deter would-be protesters.

“They did a big march down the street and came and did some photo opps at the clinic,” said Gingrich-Gaylord. “They were just a lot of spectacle. They wanted to turn the city upside down for Jesus.”

Still, these kinds of attention-grabbing maneuvers can leave a mark. Years after Operation Rescue left Wichita, one local abortion provider, Dr. George Tiller, remained a lightning rod among abortion opponents. He was shot to death in his church in 2009.

For abortion providers, this is the ultimate fear: that anti-abortion protests  will explode into violence outside clinics. In 2022, there were four reports of arson against abortion clinics, compared to two in 2021, the National Abortion Federation found. Between 2010 and 2021, clinics received just two threats of anthrax or bioterrorism. In 2022 alone, they received four.

Julie Burkhart, who runs a Wyoming clinic that was set on fire by a suspected arsonist in June 2022, said that blaze shut down her clinic for 11 months and cost nearly $300,000 in repairs.

“This also caused great fear in our staff members. It shook the community,” Burkhart said, adding that anti-abortion protests continued even though the clinic was shut down. “We see anywhere from half a dozen to around 30 people who will come out to the clinic at any time. We even had to call law enforcement recently because protesters decided to trespass onto our property. And so this is definitely an ongoing issue and fear for us.”

The apparent increase in interstate travel by anti-abortion activists is particularly striking against the backdrop of abortion opponents’ efforts to limit people’s ability to cross state lines for the procedure. Idaho recently passed a first-of-its-kind law to charge people with “abortion trafficking” if they help minors leave Idaho for legal abortions without their parents’ knowledge.

“It’s absolutely hypocrisy,” said Erin Matson, executive director of the pro-abortion rights group Reproaction, which tracks anti-abortion activity. “They don’t necessarily live the way that they decreed that others should do.”