Bill Bans Abortion-Clinic Blockades Measure Aims to Halt Violent Protest

Article excerpt

Congress responded Thursday to a decade of bombings, arson and even a killing by sending President Bill Clinton a bill banning blockades, violence and threats against abortion clinics.

Thursday's Senate vote was 69-30, with all four senators from Missouri and Illinois voting for the bill. The House approved the measure last week on a 241-174 roll call.

Clinton is sure to sign the bill into law. It would take effect immediately.

The bill is designed to protect women seeking abortions and the doctors and nurses who administer them from taunts, threats and violence outside clinics.

Fifty-two Democrats and 17 Republicans voted for the bill, while three Democrats and 27 Republicans voted against it.

In arguing for the bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said, "These are no longer peaceful protests. These are examples of vigilante extremism that mirror the spread of hate crimes and random violence in our society."

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., recounted that a summer-long series of protests and blockades of clinics in Wichita, Kan., "tore my home city apart" and fostered a "climate of intolerance and hatred" that lingers there three years later.

Supporters argued that, over the last 10 years, the protests have got out of hand. By one count, more than 1,000 violent acts occurred at abortion clinics between 1977 and April of last year, including 36 bombings, 81 cases of arson, 131 death threats, 84 assaults, two kidnappings - and the killing of Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Fla.

Opponents countered that such violent acts were rare and are already crimes. This legislation, they said, is an attempt by liberals to thwart just one side in the emotional debate over abortion. The opponents noted that no similar constraints existed against protests by unions, environmentalists or animal rights supporters.

"What this bill does is aim the full force of the federal criminal system against a class of Americans who feel passionately about one of the key moral questions of our time," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the bill would clamp unconstitutional restrictions on the free speech rights of anti-abortion protesters.

Lawmakers began work on the bill after a Supreme Court decision in January of last year saying that states could not use an 1871 civil rights law, aimed originally at the Ku Klux Klan, to stop anti-abortion protests.

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The legislation approved Thursday would make it a federal crime to block access to an abortion clinic or to use force or threats against people using such facilities or working there.

Protesters found guilty of violent offenses would face up to $100,000 in fines and a year in prison for a first conviction, and up to $250,000 in fines and three years in prison for subsequent offenses. …