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