Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act
|Long title||Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994|
|Enacted by||the 103rd United States Congress|
|Effective||May 26, 1994|
|Statutes at Large||108 Stat. 694|
|U.S.C. sections created||248|
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE or the Access Act, Pub. L. No. 103-259, 108 Stat. 694) (May 26, 1994, 18 U.S.C. § 248) is a United States law that was signed by President Bill Clinton in May 1994, which prohibits the following three things: (1) the use of physical force, threat of physical force, or physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate, interfere with or attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person who is obtaining reproductive health services or providing reproductive health services (this portion of the law typically refers to abortion clinics), (2) the use of physical force, threat of physical force, or physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate, interfere with or attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person who is exercising or trying to exercise their First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship, (3) the intentional damage or destruction of a reproductive health care facility or a place of worship.
Actions prohibited and not prohibited
- Blocking a person’s access to the entrance of a facility
- Impairing cars from entering and/or exiting a facility
- Physically stopping people as they are trying to walk toward an entrance or through a parking lot
- Making it difficult or dangerous to get in and/or out of a facility
- Trespassing on the property of a facility
- Committing any act of violence on a clinic employee, escort or patient
- Threats of violence
- Stalking a clinic employee or reproductive health care provider
- Arson or threats of arson
- Bombings or bomb threats
- Protesting outside of clinics
- Distributing literature
- Carrying signs
- Shouting (as long as no threats are made)
- Singing hymns
Many of the words used in the official text of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act are subject to different interpretations. For this reason the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice provided formal definitions for these terms:
- Facility—The term "facility" includes a hospital, clinic, physician's office, or other facility that provides reproductive health services, and includes the building or structure in which the facility is located.
- Interfere with—The term "interfere with" means to restrict a person's freedom of movement.
- Intimidate—The term "intimidate" means to place a person in reasonable apprehension of bodily harm to him- or herself or to another.
- Physical obstruction—The term "physical obstruction" means rendering impassable entrance to or exit from a facility that provides reproductive health services or to or from a place of religious worship, or rendering passage to or from such a facility or place of religious worship unreasonably difficult or hazardous.
- Reproductive health services—The term "reproductive health services" means reproductive health services provided in a hospital, clinic, physician's office, or other facility, and includes medical, surgical, counseling or referral services relating to the human reproductive system, including services relating to pregnancy or the termination of a pregnancy.
Rationale for the Act
The Act was passed in direct response to the escalation of violent tactics used by anti-abortion activists. Between the years 1978 and 1993, the number of violent crimes committed against reproductive health care providers, reproductive health care facilities and abortion clinics were steadily on the rise. According to statistics gathered by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), an organization of abortion providers, since 1977 in the United States and Canada, there have been at least 9 murders, 17 attempted murders, 406 death threats, 179 incidents of assault or battery, and 5 kidnappings committed against abortion providers. In addition, since 1977 in the United States and Canada, property crimes committed against abortion providers have included 41 bombings, 175 arsons, 96 attempted bombings or arsons, 692 bomb threats, 1993 incidents of trespassing, 1400 incidents of vandalism, and 100 attacks with butyric acid ("stink bombs"). One anti-abortion group known as the Army of God, was especially active in committing these violent crimes. This group alone was responsible for bombing and setting fire to over one hundred clinics before 1994. They also invaded more than three hundred clinics and vandalized more than four hundred In 1993, officials found the Army of God Manual, a tactical guide to arson, chemical attacks, invasions and bombing, buried in the backyard of Shelly Shannon’s home. Shelly Shannon was soon found guilty of the attempted murder of Dr. George Tiller that same year. In addition to committing acts of violence, many[quantify] anti-abortion activists were known to stalk medical personnel and use their photographs on "Wanted for Murder" posters. This on-going violence reached its peak in March 1993 when Dr. David Gunn, a physician whose medical practice included abortion procedures, was shot and killed by Michael F. Griffin outside of the Pensacola Women's Medical Services clinic located in Pensacola, Florida This increase in violence had become very burdensome to local law enforcement. The Senate decided that such unlawful conduct was interfering with the constitutional right of women to receive reproductive health care services (abortion in particular), which has been guaranteed since the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Penalties for violation
The criminal penalties for violating FACE vary according to the severity of the offense and the defendant's prior record of similar violations. Typically, a first time offender is sentenced to at most one year in prison and fined at most $100,000. For a second violation, the violator may be imprisoned for at most three years and fined at most $250,000. These are maximum sentences; lesser penalties are permitted at the judge's discretion.
If the offense causes injury to a person, the maximum sentence is 10 years, regardless of whether or not it is a first offense.
Effectiveness of the Act
According to statistics gathered by the National Abortion Federation (NAF), incidents of the more disastrous forms of violence (such as murder, attempted murder, bombing and arson) have greatly decreased since 1994, the year the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances act was put on the books. The Clinton administration prosecuted 17 defendants for violations of the F.A.C.E. act in 1997 alone and prosecuted an average of about 10 defendants per year since the law was enacted. The George W. Bush administration, however, only prosecuted about two defendants per year for violations of the F.A.C.E. act. According to Cathleen Mahoney, Executive Vice President of the National Abortion Federation and former attorney for the Justice Department, "The amount of [violent] activity really did drop a lot after FACE was enacted and it was beginning to be enforced".
Following passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, Massachusetts followed suit by passing an analogous state law, Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act. That state law was challenged in Federal Court and ultimately struck down in McCullen v. Coakley. However, the decision was narrowly tailored so as not to strike down the F.A.C.E Act and other state level laws.
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- McCullen v. Coakley. Harvard Law Review. 128 Harv. L. Rev. 221. Nov 10, 2014.
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