The photos are apocalyptic: Pictures of charred office spaces, glass scattered in great sheets on the sidewalk; jeering slogans spray-painted on the exterior walls; and windows filled with circular cracks that, spiderweb-like, stretch from one sill to another.
This was the scene at CompassCare Pregnancy Services, a medical clinic in Buffalo employing 22 nurses and five doctors, after being firebombed on June 7. The attack caused $530,000 in damages and injured two firefighters. The graffiti left on the building stated: “Jane was here.”
It was the first the nation heard of the militant pro-abortion movement that labels itself “Jane’s Revenge.” The significance of “Jane” in the title is unclear; it could stand for either the “Jane Roe” in the 1973 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide or the “Jane Collective,” an underground movement that helped women get abortions before 1973.
Whatever the case, the vandals caused enough damage to shut down the clinic for about 55 days. CompassCare is one of numerous crisis pregnancy centers, churches, and pro-life groups that have been firebombed, defaced, or vandalized in the wake of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe. In addition to the physical damage the vandals have caused, many people involved in crisis pregnancy work—along with lawyers and even politicians—have been harassed, received death threats, or been doxed at their homes.
From demonstrators splashing green paint on the home of a pro-life attorney just north of Chicago to half-naked pro-abortion protesters showing up at mega-congregations such as Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston1, it is clear the war against pro-lifers is on. By the end of the year, at least 39 churches, 60 crisis pregnancy centers and medical clinics, and 23 assorted “incidents,” including vandalism, bomb threats, and assaults on police officers, have been directed at abortion opponents across the country.
The tally of 122 attacks, logged by the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, covers a six-month period from May to the beginning of November.
No one has been arrested for any of these crimes over a seven-month period, despite protests (ranging from the U.S. Supreme Court marshal to members of Congress) against the stunning inaction of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yet, some of these same agencies have been quick to move against Jan. 6 protesters at the Capitol and, starting last summer, began rounding up people who had taken part in abortion clinic blockades more than a year ago. One predawn raid involved a SWAT-like attack on the home of a protester in front of his terrified family. How have things gone downhill so fast?
Lackadaisical Police Efforts
No one has yet fessed up to being the source of the Politico magazine story that on May 2 alerted the nation that 49+ years of legalized abortion were nearing an end—at least in states that were predisposed to outlaw it. Up until then, it was rare for crisis pregnancy centers—clinics that encourage pregnant women to keep their unborn children and offer various forms of assistance in doing so—to undergo physical attack.
Then on May 8, at about 6 a.m., the Madison-based Wisconsin Family Action was vandalized and set on fire with two Molotov cocktails.
“This was only a warning,” read a communique from Jane’s Revenge. “We demand the disbanding of all anti-choice establishments, fake clinics, and violent anti-choice groups within the next thirty days. This is not a mere ‘difference of opinion’ as some have framed it. We are literally fighting for our lives.”
None of the attacks have led to any arrests. After months of waiting, Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, finally began speaking out in November about police inaction.
“All this is beginning to look as if, well, because of your position, because you’re pro-life, we’re just not going to push as hard,” Appling told the Wisconsin State Journal.2
A Madison police spokesman told the newspaper that the investigation can’t be rushed, but Appling pointed out that when someone set fire to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on July 31, a suspect was arrested within a few days.3
After the Wisconsin attack, James Harden, president of CompassCare, braced for more. First, he disclosed, the search engine Google de-listed his organization, declaring it closed on May 16.
“We were re-listed one hour before the firebombing on June 7,” he said. “When the first firebombing happened in Wisconsin, Jane’s Revenge put out a notice giving CPCs a month to shut down. June 7 was a month later.” Once again, there have been no arrests, despite a surveillance video. Harden retrieved it after the attack and gave it to local Amherst, N.Y., police, assuming they would eventually return it. He figured that either police or the FBI would quickly post the video’s images of two white men along with the license plate of a red or orange late-model Dodge Dart.4
When he asked to have the footage back—or at least receive a copy so that the group’s attorney could prepare a civil lawsuit against the arsonists—local police and the FBI refused. In September, CompassCare filed a lawsuit seeking the return of the video. To date, it still has not.
In November, the FBI released a portion (18 seconds) of the video and a “wanted” poster of the two men, announcing a reward of up to $25,000 for any information leading to their arrest. Harden describes this as a feeble attempt to combat bad PR emanating from a House Judiciary investigation5 into why the FBI has been so lax in pursuing dozens of attacks against prolife groups.
“There appears to be more than 160 attacks—to some degree or another—on pro-life organizations,” he said in an interview. “One of the questions that needs to be asked is if they had confidential sources in these groups that did the attacks, why didn’t they stop them?”
For instance, Harden notes that Thomas Brejcha, founder of the Thomas More Society (the legal group representing CompassCare), was warned by police in early July that protesters would target his Evanston, Illinois, home the following day. Sure enough, several dozen people showed up the next evening to throw indelible green paint at Brejcha’s brick home, trample on his yard, and write obscene slurs on his driveway. Brejcha, who with his wife stayed away from his home that evening, later said that Evanston police just remained in their cruisers, watching the whole thing.
“We need these police to protect us,” he told radio talk show host Drew Mariani a few days later. “They made an effort—the commander talked to us before and after it happened—but it sounded like they were taken by surprise.” And so the Evanston police officers—perhaps misunderstanding laws pertaining to picketing—did nothing.
“I think they were inhibited by too generous an understanding of the First Amendment,” Brejcha said during the radio show. Protesters are allowed to walk about a neighborhood, he added, but “you’re not supposed to focus on anyone’s residence.” For now, surveillance cameras will remain on his home, he said. “The other side is reacting with violence. That’s what the other side is all about.”
One reason for the lack of action may be the desultory media coverage of these attacks throughout the year. Except for Fox News, there’s been no in-depth reporting in any of the major media on this trend and on the sheer volume of property damage involved. On social media, TikTok dropped a personal page belonging to Lila Rose, founder of the pro-life group Live Action, and has yet to restore it. Meanwhile, Facebook labeled Jane’s Revenge a terrorist group, restricting discussion of the organization on its pages.6
But none of this explains the lack of arrests in any of the 122 above-mentioned incidents.
“It is naïve to think the best law enforcement agency in the world doesn’t know who is perpetrating these attacks,” Harden said. “They’ve got cell phone numbers, clear pictures of body imaging, license plate numbers— how is it they are not finding these people? They are just not intentionally arresting them.”
When asked for comment, the FBI sent out a copy of its earlier statement regarding the $25,000 award; that statement also said it was investigating violence at abortion clinics as well as at crisis pregnancy centers and “faithbased organizations.” Moreover, “the incidents are being investigated as potential acts of domestic violent extremism, FACE Act violations, or violent crime matters, depending on the facts of each case.” The FBI also released a copy of its “wanted” poster for the destruction at Compass Care, with blurred photos of the arsonists and their getaway car with the license plate whited out. More recent incidents include a death threat received Dec. 3 by a Catholic campus ministry center at the University of Nebraska in a note signed Jane’s Revenge.” Students for Life was scheduled to meet there that day. “If our right to abortion in Bellevue is taken away due to the attempt to pass an abortion ban and it gets passed[,] we will shoot up your Newman center with our new AR14 rifles. Sincerely, Jane’s Revenge,” said a note posted on the door of the center. (The AR-14 was a 1950s-era assault rifle that was never put into production. Whether the writers knew this or simply didn’t know the difference between various types of guns is uncertain.)
Posting on Twitter, Students for Life president Kristan Hawkins blamed U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland for failing to move decisively against “pro-abortion terrorist groups.” What also didn’t help, she added, was a Dec. 2 interview of Hillary Clinton by CNN’s Christine Amanpour in which Clinton compared attacks against women in Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Iran with the closing of abortion clinics in the United States.7
“Sadly, the incendiary comments of leaders like Hillary Clinton yesterday comparing pro-lifers to the Taliban is case in point of the poisoned political climate being deliberately fostered by corporate abortion and their allies,” Hawkins tweeted.
The general public, however, equates the recent attacks against pro-lifers with years of protests against abortion clinics. A typical comment came from Jessie Hill, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University, who speculated in an email that, “I suspect that the prevalence of this kind of violence pales in comparison to violence committed by anti-abortion activists against clinics and providers.”
According to figures released by the National Abortion Federation this year, attacks against abortion clinics (burglaries, assaults on clinic personnel, vandalism, suspicious packages, blockages, and bomb threats) rose by 128 percent in 2021 compared with 2020.8 The NAF emphasized “a 600% increase in stalking” clinic staff, giving the impression of hundreds if not thousands of such incidents. A closer look at their data reveals stalking increased from 4 incidents to 28.
Supreme Court Justices as Targets
He showed up at around 1 a.m. on June 8 in front of the Chevy Chase, Maryland, home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Nicholas John Roske, 26, of Simi Valley, California, had a gun, a knife, pepper spray, duct tape, a crowbar, zip ties, and other paraphernalia he intended to use to kill the 57-year-old justice.
Although Roske was arrested before he could do any harm, he was merely one of many people to appear in front of Kavanaugh’s home after the leak of the Dobbs opinion draft, despite its being a federal crime to picket or parade near a residence of a federal judge for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a judicial proceeding.
The lack of outrage among the liberal classes about Kavanaugh’s narrow escape—the would-be killer confessed to police before actually attempting the deed—was striking. Puffy articles about demonstrators in front of Kavanaugh’s home (a May 7 Washington Post piece is a prime example)9 carried no warnings about any kind of “climate of hate” caused by the demonstrators. Instead, as a July 2 photo10 in the Post illustrates, dozens of demonstrators are pacing back and forth on the sidewalk while police officers—at least seven appear in the photo—stand on guard in the shrubbery in front of the Kavanaugh home.
High-level government officials have been bickering over why these protesters are even allowed anywhere near where a justice lives. As demonstrations in front of the homes of conservative justices increased over the summer, Supreme Court Marshal Gail Curley sent terse messages to Maryland and Virginia governors, as well as executives of Montgomery County, Maryland, and Fairfax County, Virginia, telling them to enforce federal law.
But some of the state officials have fought back, saying that protesters’ First Amendment rights trump anti-picketing statutes.
“This is beyond the pale,” said Harden on how the rule of law has broken down nationwide. “This is not how civilized societies should behave. This feels like the beginning of a Bolshevik Revolution. It feels like being at the beginning of a dystopian novel.”
And thus nothing happened on June 27 when anarchists stormed a Baptist church in Portland, Oregon, that housed First Image, a crisis pregnancy center. Numerous black-clad activists carrying umbrellas and wearing masks (to conceal their identities) damaged its exterior and attacked a reporter trying to cover the event. Despite heavy police presence—the church’s staff was warned beforehand that a protest was in the offing—no arrests were made.11
Attacks have not been merely physical. Care Net, a CPC network with 1,200 affiliates, posted a statement on its site saying that pregnancy centers have faced a tsunami of fake negative reviews, spammed online appointments, troll comments, and more. The situation got so bad that both Google and Yelp disabled reviews on some CPC pages due to a pro-abortion spam campaign run by Gen-Z for Change, a pro-abortion youth activist group.12
In interviews with NBC News in July, the group was quite frank about its aim to flood crisis pregnancy centers and pro-life tip lines with thousands of negative reviews and comments through an initiative termed SAFER (Spam, Assist, Fund, Educate and Register).
If that weren’t enough, Democratic politicians, led by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., were pressuring Google to finetune its search results for abortion clinics so that women wouldn’t end up at a CPC. In a June 17 press release,13 the lawmakers claimed that 37 percent of all Google Map results for an abortion clinic in states with “trigger laws” to end abortion access turned up a CPC instead.
The fight turned particularly ugly in September, when an 84-year-old woman representing a group called Right to Life was shot in the shoulder with a .22 caliber rifle while canvassing door-to-door in south-central Michigan against an upcoming abortion-rights ballot measure. The shooter, Richard Alan Harvey, 74, said he got angry during an exchange his wife was having with the canvasser and went for his gun. He has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, weapons firearms careless discharge causing injury, and weapons firearms reckless use.
“I didn’t shoot her on purpose,” he told the 911 dispatcher. “She was a right-wing nut. I’m sorry I shot her.”14
The victim, Joan Jacobsen, said the bullet exited her body but came very close to hitting her spine. She was released from the hospital the same day.
Harvey will stand trial on two felony charges.
The shooting was covered by Michigan media, but got minuscule national coverage, which explains why so few prolifers have heard of the incident. Had the victim been an abortion rights activist and the shooter a prolifer, it’s a safe bet that national media would have been on the next plane.
Instead, they are focusing on a different sort of crisis pregnancy center news story, such as CNN’s Oct. 25 piece “The crisis pregnancy center next door: How taxpayer money intended for poor families is funding a growing anti-abortion movement.”15 The story, which was stacked with studies and quotes by pro-abortion advocates with minimal input from abortion opponents, didn’t mention one word about any attacks on CPCs.
Employing the FACE Act
On Sept. 20, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), joined by 28 sponsors, proposed the Protect Pregnancy Centers Care Act 2022 16 (HR 8926) in an effort to hold the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security accountable for their unimpressive pursuit of the perpetrators of the crimes against the nation’s 3,000 CPCs. From 2016-2020, the bill stated, some 828,130 had been saved from abortions, thanks to the pregnancy centers.
Then on Jan. 11, the U.S. House passed H.R. 1233, a resolution condemning attacks against CPCs and churches and calling on the Biden administration to do more in prosecuting those responsible. The 222-209 vote included three Democrats: Marie Perez of Washington, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas.17
But the feds have been headed in the opposite direction. On Sept. 23, the FBI conducted a dawn raid on the rural Pennsylvania home of Catholic speaker and author Mark Houck on charges that he assaulted an escort at the Elizabeth Black Health Center, a Planned Parenthood clinic, in Philadelphia in October 2021. Houck’s wife, Ryan-Marie, told Catholic News Agency that “a SWAT team of about 25” showed up at her house with guns drawn and threatened to break down the front door, terrifying the parents and their seven children.18 (The FBI has since responded that there was no literal SWAT team involved and that agents merely asked Houck to exit his residence.)19
Houck complied with orders to come outside; he was then charged with violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The law makes it a federal crime to use force with the intent to injure, intimidate, and interfere with anyone providing abortions. According to the charges, he shoved a 72-year-old male escort to the ground twice outside the Philadelphia center on Oct. 13, 2021. The charges bring a maximum of 11 years in prison, three years of probation, and fines up to $350,000.
But Houck states that the escort was threatening and using vulgar language against his 12-year-old son, who was accompanying him. He maintains that his argument with the escort does not violate the FACE Act. Accounts of his early-morning arrest spurred a Sept. 27 protest letter from 22 members of Congress calling the FBI’s arrest “chilling.”20
The arrests continued on Sept. 29, when a Franciscan friar, Christopher “Fidelis” Moscinski, was charged with violating the FACE Act after he attached five locks, some with glue poured onto them, onto a gate at the entrance of a Planned Parenthood facility on Long Island on July 7.
Then on Oct. 5, a group of twelve activists were charged with violating the FACE act by blocking access to the Carafem Health Center Clinic in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, on March 5, 2021. The indictment claimed that Chester Gallagher and “co-conspirators” live streamed the blockade on Facebook, “tried to intimidate and interfere” with clinic employees, and prevented at least one patient from entering the clinic.21
Seven of the activists were charged with the same fines and jail time as Houck; the others were liable for up to one year in prison, probation, and a $10,000 fine.
On Oct. 12, forty members of Congress sent a letter22 to FBI Director Christopher Wray complaining about the “continued politicization” of his agency, arguing that arrests involving clinic blockades should be a local or state matter, not a federal offense.
The arrests and indictments were “overzealous prosecutions,” the letter read, “particularly true since there have been no reports of FBI investigations or DOJ prosecutions in relation to the more than 72 crisis pregnancy centers and 80 Catholic churches that have been attacked or vandalized since the Dobbs leak,” all of which are also subject to the FACE Act.
In November, the DOJ informed the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that the FACE Act could be applied to those attacking crisis pregnancy clinics as well. With the onset of winter, such attacks have temporarily waned.
Brejcha notes a certain irony to the attacks on the CPCs. “They say prolifers don’t care about human beings after they are born,” he said on the radio show. “Of course, the pregnancy resource centers are trying to do precisely that and now they are trying to shut them down.”
Meanwhile, Brejcha’s Thomas More Society has teamed up with Harden to hire their own investigators to search out who bombed CompassCare.
“We’re planning on collecting the award money from the FBI,” Harden said. “That will put pressure on them.” (In January, the FBI widened the scope of its $25K award, saying it now applied to information about “a series of attacks and threats” against CPCs, faith groups, and abortion clinics. A press release said the agency will apply sanctions in the FACE Act against perpetrators.)
Julia Duin is Newsweek’s contributing editor for religion. She has also worked as an editor or reporter for five newspapers, published seven books, and has master’s degrees in journalism and religion. Her latest book, Finding Joy: A Mongolian Woman’s Journey to Christ, tells the story of Yanjmaa Jutmaan, a Mongolian activist for women’s rights, a counselor, and statistics expert. Julia lives in the Seattle area. (An earlier version of this piece ran in Newsweek December 30, 2022.)