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FACE

Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances

Clinic with car blocking entrance

Beginning in the mid-1980s, the United States witnessed a dramatic escalation in the number of acts of violence and harassment directed towards reproductive health care providers and clinics. These incidents, typically in the form of blockades, arsons, use of chemical irritants, bomb threats, death threats, stalking, and vandalism, continued well into the next decade. In 1993, the first murder of a reproductive health care provider occurred. Dr. David Gunn, a physician who provided abortion services, was murdered during an anti-abortion protest at a clinic in Pensacola, Florida.

In response to the alarming trend of increasing violence, the U.S. Congress enacted the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, Title 18 U.S.C. Section 248, in 1994. Often referred to by its acronym, the FACE Act makes it a federal crime to injure, intimidate, or interfere with those seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health care services – including through assault, murder, burglary, physical blockade, and making threatening phone calls and mailings. This law also prohibits damaging or destroying any facility because reproductive health services are provided within.

Since the passage of the FACE Act, the number of violent crimes committed against reproductive health care providers and facilities has dramatically decreased. The FBI and its local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners aggressively pursue all violations of the statute for eventual prosecution by local United States Attorney’s Offices and/or the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in Washington, D.C.

In addition to the FACE Act, other frequently considered federal statutes in FACE Act investigations include: Arson or Bombing, Title 18 U.S.C. Section 844(h); Mail Threats/Threatening Communications, Title 18 U.S.C. Section 875(c); Interstate Threats, Title 18 U.S.C. Section 876(c); and Use of Firearm During the Commission of a Federal Violation, Title 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c). Violators of the FACE Act are subject to criminal penalties, including imprisonment and fines. The severity of the punishment demands upon the nature of the offense and whether or not the person who committed the crime is a repeat offender.

It should be noted the FACE Act does not criminalize the lawful exercise of one’s constitutional rights. For instance, it is not a violation to protest peacefully outside of a reproductive health care facility, including such actions as carrying signs, chanting, singing hymns, distributing literature, and shouting as part of First Amendment protected activities – as long as no threats are communicated and facility access is in no way impeded.

If you feel you have been a victim of conduct in violation of the FACE Act, or have witnessed the same, please notify your local FBI field office.  

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