Issue Brief: Understanding Emerging Trends in Protests and Political Violence Around Abortion and Reproductive Rights in the United States

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I. Introduction

On May 2, 2022, a leaked draft of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson revealed the likelihood the decision would overturn the 1973 precedent set by Roe v. Wade, which had generally legalized abortion. The leaked draft of Dobbs v. Jackson catalyzed immediate protests, with political mobilization continuing after the official release of the decision on June 24, 2022. The overturn of Roe v. Wade signals a major victory for anti-abortion rights (i.e. pro-life) activists, catapulting abortion and broader family planning access into the national conversation amidst the 2022 midterm elections.

This Issue Brief examines emerging trends since the May 2nd Dobbs v. Jackson draft decision leaked, mainly focusing on offline mobilization. The brief contextualizes this activity within historical violence related to abortion and reproductive rights. It concludes with observations on potential activity moving forward into the 2022 election cycle.

 

Key Stats:

Between May 2 and July 1, 2022:

 

  • Activity included counter-protesting, with a slight majority of these occurring in D.C. (9%), Texas (9%), and Florida (6%). At least 14% of the pro-abortion rights protests in this time period were met with counter-protests. 

 

  • At least 45 protests recorded unlawful paramilitary (i.e. militia) presence, 23 of which were demonstrations on reproductive rights. 18 of them involved anti-abortion rights actors, with the majority of these actors being the Proud Boys, who counter-protested 13 pro-abortion rights demonstrations in this time period. 

 

  • Presumed pro-abortion rights actors – including some acting under the moniker Jane’s Revenge – vandalized at least 30 anti-abortion rights targets, including “crisis pregnancy centers.” Attacks consisted primarily of vandalism or property destruction (96%). However, there have also been more severe instances with at least five cases of attempted arson. 

 

  • Following the Dobbs decision announcement, a “night of rage” largely did not materialize. According to ACLED, there were at least 10 events that included harassment, vandalism, or violence on June 26 across the United States. Some pro-abortion rights protesters vandalized buildings and cars and threw smoke bombs. However, pro-abortion rights advocates committed only half of those actions.

 

Key Findings 

In the period between the leaked and official releases of the Dobbs decision, violence remained primarily directed toward pro-abortion rights demonstrators with a few high profile, high impact incidents targeting anti-abortion rights religious institutions driving rising tensions. Incidents targeting pro-abortion rights groups also included a wider range of unlawful paramilitary, anti-abortion rights protestors, and law enforcement actors.

While it remains too soon to make a definitive judgment about what type of pro-abortion rights group Jane’s Revenge is, or will be, both the fear generated by associated rhetoric and violent action against churches, “crisis pregnancy centers,” and officials remain an area of concern. Though a “night of rage” did not materialize in Dobbs’ immediate aftermath, right-wing influencers continued to play up the risk of political violence from demonstrators opposed to abortion bans.

With further restrictions at stake at multiple levels of government, the election period will likely increase protests activity and potentially violent or targeted incidents further from the new post-Dobbs baseline.

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