(Adds response from US Department of Justice)
By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, May 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Death threats, intimidation and harassment have increased dramatically at U.S. abortion clinics over the past year as opponents feel energized by the political climate, a leading abortion rights group said on Monday.
Threats of violence or death almost doubled at clinics in 2017 while trespassing cases more than tripled from a year earlier, according to the National Abortion Federation (NAF).
The wave of hostility can be traced to anti-abortion sentiment in the nation’s state houses and from U.S. President Donald Trump, said Vicki Saporta, head of the NAF, which has tracked anti-abortion violence and disruption since 1977.
“When you have politicians who espouse very anti-choice rhetoric, you have anti-abortion extremists who take it to heart and act upon it,” Saporta told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding, “They have a friend in the White House.”
Trump, an abortion opponent, has appointed like-minded politicians to top posts. Vice President Mike Pence staunchly opposes abortion rights.
The Trump administration reinstated a global gag rule that bans U.S.-funded groups around the world from discussing abortion and supports stripping federal funding from women’s health care clinics that offer abortions.
Most recently on the state level, Iowa just outlawed abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which often occurs at six weeks and before a woman realizes she is pregnant.
Among its findings, the NAF said nationwide, the number of clinic blockades grew to 104 from 51.
Representatives of Operation Save America, which staged a highly publicized blockade at a Louisville, Kentucky clinic last May, could not immediately be reached for comment.
A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, which runs a National Task Force On Violence Against Health Care Providers to address abortion-related violence, declined to comment.
The NAF also said at clinics nationwide, incidents of obstruction aiming to disrupt services or intimidate patients rose to more than 1,700 from 580 in 2016, NAF said.
The number of threats of danger or death rose to 62 from 33, and more than 78,000 incidents of protests and picketing at clinics were reported as well.
Anti-abortion violence has grown in America in the years since the Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade in 1973 made abortion legal.
The last deadly incident occurred at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado in 2015 when a gunman killed three people and wounded nine others. (Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)