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CONFRONTATIONS AT ABORTION CLINICS ARE WIDESPREAD

As Buffalo braces for another anti-abortion demonstration, a report released this week may help local police cope with the violence and disruption that accompany some of these episodes.

At least they'll know they are not alone.

A study of abortion clinic conflict and violence by the Police Executive Research Forum, a national organization of police chiefs and criminal justice professionals, concludes that while declining, confrontations remain a serious threat to public safety, abortion clinics, patients and activists on both sides of the issue.

The study, funded by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, involved survey responses from 395 law enforcement agencies from 45 states. Case studies and focus group discussions complement the survey.

Seventy percent of jurisdictions with more than 50,000 people had at least one abortion provider and one-third had three or more.

Two-thirds of areas with known providers have experienced incidents ranging from protests and demonstrations to murder in the past five years.

Other research shows that between 1982 and 1998 there were 149 arsons, 47 bombings, six murders, 15 attempted murders and numerous burglaries, kidnappings, invasions of clinics and stalkings.

In 1996, the year in which the forum's national survey was conducted, most law enforcement officials reported less frequent and less severe incidents.

In interviews and focus group discussions, police, private citizens and activists credited the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act with reducing violence. However, pro-life participants said the "criminalization" of their activities could make it more difficult for moderates in the movement to deter the more violent fringe.

All participants thought better police response and judicial actions -- restraining orders, lawsuits and injunctions -- also contributed to declining incidents.

Rhetoric was seen as the biggest factor in fostering conflict and violence. Verbal exchanges and interactions between protesters and staff, clinic location and availability, size of the demonstrations, counterdemonstrators, media sensationalism and police bias were cited as contributing to violence.

Both pro-life and pro-choice participants reported experiencing police bias.

The report noted that few agencies offer training to officers who must deal with clinic violence, but case studies in nine police departments, including Rochester, showed that such training, along with setting goals and priorities that balance the rights of all parties, establishing response protocols, conducting community outreach, establishing liaison officers with clinics and protesters, and collaborating with judges and prosecutors can minimize conflicts.

Buffalo was not mentioned in the report, but many of the findings sound familiar.

More than half of agencies experiencing conflict and violence said that a single facility was targeted. A particular provider is singled out because of "visibility of location, easy access from public sidewalks and proximity to a main thoroughfare . . . potential for media coverage, high number of abortions performed and availability of large religious populations nearby."

The report presents 19 recommendations which it claims will allow police to safeguard clinics, protect the constitutional rights of patients and activists and reduce conflicts.

Award season is upon us, and three organizations have sent out a call for nominees.

Nominations for the Western New York Women's Hall of Fame are being accepted by the Western New York Women's History Committee through Feb. 5. Candidates will be inducted at a luncheon March 25.

Women who have advanced the status of women, contributed to the community or have excelled in a profession, the arts or community service are eligible. For nominating forms, call 854-7625.

Everywoman Opportunity Center has a Feb. 1 deadline for nominations for its Award of Excellence, given each year to three or four women who have touched the lives of others and made a difference for those who have followed them. The awards will be presented at a dinner May 6 in the Radisson Hotel. Call 847-1120 for nominating forms.

And the Buffalo chapter of the National Organization for Women is taking nominations until Feb. 19 for its Women Helping Women awards, to be presented at a dinner April 24. Individuals and organizations are eligible for these awards, which recognize outstanding contributions to the improvement of women's lives. Call 439-4914 for nominating forms.

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