After Dobbs, pregnancy centers brace for more attacks
Pro-life groups are preparing for an aggressive reaction to the Supreme Court ruling following weeks of vandalism
Luke Cirillo woke up to a phone call around 3 a.m. on June 10. As the CEO of First Image, which runs three Portland-area pregnancy centers, he immediately expected bad news when he saw that it was the local police department calling. He was right: The pregnancy center he worked at in Gresham, Ore., was on fire.
Police had arrived at the scene in response to a burglar alarm at the center, where they saw smoke coming through the windows, according to lead fire investigator Brandon Baird at the Gresham Fire Department. Once firefighters put out the blaze, investigators used incendiary-sniffing dogs and determined that someone had set the fire intentionally. It started under a table in the center’s break room.
Cirillo wasn’t particularly surprised to see the Gresham center targeted. A little over a month earlier, the security cameras at his organization’s southeast Portland center had captured footage of vandals breaking the facility’s glass windows and spray-painting slurs on the building. The incident lasted only about 30 seconds, he said, but it was enough to “feel the anger and the hate being directed at you.” Arson was even more disturbing. A few days later, he said, one of the center directors broke down in tears while on the phone with him: The violence had made her nervous about coming to her facility.
The attacks against Cirillo’s centers are only two of many cases of vandalism and arson that have happened at pro-life pregnancy centers across the country since early May, when Politico published the leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In their ruling, released on Friday, a majority of justices voted to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that declared a right to abortion nationwide.
Since the May leak, abortion supporters have targeted nearly 30 pregnancy centers, along with other pro-life organizations and about a dozen churches, according to WORLD’s tracking of reports across the country. Pregnancy centers have been working to increase their security measures in response, and now with the final Dobbs opinion published, pro-lifers are bracing for more violence from extremists who have threatened to renew their attacks.
After arsonists set alight the offices of a pro-life organization in Madison, Wis., on Mother’s Day, a covert pro-abortion group called Jane’s Revenge published a statement online saying it would give pro-life groups 30 days to disband or face “increasingly extreme tactics.”
Five days after the arson in Gresham, Jane’s Revenge posted another communique claiming responsibility for attacks on pregnancy centers in Gresham, Portland, and 14 other U.S. cities. The group also noted that the 30 days were up.
“We promised to take increasingly drastic measures against oppressive infrastructures,” the group wrote. “Rest assured that we will.” It added that any pro-life organization that closed its doors would be off the hit list. For those that don’t, it said, “it’s open season, and we know where your operations are.”
Some of those drastic measures could come as soon as Friday night. Jane’s Revenge last month called on pro-abortion protesters to come out on the night of the Dobbs ruling and “make your anger known,” encouraging local groups to organize and suggesting 8 p.m. as a time “for actions nationwide to begin.” Outside of the Supreme Court on Friday afternoon, a masked Jane’s Revenge protester who spoke to WORLD refused to divulge details on the group’s plans but indicated that tonight would be different and bigger, saying “the time for talk is done.”
According to a document obtained by Newsweek, the Department of Homeland Security has told the Catholic Church to be prepared for a backlash to the Dobbs decision, warning that “large groups with cells nationwide have already been discovered ‘casing’ parishes, including here in California.” Pregnancy centers contacted by WORLD said they are preparing for attacks but had not received any direct contact from DHS.
In response to the previous attacks and ongoing threats, national pregnancy center groups like Heartbeat International have been offering affiliate centers guidance on how to prepare for potential violence.
Tonya Nelson, CEO of the three Hand of Hope Pregnancy Centers in North Carolina, said her center has received regular communication from Heartbeat with security recommendations. One email prompted her to order fire ladders to ensure a way to escape upper-story windows in case of arson. She said she ordered a case of pepper spray and reviewed the center’s emergency response plans. The center has also added to its security cameras and has asked local allies to drop by occasionally to check on the staff.
Nelson said her centers had seen protests, vandalism, and theft before. “Things can be replaced,” she said. But she’s never seen aggression against pregnancy centers to this degree. Her biggest concern is for safety. “My prayer truly is that if anything were to happen, that it would happen after hours, so my staff is safe and our clients are safe and cared for, too.”
She also is concerned about disruptions to their ministry. She and her staff had discussed hiring an off-duty police officer, but they worried the sight of a police car in the parking lot could intimidate a client.
In a webinar on Tuesday, Tim Dimoff, a security expert and president of a consulting and investigative group headquartered in Akron, Ohio, gave building security recommendations to more than 40 representatives of Ohio pregnancy centers and pro-life groups. Among the tips: increase lighting, park close to your building, install cameras, trim back branches that cover windows, put ballistic film on glass windows and doors, designate “safe rooms” in case of attackers, and never open or close with just one person in the building.
“You must assume they are watching and looking and you want to send a message to them that you do not plan on being an easy target,” he said. He recommended that after the Dobbs decision came out, pregnancy centers should take a week off from seeing clients at their offices and conduct Zoom or home visits instead.
The FBI told The Daily Wire that the bureau is “investigating a series of attacks and threats targeting pregnancy resource centers and faith-based organizations across the country.”
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.