FBI Director Christopher Wray told senators Thursday that the bureau has opened “a number” of investigations into abortion-related violent crime incidents.
In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wray told lawmakers that violence has surged among both abortion-rights and anti-abortion advocates since POLITICO reported in May that the Supreme Court intended to roll back federal abortion protections. The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
The FBI has been aware of violence related to abortion rights over the years, Wray said, but the Supreme Court’s recent actions on the issue have generated “a general intensification of violence across the issue.”
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said that abortion-rights activists “have actively targeted over 82 churches and pregnancy centers,” in some cases spray painting them, smashing windows or firebombing the spaces. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) noted during her questioning that last year, attacks targeting abortion clinic staff and patients “increased 128 percent over the previous year, including a 600 percent increase in stalking.” Among those attacks were instances of arson and molotov cocktails being thrown through windows, she said.
When it was reported that the Supreme Court intended to reverse Roe v. Wade, the FBI put out a directive to its field offices “to be looking actively for potential threats of the very sort you’re talking about,” Wray told Lee. FBI joint terrorism task forces are “specifically focused” on attacks and threats against churches, “pro-life organizations,” pregnancy resource centers and similar organizations and facilities, Wray said.
He did not specify how many abortion-related domestic terrorism investigations the FBI was working on.
“I think this is part of a larger phenomenon that we are experiencing in this country right now,” Wray said to Klobuchar. “I understand that passions run high, especially on an issue like abortion, but there’s just way too many people that seem to think that that justifies engaging in violence and destruction of property and threats of violence.”
“I feel like everyday I'm getting briefed on someone throwing a molotov cocktail at someone over some issue,” he added. “It’s crazy.”
Wray said the relatively quick and easy proliferation of information, misinformation and advocacy on social media has helped fuel a rise in violent crime in recent years, including incidents related to abortion rights.
“From our perspective, I don’t care what side of the issue you’re on, I don’t care who you’re upset with or what you’re upset about,” Wray said. “On abortion or anything else, you don’t get to use violence or threats of violence to act on it, and we’re going to go after that conduct aggressively. I feel very strongly about that and I’ve communicated that very strongly to all of our field offices and our workforce.”