Exclusive: Law enforcement prepares for potential violence, unrest surrounding Roe decision

Law enforcement authorities across the country are preparing for the possibility of violence and civil unrest in reaction to the impending Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, according to intelligence bulletins and other internal reports obtained by Yahoo News.

Authorities are on alert for fallout from the ruling, according to law enforcement documents and interviews with government officials tracking the potential threats. A February situational awareness bulletin produced by the Colorado Information Analysis Center warns that challenges to Roe v. Wade, specifically the Mississippi case that could lead to Roe’s reversal, may inspire civil unrest and violent incidents.

The Feb. 18 bulletin is dated days after the draft opinion dated Feb. 10 suggesting that the Supreme Court plans to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The leaked opinion, published Monday evening by Politico, sparked protests across the U.S. on Tuesday, including a violent clash between police and protesters in Los Angeles.

A police officer angrily stretches out his arm to push back a protester in a hoodie, with other demonstrators in the background.
Demonstrators confront police officers near Pershing Square in Los Angeles on May 3 after protesting at the U.S. Courthouse in response to a leaked draft of the Supreme Court's opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

The Colorado regional intelligence center shared the bulletin with local, state and federal law enforcement across the country via the Department of Homeland Security’s information-sharing platform.

“Law enforcement and public safety officials should anticipate an increase in abortion-related events, rallies, and protests with the potential for violence and criminal activity,” the bulletin said, “particularly leading up to and directly following the Supreme Court’s decision in the Mississippi case … expected by June 2022.”

A police officer draws back his baton inside an open gate surrounded by a group of demonstrators, some of whom are using their cellphones to shoot video of him.
A Los Angeles police officer is surrounded by a group of demonstrators near the Pershing Square protest. (Ringo H.W. Chiu/AP)

Another concern, the bulletin notes, is that abortion-related protests or counterprotests could attract other types of violent extremists “with motives unrelated to abortion, including groups or individuals interested in attacking large crowds.”

The bulletin includes statistics published by the National Abortion Federation on violence and disruptions against abortion providers in 2020, which noted an 125% increase in reports of assault and battery outside clinics from 2019 to 2020.

It highlights violent and nonviolent incidents across the country over the past year, including a Dec. 31, 2021, arson attack on a Planned Parenthood office in Knoxville, Tenn., and a reported bomb threat on Jan. 30, 2021, at an abortion clinic in Charlotte, N.C.

The Colorado Information Analysis Center declined Yahoo News’ request for comment.

Colorado experienced one of the most deadly abortion-related violent attacks in U.S. history in November 2015, when three people were killed and nine others injured in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs.

A U.S. government counterterrorism official involved in tracking potential threats in connection with the Supreme Court decision told Yahoo News that authorities are concerned the decision could inspire similar attacks against abortion providers.

A blonde young woman shouts at another young woman, as someone holds a bullhorn behind them. Photographers are capturing the scene, with the Supreme Court in the background.n.
Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists confront one another in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Building on May 3 in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“They had targets on their backs before, now it’s that much more,” said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss internal government concerns.

The official also told Yahoo News that a concerning uptick in disinformation associated with the Supreme Court decision has been noted, including online posts that maintain that the draft decision is already in effect. This could suggest that providing abortions is now illegal nationwide, which is not the case, and prompt attacks on such facilities.

DHS has been flagging online calls for violence against abortion providers in recent months. These include a January post by a suspected white supremacist calling on people to “actually bomb abortion mills” and “assasinate” medical providers.

The DHS raw intelligence report detailing the post was shared with nearly a dozen federal agencies, including the FBI, ATF and CIA.

DHS did not immediately respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

The FBI has been tracking extremists on both sides of the abortion issue for years.

“Abortion-related violent extremists seek to further their pro-life or pro-choice ideologies through the threat or use of force or violence against individuals or facilities which provide services in opposition of their beliefs,” notes the FBI Domestic Terrorism Reference Guide on Abortion-Related Extremists, which was widely circulated within the government in November 2021. A copy of the guide was obtained by Yahoo News.

“Pro-life extremists believe force or violence is necessary to save the lives of the unborn,” the guide said. “Pro-choice extremists believe it is their moral duty to protect those who provide or receive reproductive health care services.”

The FBI guide notes that the primary targets for anti-abortion extremists are reproductive health care providers or staff and any facility offering abortion services.

A woman holds up a sign saying: Justices who voted in support of overturning Roe vs. Wade, as another protester holds a sign saying BAD.
Nikki Tran, of Washington, holds up a sign showing photos of five Supreme Court justices, Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett and Neil Gorsuch, as demonstrators protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court on May 3, 2022. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The primary targets for pro-abortion extremists are people who interfere with reproductive health care services.

“Since 1993, there have been 11 murders by pro-life extremists. Pro-choice extremists have primarily used threats, harassment, and vandalism, but has not resulted in lethal violence,” the FBI guide states.

The FBI did not immediately return Yahoo News’ request for comment.

A senior DHS official said law enforcement is more concerned about potential violence from anti-abortion extremists but said that could change.

“Overturning Roe v. Wade is a big deal, and it’s going to get pretty intense on both sides, so that’s what we are trying to prepare for,” the official told Yahoo News. “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

In addition to Colorado, other states, including California, Virginia and New Jersey, are also tracking the Roe decision as a potential driver of extremist violence, according to recent local and state intelligence products obtained by Yahoo News.