Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 31, Issue 6, pp 611–627 | Cite as

The Impact of State Laws Protecting Abortion Clinics and Reproductive Rights on Crimes Against Abortion Providers: Deterrence, Backlash, or Neither?

Original Research


Since Roe v. Wade, most states have passed laws either restricting or further protecting reproductive rights. During a wave of anti-abortion violence in the early 1990s, several states also enacted legislation protecting abortion clinics, staff, and patients. One hypothesis drawn from the theoretical literature predicts that these laws provide a deterrent effect and thus fewer anti-abortion crimes in states that protect clinics and reproductive rights. An alternative hypothesis drawn from the literature expects a backlash effect from radical members of the movement and thus more crimes in states with protective legislation. We tested these competing hypotheses by taking advantage of unique data sets that gauge the strength of laws protecting clinics and reproductive rights and that provide self-report victimization data from clinics. Employing logistic regression and controlling for several potential covariates, we found null effects and thus no support for either hypothesis. The null findings were consistent across a number of different types of victimization. Our discussion contextualizes these results in terms of previous research on crimes against abortion providers, discusses alternative explanations for the null findings, and considers the implications for future policy development and research.


Abortion Violence Deterrence Domestic terrorism Political crime 



The authors thank Katherine Spillar, Kimberly Lonsway, and Elizabeth Koenig for preparing and providing access to the database on crimes against abortion clinics, and John Donohue for comments and critiques of an earlier draft. The first author thanks the Davis Center at Harvard University, where he was a Research Fellow when this article was written.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana UniversityDepartment of Criminal JusticeBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.John Jay College of Criminal JusticeDepartment of SociologyNew YorkUSA

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