Attacks on crisis pregnancy centers must stop, Padden says

Kenmore incident is fifth in Washington state – senator calls for law enforcement efforts, recognition of free-speech rights

OLYMPIA – Crisis pregnancy centers, facing attacks nationwide from elected officials by day and from activists armed with Molotov cocktails by night, deserve the full protection of the law, says Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley.

Some 59 attacks have been carried out against crisis pregnancy centers nationwide since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Center was leaked in advance on May 2. Vandalism and destruction have accelerated since the decision was formally released on June 24.

Five of those attacks have taken place in Washington state, in Everett, Federal Way, Lynnwood, Vancouver – and most recently in Kenmore, over the Fourth of July weekend. The attacks follow a similar pattern – smashed windows, attempted arson via Molotov cocktail, and graffiti – often repeating the same intimidating phrase, “If abortion isn’t safe, you aren’t either.”

At the same time, crisis pregnancy centers have become a focus for elected officials angered by the Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and returned the abortion issue to state legislatures. The pregnancy centers, often operated with church support, advise expectant mothers on alternatives to abortion. About 50 of them operate in Washington state.

“I understand some are upset about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case,” Padden said. “Unfortunately, they are venting their rage on innocent third parties, people who believe passionately in the right to life. Crisis pregnancy centers have done great good in enabling thousands of women to make an informed decision to give birth. The violent attacks and destruction of property are troubling, but what is truly terrifying are the attempts to misuse the power of government to muzzle those wish to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech.”

The Massachusetts Legislature, one of several that meet during the summer, is considering a bill that would provide $1 million for a public-information campaign designed to discredit crisis pregnancy centers. A bill before Congress would give the Federal Trade Commission broad authority to dictate what crisis pregnancy centers are allowed to say, and levy unusually large fines for transgressions. The efforts come despite a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a California law compelling crisis pregnancy centers to provide referrals to abortion clinics.

“The vandalism and destruction we are seeing is a hate crime in everything except the legal sense,” Padden said. “In our state, we define a hate crime as an assault motivated by race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. But Washington’s hate-crime statute does not offer protections for groups defined by their beliefs. That’s something we might consider in an upcoming legislative session.

“There have been so many attacks in recent weeks that only the naïve would see them as isolated incidents. Law enforcement agencies should give these crimes a priority and investigate the possibility of coordination.

“We should be just as vigilant against attempts at official harassment. We are seeing efforts elsewhere to restrict crisis pregnancy centers to government-approved messages. In this state, such a bill was introduced in 2011, and it will meet with fierce resistance if it is introduced again.

“Washington needs to take a hard line against hatred and intolerance. This is America. We don’t persecute people for their beliefs, and we should never start.”