California is providing $20 million in grants to abortion facilities statewide to strengthen their physical and digital security. Even before Roe v. Wade was overturned by the US Supreme Court last summer statistics from the National Abortion Federation show that incidents of violence against staff and disruption to clinic operations have increased in the last 10 years.
Last November, Californian voters agreed to a change the right to abortion is enshrined in the country’s constitution. But Brian Ferguson, spokesman for the state’s Office of Emergency Services, says rising hostility nationally has led to a surge in online threats from violent domestic extremists.
“Some of these threats come true, some don’t,” he said. In the past, he says, the state has grants made available for places of worship and other places that may be threatened, but this is the first time they’ve made them available specifically for reproductive health facilities.
Increasing the protection of sites may include adding short vertical barriers, fences or gates to improve physical security, Ferguson said, as well as adding malware, password protection and training to improve digital security.
“The threats we face in 2023 and beyond are no longer just physical threats,” he said. “There are cybersecurity threats, and in many cases there are [abortion] Vendors are not that mature in some of their operations.”
The National Abortion Federation has nearly 500 members from abortion providers in the United States, Canada, Colombia and Mexico City. In 2021, they tracked more than 120 attacks on clinic attendants, staff, patients and their attendants, up from 54 in 2020. Stalking, invasions (where someone enters the building under false pretenses and refuses to leave) and dispatching suspicious packages also increased significantly.
Data is less available for cyberattacks or digital surveillance, although Planned Parenthood and other abortion service providers say they have faced it these types of security breaches for years.
Ferguson said it’s imperative to keep patient and doctor information private, adding that this need has been expressed by providers “for some time”.
Bill Budington, a technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights law firm and advocacy group, argued that there should be better laws at both the state and federal levels to limit the amount of data collected by third parties.
“Bad actors can either be states that deny abortion rights, or private actors – individuals, groups – that try to make it harder for abortion seekers,” he said.
Some states, like Texas, allow civil lawsuits of people who want abortions, even though California says it won’t help those prosecutions. Budington says when private data isn’t adequately protected, providers and customers are vulnerable to attacks.
“The landscape is changing,” Budington said, referring to Roe’s tipping over. “There is so much open space. It is almost new territory for adversarial prosecutors in pro-abortion states to seek and gain their own political advantage.”
According to California Abortion Access Websitethere are currently 165 clinics that offer abortion care in the state, including five that offer abortions in Sacramento County.
According to the interest group and political organization of the Guttmacher Institute, 152,400 abortions were performed 2020 carried out in the state.
Abortion providers can apply for government grants online at caloes.ca.gov.
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