A South Carolina man named Rodney Allen has been arrested and charged with calling in a fake bomb threat to a Jacksonville, Florida, health clinic in order to prevent a woman he was formerly in a relationship with from obtaining an abortion.
According to a sworn affidavit submitted in federal court last month by FBI Special Agent Robert W. Blythe, these events took place after Allen allegedly sexually assaulted the woman—identified in the affidavit only as A.S.—which resulted in her becoming pregnant. A.S. also alleged that Allen was physically abusive, and had threatened to kill multiple members of her family. The case, USA v Allen, is still in process in a Florida district court. (Blythe did not respond to VICE’s request for comment.)
A.S. had made nearly a dozen attempts to make an appointment to end the pregnancy, scheduling visits at clinics in North Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. But each time, a person believed to be Allen called the clinics on her behalf and canceled them. Clinic personnel told Blythe they believe that, in addition to Allen apparently having access to records of A.S.’s phone calls and text messages, Allen had obtained A.S.’s patient code, allowing him to call the health centers and change her appointments without her consent as an “authorized party.”
A.S. was finally able to secure an appointment for an abortion on August 29, at a clinic in Jacksonville. On that day, Allen escalated his tactics: He allegedly called the clinic nine times, and even called the health center’s owner on her cell phone. He placed an additional seven calls to other Jacksonville abortion clinics. During one call, Allen told a staffer who answered the phone that A.S. had brought a weapon into the clinic. A little more than an hour later, he called again to alert the staff that someone was “coming to the clinic to blow it up”; he just wanted to let them know “ahead of time.” He also allegedly canceled the hotel reservation A.S. had made in order to obtain the abortion. (VICE has also reached out to Allen’s attorney.)
Clinic staff filled out internal forms detailing the threats, temporarily suspended operations and contacted local authorities, who searched the property. The next day, Blythe also swept the premises, along with two other federal officials. In the coming weeks, federal authorities conducted multiple interviews with A.S. and Allen, resulting in his arrest on September 25. Court documents do not indicate whether or not A.S. was able to obtain an abortion.
He faces one criminal charge for making a threat by phone, and another for “interference with access to reproductive health care services.” The latter is not only a federal crime under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, but it’s also a form of abuse known as reproductive coercion, which includes practices such as heavily monitoring a partner’s menstrual cycle, destroying or tampering with their birth control, and pressuring them to get pregnant. As many as one in four women ages 18 to 45 experience reproductive coercion in their lifetimes.
The case against Allen shows how clinic threats and reproductive coercion can operate in tandem to terrorize both patients and staff.
Reproductive coercion usually doesn’t occur in isolation. It often involves other forms of abuse as well, such as intimate partner violence or sexual violence, which A.S. alleges she experienced in the case against Allen.
“Sexual coercion is a type of reproductive coercion,” said Jamila Perritt, the vice chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and an OB/GYN in Washington D.C. “These are behaviors to maintain power and control.”
A December 2018 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that some 2.9 million American women experienced rape-related pregnancy at some point in their lives. Women who get pregnant as the result of being raped by an intimate partner are more likely to have experienced reproductive coercion as compared to women who were raped by an intimate partner but did not get pregnant.
“Our findings suggest that intimate partner reproductive coercion may be the reason why some of the women who are raped by an intimate partner become pregnant,” Kathleen Basile, a senior scientist at the CDC’s division of violence prevention, and a lead author of the study, told VICE.
Not much is known, however, about when and how reproductive coercion can lead to harassment of abortion clinics and the people who work there. Though instances of clinic harassment are well-documented, it’s difficult to track the motivation behind them. Still, there’s some anecdotal evidence to suggest it’s not entirely uncommon for the two to be connected.
Katharine Ragsdale, the interim president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), a group that publishes an annual report on clinic harassment, said in her decades of leading abortion rights organizations, she’s heard of many instances of reproductive coercion factoring into clinic harassment.
“We’ve seen instances of people calling a clinic multiple times to cancel their partners’ appointments,” Ragsdale said. If someone wants to stop their partner from getting an abortion, she continued, “they might do that by locking her up, or threatening her. But if they’re unable to control them, they might try to shut down their access to the clinic: bombing it, setting fire to it.”
Watch More from VICE:
Allen’s alleged threats to the reproductive health center are part of a surge in clinic violence that has occurred since President Donald Trump took office. According to NAF’s 2018 report on anti-abortion violence and disruption, instances of death threats and threats of harm rose to 1,388 in 2018, more than triple the number from 2015.
Ragsdale said it makes sense that a person who holds extreme anti-abortion beliefs might consider acting on them if someone in their life is considering an abortion—especially if they’ve already tried to exert power over their reproductive decisions.
“An anti-choice person might get especially triggered when someone they love or feel like they ought to control wants an abortion,” Ragsdale said. “So their anti-choice extremist [ideologies] get played out when something hits close to home.”
Do you have a story you want to tell us? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Marie Solis at email@example.com or, for a secure email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Experts say there’s still a lot left to learn about reproductive coercion and how it can present in people’s lives. Basile said her CDC research team is now studying how reproductive coercion intersects with race and ethnicity; the team is also exploring different approaches for identifying and preventing sexual violence and intimate partner violence in order to decrease rape-related pregnancies.
In the meantime, providers are using the methods at their disposal to screen patients for reproductive coercion. Perritt of ACOG said one of the most effective ways she’s helped patients is by asking flat-out: Do you need to hide your birth control from anyone?
When one patient said yes recently, she and Perritt were able to determine together that her best option was an IUD. Perritt said she was able to trim the string so the patient’s partner—who had been pressuring her to have another child with him in addition to physically abusing her—couldn’t detect it.
“This conversation only came to light because I screened her for reproductive coercion,” Perritt said. “Screening for reproductive coercion is part of implementing trauma care frameworks into the care-delivery space. And that involves centering the person that’s in front of us, and meeting the needs of that person in that moment.”
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Marie Solis on Twitter.
Stressed Students, Bridesmaids Drama, And More: An Advice Column From A Total Amateur
Hi! A while ago I asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell me a problem they’re having, so that I — a person with absolutely zero professional qualifications to help anyone — could give them advice. So, here are the results! NBC 1. “Dear Andy,I have NO idea where I should go to school… I’m applying…
Hi! A while ago I asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell me a problem they’re having, so that I — a person with absolutely zero professional qualifications to help anyone — could give them advice. So, here are the results!
I have NO idea where I should go to school… I’m applying to 12 schools, 10 on the west coast and two in BC. I’m a high achieving student (I’m in five AP classes, president of two clubs, volunteering and a job, etc.) and I don’t want to go somewhere that’s all about the pressure, but I still want a high quality education. I’m so lost, help!”
—The Overwhelmed Student
You posted this just to dunk on all of us academically, didn’t you?
Kidding. In all seriousness, you can get a very good education at a bunch of different schools. And when you’re done, you’ll have a degree that probably nobody will ever verify! In my completely amateur opinion, the only reason people think the “Ivy League” schools are better is because a lot of wealthy, well-connected people go there (and have gone there), and therefore when you graduate from one, you’re more likely to get in at some fancy law firm or whatever because of your connections. So if you aren’t planning on being like, IDK, the CFO of Waystar Royco or something, just pick the school that you really want to go to. Where are you going to be happy living? Is one of the schools in a city you already want to move to and/or the city that has jobs in your future profession? Is it important for you to be close to home? How many Wendy’s are there on campus, and do they carry Spicy Nuggets? These are the questions you should be asking.
Oh, wait, actually…forget all that. Go to the school that will cost the least when you factor in tuition, room & board, and any scholarships you might get. Student loans are a curse and you want as little of them as possible. In the end, you might not even end up doing the thing you studied in college. Wanna know what degree I have? A BFA in Theater Performance. An acting degree. And now here I am, writing for a website. You’ll be fine.
I got married this summer, and I decided to choose only family to be my bridesmaids. For me this included three female cousins and my (now) sister-in-law. My husband, on the other hand, decided to do a mix of family as well as friends from high school for his groomsmen. I had no problem with this at all.
I had a few friends who I knew would expect to be bridesmaids, so I made it clear to them from the very beginning that I would be choosing family only as to not have a huge wedding party, but I told them they were not any less important to me and that I still wanted them to be involved in the wedding as much as they felt comfortable with. Most of the friends I had this conversation with were very understanding, however one straight up told me that she was disappointed (this was two years before the wedding).
Now it’s been a few months since I got married and this friend (a friend from childhood) started talking about the wedding. She told me she felt left out of the wedding since she wasn’t part of the wedding party. It particularly bothered her that my husband included friends and I didn’t. She then proceeded to tell me that it was difficult for her to be there the day of my wedding because of these feelings. AT MY WEDDING. She also included the fact that she didn’t want to upset me and that it doesn’t change our friendship. But if that is the case then why say anything in the first place? I’ve already said one too many times the reason for my bridesmaid choices and how important she is to me regardless. And she says she understands. I just wish she would let it go. Ever since this conversation I feel like I’ve been seeing her in a whole new light.
I do care about her feelings, but I stick by my decision and I don’t regret anything. I feel like I’ve done everything I can to make her feel better.”
—The Besieged Bride
[TL;DR: Bride had only family as bridesmaids, groom had some friends in the mix, bride’s childhood friend felt left out and complained about it a few months after the wedding.]
Question one: How drunk was your friend when she brought this up to you? If she was like, a 6 or more out of 10, I say let’s give it a pass and hope she got it out of her system.
Question two: Has your friend had a wedding of her own yet? If yes, then she should’ve understood the situation, because wedding planning is a special kind of hell and inevitably you have to make difficult decisions like this one that might hurt people’s feelings. So if you’ve planned your own wedding, you know the deal and you’re able to say to yourself, “It’s their wedding, I’m just going to be supportive and have fun.” If she hasn’t gotten married yet, she’ll realize later that it was totally inappropriate to complain about this to you. Hopefully.
I have been taking so many of the relationship quizzes on BuzzFeed but they all say I’m single. The major problem is I have an S.O. Is she just faking or am I?? Help me!! Is my girlfriend not actually mine or are we real?”
—The Quizzical Quiz-Taker
You’re not real. This is all a simulation.
—Andy (or am I?)
I’m not sure where to live. I live in Milwaukee, WI, right now. Moved here three years ago for school, but that fell through because Milwaukee is friggin expensive. My family wants me to move back to the other side of the state, towards Minneapolis/St. Paul. What should I do?”
—Meandering the Midwest
Get the fuck out of there, it’s so cold! Listen, I used to live in Michigan, and it was depressing because it was grey and miserable nine months out of the year. Now I live in Southern California, it’s sunny and beautiful and my vitamin D levels are through the roof. Migrate south, seriously.
But if you HAVE to stay, I will say that everybody who lives in Minneapolis seems to LOVE Minneapolis for some reason.
My problem is that I struggle with feeling attractive. I started taking birth control when my boyfriend and I started dating (six years ago). I started gaining the weight right after. I’m now a size 12 and my boyfriend is a slender guy. I haven’t felt attractive in the last year. I gained so much weight at one point I was a size 16. I’m back to a 12 and trying to lose weight again. I don’t feel sexy or beautiful in any way. I prefer to keep my shirt on during sex now. I don’t know why my boyfriend still finds me attractive. I have a tummy, I have rolls when I sit down, I just don’t know what he sees anymore. Any advice you could give me would be much appreciated.”
—Struggling With Size
First off, don’t worry about your boyfriend. Clearly he finds you attractive, and when you actually care about someone, the size tags on their clothes don’t matter to you at all. Appreciate that fact and find some security there.
Now, consider the possibility that if your boyfriend finds you attractive at any size, you can too! It’s not easy. It requires shedding every bit of toxic influence that the media and our society overall has thrown at you for your entire life. That takes time and work.
But if you are worried about your physical health at all, consult a doctor. There are many different types of birth control and like 40 different pills, and everyone reacts to each one differently. It can take time to find the right one, and not every doctor is going to be helpful about it. Advocate for yourself if you’re unhappy with your medication. You may have done all of this already and I’m just sitting here mansplaining BC to you, but if so at least you can cross that off your Mansplaining Bingo Card.
That’s it for this week. But if you’re having a problem that you need advice about, let me know! It could be anything: petty arguments that you need a judge to decide who was right and who was wrong, help making life decisions, relationship issues — I’m your completely unqualified man. Email email@example.com (for total anonymity) or leave a comment here!