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Webster Says FBI’s Hands Tied

March 13, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ FBI Director William Webster said Tuesday his agents cannot investigate alleged harassment against abortion clinics because none of the reported cases involves apparent civil rights violations.

Webster, testifying before the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, said the Justice Department advised him the FBI has no basis to enter cases where clinic operators and patients have been threatened on the telephone or outside abortion centers by protesters.

″There is no defined right under the civil rights acts themselves that match up with what is happening in these situations,″ Webster said under questioning from Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo.

″The department continues to review those situations and if there’s a change of view or change of facts, we will certainly be advised and we will act.″

But Mrs. Schroeder was skeptical of that explanation and asked Webster what must occur before a violation of civil rights is considered to have taken place.

″With respect to the civil rights acts themselves, it must fall within an invidious class discrimination of some kind - one that’s already been defined and recognized,″ Webster replied.

″And you would not consider women a class?″ Mrs. Schroeder asked. ″It seems to me pretty clear that division is responsible for defining what his agents can do in abortion harassment cases.

″The civil rights division advised that the right to have an abortion was not protected under the provisions of the statute concerning conspiracy against rights of citizens,″ he said. ″The only possible violation may be if the object of the conspiracy may be to interfere with the interstate travel of someone who is seeking treatment at an abortion clinic.″

Subcommittee Chairman Don Edwards, D-Calif., said he believed federal officials should intervene in harassment cases under a federal statute prohibiting the action of ″two or more persons who seek to oppress, threaten and intimidate others.″

Webster said the FBI’s only role in the abortion controversy has been to help the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms investigate some cases of violence against abortion clinics.

″FBI laboratory personnel have exchanged information with ATF’s personnel, and our identification division has provided fingerprint information to them,″ he said.

″Our bomb data center has disseminated the details of these bombings to other law enforcement agencies in an effort to determine if similarities exist in other bombing investigations,″ he added.

ATF Director Stephen E. Higgins told the subcommittee he believes there is no conspiracy connecting the 32 cases of abortion clinic bombings and arson fires investigated since 1982.

″In none of our studies could we find any evidence of any common motive other than the people who did it were against abortion,″ Higgins said.

Webster said one link may be ″a potential copy-cat syndrome affecting people who are on the fringe.″

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