A federal appeals court ruled against 13 pro-life activists on Wednesday, stating that a federal law and state law that protect abortionists and women entering abortion facilities from threats does not violate the pro-lifers’ constitutional right to free speech.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the New York attorney general’s office regarding the case, which dates back to 2017 when then-attorney general Eric Schneiderman filed a lawsuit alleging that by speaking to women entering Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens, NY, the pro-life activists were violating federal, state, and city laws that guarantee access to abortion. He claimed that the activists were attempting to block the entrance to the facility with 3-by-5 foot signs of images of aborted babies. He also claimed that the pro-lifers made death threats against the abortion business escorts. In his lawsuit, Schneiderman requested a preliminary injunction against the activists and asked that a 16-foot “buffer zone” (a space in which pro-lifers are banned from interacting with abortion clients) be created around the abortion facility.
In July 2018, U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon rejected those requests, stating that the attorney general “failed to show” that any of the 13 pro-life activists “had the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm” any of the clinic’s patients or the abortion facility escorts.
“The interactions on the sidewalk outside Choices were generally quite short, and there is no credible evidence that any protester disregarded repeated requests to be left alone over an extended period or changed his or her tone or message in response to requests to be left alone in a way that suggested an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm,” Amon said in her decision.
Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for the then-Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood, said they would be appealing that ruling. Now, the appeals court has sided with the attorney general’s office in a 2-1 majority, stating that New York would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction against the pro-life activists.
Circuit Judge Rosemary Pooler said that the federal law protecting abortionists is broad by design “given the health risks women needing reproductive care face because of the increased stress, anxiety, and agitation” from pro-life activists. Yet there is no evidence that women face “health risks” because of the mere presence of pro-lifers near abortion facilities.
However, most pro-life activists are present outside of abortion businesses in order to offer support and services to women even as they plead with them to reconsider abortion. Many women who have been the recipients of that support have come forward to share their gratitude for pro-lifers who maintain a presence on the sidewalks outside abortion facilities.
Appeals court Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston dissented, stating that creating buffer zones around the abortion business is an act of “suppression of legitimate First Amendment activity.”
The case has been returned to Judge Amon.
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