Pro-lifers claim accusations prompting local California buffer zone ordinance are false

planned parenthood

The City Council of Walnut Creek, California, is considering enacting a buffer zone ordinance around that city’s Planned Parenthood “to address concerns related to patient access of the … facility,” according to the city attorney’s Agenda Report on the issue. The exact details of the proposed buffer zone are yet to be determined. 

The Agenda Report cites several alleged reasons why such an ordinance is potentially necessary, primarily: “protest[e]rs’ aggressive behavior, the parking lot being blocked, patients and staff being photographed or filmed by protest[e]rs, and being harassed by protest[e]rs upon entering or exiting the facility.” 

But are pro-life sidewalk advocates and those who gather to pray actually guilty?

The report cites only three specific incidents of alleged misconduct: 

On March 13, 2020, a protest[e]r was arrested after confronting and yelling at employees, volunteers and patient family members inside of the Planned Parenthood. Also, on October 13, 2020, private security guards hired by 40 Days for Life pepper sprayed protest[e]rs amidst a disturbance … On June 1, 2021, pro-life protest[e]rs were filming a male and female attempting to enter Planned Parenthood, protest[e]rs called the couple obscene names and a physical altercation ensued between the male and two protest[e]rs. 

According to Don Blythe from At the Well Ministries, who was present at Planned Parenthood on March 13, it is true that one of the pro-lifers behaved inappropriately by going into the facility and speaking harshly to the people inside. However, according to Blythe, this man was not a vetted member of any of the established teams who gather there. Blythe says the sidewalk advocates present that day apologized for the man’s behavior, attempted to explain that they did not endorse his tactics and that his behavior was not representative of their respective groups, and assured facility security that the man would not be allowed back — a promise which has been kept.

READ: Two women suffer medical emergencies within a week at California

The October 13 incident, similarly, is true — private security guards hired by 40 Days for Life did use pepper spray against four pro-abortion counter-protesters who were causing a disturbance. It should be noted, however, that this action was not provoked or performed by the sidewalk advocates themselves, but rather by the guards, who acted on their own.

Which begs the question: why were the guards there? For what reason did 40 Days for Life feel it was necessary to hire security?

Incidents like the one on June 1 — also cited in the city attorney’s report, but not accurately described, according to witness Sophia Gavino — shed light on the answer. Gavino, who provided limited video of the altercation, says one of the members of her team “kindly and respectfully called out to [the woman of the couple in question] to say ‘we have resources to help you.’” He did not call anyone “obscene names,” as alleged. At that point, she said:

[The woman’s] husband got out of the car, yelling and irate. He wanted to know who was talking to his wife. When our team member said “that was me, sir” the man was 2 inches from [the advocate’s] face, screaming at him. … Some of the other men from a different pro-life group came to try and protect our team member. When the irate husband saw a [camera] on one pro-lifer’s chest, he ripped it off, threw it across the parking lot, and then physically assaulted the man.

Why do the sidewalk advocates carry cameras and take videos? Perhaps because they are routinely subjected to behavior like this:

The videos taken by the sidewalk advocates are not publicly distributed, and are only used in their own defense, or to help apprehend perpetrators of violence against them. 

The same cannot be said, however, for the pro-abortion side. For example, a local pro-abortion amateur photographer who has frequented the Walnut Creek Planned Parenthood has publicly published both still images and videos of advocates, some of which mention individuals’ names. One video clearly evidences him photographing  a license plate, as well, an accusation that is made — without evidence — against the sidewalk advocates in the city attorney’s Agenda Report.

Indeed, most of the charges made against the pro-life side seem, in actuality, to be true of their opponents. Regarding the charge of blocking the entrance and impeding traffic, portions of several pro-abortion videos are shot from the middle of the street on which the facility is located, and photos show abortion supporters, including facility escorts, blocking the parking lot entrance:

Abortion supporters block parking lot entrance at Walnut Creek PP

Amateur photographer and other abortion supporters block entrance to Walnut Creek PP

Pro-abortion photographer blocks Walnut Creek PP driveway

Facility escorts block Walnut Creek PP driveway

Facility escorts stand in driveway at Walnut Creek PP

No evidence has been provided to support the charge that the sidewalk advocates have impeded the free flow of traffic to and from the facility — and, according to Blythe, there are cameras on all sides of this particular Planned Parenthood, so if any such activity were taking place, there should be ample video evidence.

As for charges of harassment and intimidation, with the exception of the two anomalous incidents cited in the Agenda Report, there is no evidence of advocates engaging in such behavior. However, in addition to the videos already presented, there is abundant testimony of abuse against sidewalk advocates.

For example, Don Blythe and Pastor James Cook of Lighthouse Baptist Church both recounted incidents in which a facility employee parked her car with the tailpipe pointing toward the advocates — then turned on her engine and walked away, allowing the car to run for 90 minutes or longer, forcing pro-lifers to breathe her exhaust.

Pastor Cook also related an incident wherein he was told by the boyfriend of one Planned Parenthood client: “I am going to take care of you and then take my time raping those two daughters of yours.” His daughters are aged 8 and 10. “He got as close as chest to chest and was trying to provoke an action from me, so I would look like the aggressor,” said Pastor Cook. “When the police showed up they said there was no law broken.”

READ: California Planned Parenthood with history of injuries botches another abortion

Clearly, if anyone needs additional protection, it is the sidewalk advocates who are simply offering resources, engaging in dialogue, and exercising their First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled against the arbitrary and overbroad imposition of buffer zones surrounding abortion facilities. In McCullen v. Coakley, the Court ruled that a civil authority must “seriously undert[ake] to address these various problems with the less intrusive tools readily available” before resorting to buffer zone legislation — in other words, all other potential solutions must have failed before a buffer zone can be put in place. 

The fact that incidents such as that which happened to Pastor Cook have not resulted in so much as an arrest, much less prosecution, proves that Walnut Creek has not yet made a serious attempt to solve the real problems happening outside their Planned Parenthood facility — a facility that has a history of injuring women in abortions.

Sidewalk advocates have expressed their intention to oppose any attempt to impose a buffer zone at Walnut Creek’s Planned Parenthood to the full extent of the law. 

Editor’s Note: Photos provided in this article were taken by various local pro-life advocates and are used with permission.

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