Pro-life counselors from Brooklyn's Church@TheRock who offered to help women who wanted to get an abortion are seeking the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to re-hear their dispute in New York. The appeal comes after judges from the court had backtracked and accused them of "physical obstruction" when they hand out leaflets outside abortion clinics under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act or FACE Act.
According to the judges, these pro-life counselors can be charged for violating the FACE Act when they a patient has to "deviate slightly from their path" or is delayed by "one second" or has to "walk around" a counselor on their way to an abortion clinic.
In protest against abortion, pro-lifers had made it a mission to picket outside abortion clinics to provide help for women who may still be on the fence about their decision. In 2017, however, pro-lifers outside the Choices Women's Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens in New York were said to use "verbal abuse, threats of violence and lies about the clinic's hours to keep patients from receiving reproductive health care services," Attorney General Eric Schneiderman claimed in his lawsuit at the Brooklyn Federal Court, the New York Daily News reported at the time.
The lawsuit claimed that pregnant women seeking services from abortion clinics such as Choices Women's Medical Center made it inside in a "traumatized condition," "shaking and crying" from the harrassment they experienced from pro-lifers seeking to change their minds about their decision.
According to the New York Times, the lawsuit against 13 pro-lifers requested to issue a preliminary injunction against protests and create a 16-foot buffer zone around the abortion clinic. However, the ruling denied the request for injunction, as the attorney general's office failed to provide evidence that the 13 pro-lifers had an "intent to harass, annoy, or alarm" pregnant women seeking abortion services.
Thomas More Society, defending the counselors from Church@TheRock, explained that the counselors were "peacefully counseling women" to offer "information about abortion alternatives" as they approached the abortion center. This action, per the legal experts, were well within the counselors' First Amendment Rights.
Most recently, however, the court seems to have changed its mind despite the accuser's failure to produce evidence supporting the accusations against the pro-life counselors. According to WND, "judges from the court went rogue" and invoked the FACE Act to criminalize pro-lifers act of giving leaflets to pregnant women outside abortion clinics.
Legal experts at Thomas More Society explained that "A person commits 'harassment' under a local ordinance if she continues speaking, even for a moment, with a person who has indicated even implicitly that he or she does not welcome the message."
"The court decided that such an implicit indication has occurred where a person remains silent or declines to receive printed information," they argued. Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton added that "The FACE Act specifically exempts constitutionally protected advocacy from its prohibitions."
Crampton argued that the attorney general's case "consisted in prosecution for just such protected expressive activity," which the court agreed to. Attorney Schneiderman was later forced out of office after a sexual abuse scandal, but the fight was not over for their party as his successors continued to persecute pro-lifers who just wanted to provide support for pregnant women outside abortion clinics.
Pro-lifers are now confused as to why the court has seemed to have changed stances regarding the abortion issue, taking on a "radical pro-abortion agenda." Crampton warned that if pro-lifers are continuously silenced, abortion clinics will become emboldened to use the FACE Act to persecute them.