The patch of pavement outside Choices Women’s Medical Centre in Queens, New York has been overrun with aggressive anti-abortion protesters for years. These protesters hold graphic signs, scream at patients, film them, and attempt to block their entrance to the clinic. This week, those protesters will face charges under the Federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE).
The lawsuit names 14 individuals and was brought back in June by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who had been investigating the protests for a year.
“The tactics used to harass and menace Choices’ patients, families, volunteers, and staff are not only horrifying – they’re illegal,” said Attorney General Schneiderman in a statement. “The law guarantees women the right to control their own bodies and access the reproductive health care they need, without obstruction. We’ll do what it takes to protect those rights for women across New York.”
A video of the protesters in action can be seen here.
Schneiderman is charging the coalition of protesters with violating the FACE Act, a little-used piece of legislation that was specifically created in response to the harassment of women entering clinics providing abortions. It was signed into law in 1994 by Bill Clinton in the wake of escalating violence that came to head with the 1993 murder of Dr. David Gunn outside a Pensacola, FL clinic and the attempted murder of that same year of a doctor outside his clinic in Wichita, KS clinic.
The Act lays out some pretty clear ground rules:
“This Act prohibits the use or threat of force and physical obstruction that injures, intimidates, or interferes with a person seeking to obtain or provide reproductive health services or to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship. It also prohibits intentional property damage of a facility providing reproductive health services or a place of religious worship.”
That being said, FACE does not prohibit protesting outside of abortion clinics, which is protected by the First Amendment. The reported underuse of the FACE act may be due at least in part to a perceived delicate balance between the right to free speech and the right to reproductive health care (Obama did better than Bush, but the numbers are still low).
In the lawsuit being heard this week, Schneiderman is pursuing injunctive relief and damages, and is also seeking to prohibit the defendants from protesting within 16 feet of the Choices clinic.
(Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)