US law against pro-life protesters has dangers, attorney warns

By Kevin J. Jones

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The Obama administration’s increased targeting of pro-life activists may be allowing hostile federal and state attorneys general to restrict peaceful pro-life activity outside abortion clinics.

They can use the federal powers of the FACE Act as “a tool to assist the abortion industry,” an attorney with the Thomas More Society has said.

Peter Breen, the Chicago-based society’s executive director, said there is an emerging pattern of attorneys general who take advantage of the civil components in the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. The lower standard of proof for civil lawsuits under the act can “restrict people from exercising their First Amendment rights outside of abortion clinics.”

The attorney general can ask to have an individual who committed an alleged assault at a clinic forced to remain a certain distance away from the location, as well as “everyone they associate with.”

“This can effectively end sidewalk counseling or even prayer vigils nearby a clinic entrance or near a clinic generally,” Breen told EWTN News in a May 5 interview.

One disruptive person can potentially ruin a whole organization. If one person can be prosecuted for violating the act, others with him or her can be prohibited from being within a certain distance from an abortion clinic “even though the others didn’t do anything wrong and had no reason to be restricted from being in front of the abortion clinic generally.”

Under President Obama, the Justice Department has taken a harder line against pro-life activists accused of trying to block access to clinics, the Associated Press reports. The department has sued at least six of them under a federal law.

Since President Obama’s inauguration lawsuits have been filed against a woman who blocked a car from entering a clinic in West Palm Beach, Fla.; a Texas man who threw his body across the door of a patient waiting area in San Antonio; and a Pennsylvania man who posted on the Internet the names and addresses of abortion providers, exhorting his readers to kill them.

Only one civil lawsuit took place under the George W. Bush administration, while 16 took place under President Bill Clinton. However, there were 18 criminal prosecutions under Bush, 37 under Clinton, and another six under Obama.

Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, has said protecting abortion providers is of the “utmost importance” and the Justice Department will continue to “aggressively enforce the FACE Act.”

Breen said it was “fine” to prosecute the use of force and threatened force. He did not know whether there are any more cases overall being brought under the Obama administration, but he thought the Bush administration prosecuted “stronger cases, criminal cases.”

He noted that the act was originally instituted to address the “Rescue” movement which blocked clinics in efforts to save unborn children and their mothers from abortion.

“This is the same kind of thing that Martin Luther King’s civil rights protesters did. They had sit-ins at lunch counters, things like that,” Breen said, who thought such peaceful action at abortion clinics should not be federal felonies.

“Yes it is against the law, yes it is a trespass. But in terms of making it a federal felony, that was overkill,” he said.

One of the latest FACE Act cases concerns a Kansas lawsuit filed against abortion opponent Angel Dillard who allegedly sent a threatening letter to an abortion doctor. Dillard wrote that thousands of people across the nation were watching the doctor and suggested she check under her car for explosives.

A federal judge has ruled that the letter was not a “true threat” because Dillard did not personally intend to harm the doctor.

Barry Grissom, U.S. attorney for Kansas, said that the Justice Department pursued a criminal case against Dillard because the legal standard for a preliminary injunction is lower than the “reasonable doubt” standard required for a criminal conviction.

Breen also cited the case of David Hamilton, who was accused of pushing a clinic escort in January 2010 and charged in court, where the case was dropped for lack of evidence.

After Hamilton moved to Texas, the U.S. attorney general sued him in Louisville, Kentucky seeking to prohibit him from being within a certain distance from the clinic in Louisville “where he doesn’t even live.”

This incident suggests how a federal attorney can use even a false allegation to restrict “legitimate sidewalk activity outside of an abortion clinic,” Breen told EWTN News.

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