Justice Department taking tougher stance against abortion protestors

As reported last week by NPR:

The Obama Justice Department has been taking a more aggressive approach against people who block access to abortion clinics, using a 1994 law to bring cases in greater numbers than its predecessor.

The numbers are most stark when it comes to civil lawsuits, which seek to create buffer zones around clinic entrances for people who have blocked access in the past. Under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, the Justice Department’s civil rights division has filed eight civil cases since the start of the Obama administration. That’s a big increase over the George W. Bush years, when one case was filed in eight years.

“There’s been a substantial difference between this administration and the one immediately prior,” says Ellen Gertzog, director of security for Planned Parenthood. “From where we sit, there’s currently much greater willingness to carefully assess incidents when they occur and to proceed with legal action when appropriate.”

A few blocks from the White House, outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington, D.C., Dick Retta has reported for duty in a blue windbreaker, khaki pants belted high and brown shoes with thick soles. He’s carrying rosary beads and a packet of brochures filled with information about the dangers of abortion.

“Please don’t let them take your child’s life. You don’t have to. We can and will help you. Don’t let them take your child’s life. Let us help you,” Retta says to a woman entering the clinic.

That front door shuts in his face. But Retta says he’s not deterred by that, or by a civil lawsuit the Justice Department filed against him in July. Authorities claim Retta violated the FACE Act by blocking a patient early this year — following her for 35 feet and standing in front of the door.

Retta disputes the allegations.

“We don’t block women from coming in. That’s not our policy,” he says. “I teach it. I teach what I’m doing … and I say one thing: Never block the women from going in. Never.”

Retta, who has seven children and 11 grandkids, says he is moved by his Catholic faith to do what he calls sidewalk counseling. Retta says he has gotten pushed around outside the clinic, too. He says he was standing by the gate and a woman sprayed him with pepper spray in July, putting him “out of commission” for a while.

The volunteers who escort women into the clinic sometimes tussle with Retta as well. When he complains that the 20-something women pushed him, one responds: “Well, you’re putting yourself, you’re putting yourself next to the patients.”

Retta says showing up at the clinic, which he does about two days a week, “just seems to be a thing I have to do.”

“I have First Amendment rights to offer women information,” he says. “I have a right to talk to the women.”

A judge has yet to rule in Retta’s case.

Read the rest.

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12 responses to “Justice Department taking tougher stance against abortion protestors”

  1. Obama may be prosecuting, but the courts are not on his side. I have a good friend and pro-life activist, Rev. Walter Hoye (Baptist), who was arrested in Oakland, California, for violating the so-called “bubble zone”, by standing to the side of the door and telling women that Jesus loves them, and that there are other options. Walter did time for this ‘violation’.

    However, the notoriously uber-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals saw that Rev. Hoye was unjustly and selectively targeted. Here is a summation from Rev. Hoye’s site:

    SAN FRANCISCO, July 29, 2011 /Christian Newswire/ — Late yesterday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Hoye v. Oakland, the case in which Pastor Walter Hoye challenged Oakland’s “bubble zone” ordinance as an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. In the 3-0 opinion authored by Circuit Judge Marsha S. Berzon, the court stated, “We agree with Hoye that there are grave constitutional problems with the manner in which the City has understood and enforced its Ordinance.”

    The court reversed the district court’s determination that the ordinance is valid as the city applies it, because the City discriminates in enforcing the ordinance against Hoye but not other speakers. The City only prosecutes persons for “approaching” women within the “bubble zone” if they are trying to persuade the woman not to have the abortion. Clinic “escorts” and others “facilitating” the women entering the clinic can approach and give the women whatever message they want — often urging women to ignore Pastor Hoye. While Pastor Hoye has scrupulously followed the law, he has suffered arrest, prosecution and imprisonment due to the City’s determination to shut out his message. On the other hand, clinic escorts routinely break the law as written, yet have never faced prosecution.

    Based on these facts, the court concluded, “Oakland’s enforcement policy is a constitutionally invalid, content-based regulation of speech.”

    While the opinion also stated “we do not find any relevant differences between the Ordinance’s purpose and text and those of the Colorado statute that the Supreme Court held to be constitutional in Hill,” the Court noted that the reasoning of the Hill decision “has been criticized by scholars of various stripes.”

    Pastor Hoye stands on the public sidewalk outside Oakland abortion clinics to offer hope to women. His sign reads, “Jesus loves you and your baby. Let us help.” One of the problems Hoye has faced in reaching women stems from the activities of clinic “escorts.” These clinic volunteers will surround Hoye, block his sign with blank posters, and drown out his voice, making it impossible for Hoye to reach his intended audience. The Ninth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court in Hill had not considered this scenario in upholding the Colorado statute. If, on further hearing, Pastor Hoye can show that the ordinance leaves him without ample alternatives for reaching his audience, this would be grounds for striking down the law, the Court said.

    “This part of the decision points to a possible narrowing of the Supreme Court’s awful decision in Hill,” said LLDF Legal Director Katie Short. “In evaluating a constitutional challenge to a bubble law like this, courts will not turn a blind eye to the challenges facing pro-lifers in communicating their message, including when those challenges come from the bad behavior of clinic escorts.”

    Contact: Dana Cody, Life Legal Defense Foundation, 707-337-6889

    [Gerard: is there any particular reason you couldn’t have just posted a paragraph or two of this story and linked to the web site? Please refrain from posting long extracts from what appears to be a press release in the comments, along with phone numbers. Thank you. Dcn. G. ]

  2. Gerard,

    I hope you are right and that the courts side with the truth in this case. I have personally known Dick for about a decade now and will vouch for his word. I have seen him working outside clinics before and was surprised the first time I saw him talking calmly with the clinic’s escorts. He teaches a seminar on how to counsel outside the clinics and there are three important points that he stresses several times:

    – Obey the law
    – Act with charity
    – Work for the well being of the mother as well as the baby’s

    Abortion providers in this area do not like Dick because he has been effective on some ocassions. This is simply a case of the Administration throwing some red meat (pun intended) to their abortion followers.

  3. If the PP Clinic which claims Mr. Retta blocked access to is the one on 16th St. NW (near the While House), they will should have no problem making their case. There is a video camera on the building pointing at the door. All they need to do is provide the tape but I doubt one exists.

    however, in addition, we know that PP has lied for years about how close one can get to their entrance. They have told everyone that the gate in front of the clinic the the boundary. But a brave Protestant minister challenged that contention, went to jail and PP lost. It seems that DC has a 50ft. right of way from the public sidewalk. So, pro-lifers can pray almost up to the entrance of the clinic…as long as they don’t block the entrance.

  4. There’s a couple of different issues at play. One is the enforcement of a federal law. The other, a local ordinance, which appears to have been rightly struck down because it was not content neutral in its restrictions of expression. As for the federal enforcement, let the civil process sort out the facts. If these allegations have merit, the defendants ought to be punished appropriately.

    The fact that Bush’s people prosecuted only once during his terms suggests that he was determined not to enforce the law under virtually any circumstance. If that’s not the case, then we are left to believe that the anti-abortion protest movement achieved a super-human level of restraint during those 8 years. Obama’s actions hardly constitute a “dramatic” crackdown either. Eight lawsuits is not a lot when you consider the thousands of protesters involved in daily protests across the country.

  5. Nothing this administration does would supprise me. Interesting that having the black panthers with clubs outside a voting location is not a problem for them, but having someone peacefully protesting an abortion clinic is worth going to court.

  6. Regarding the Black Panther case: From the National Review


    “As the Commission’s work on the matter proceeded, my doubts only grew. I concluded that the claim that the Panthers “were caught on video engaging in voter suppression” is simply wrong. The only available video records an encounter between two Panthers and a young white man who was videotaping the incident. Questioning the two Panthers, he says, “I think you might be a little bit intimidating that you have a stick in your hand. . . . That’s a weapon.” A fair question for him to raise — but hardly conclusive evidence of actual or attempted intimidation.”

    Bear in mind, this assessment is coming from Andrew C. McCarthy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_C._McCarthy), hardly what anyone would call a liberal. This is the same fellow who authored several books extremely critical of Obama and liberal policies.


    Yet he views the case against the New Black Panthers as “not of sufficient importance to be the primary focus of our yearlong project.” An interesting conclusion.

  7. How does a person who decides to stand outside a PP clinic know the reason a woman is entering the clinic? She might be going in to ask advice on birth control, have an exam, or for other reasons and not seeking an abortion—since PP provides other services also. If I were entering a PP clinic, I’d be most annoyed to have some one start “preaching to me” when they would have absolutely NO idea just why I was going in and actually it is none of their business.

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