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Pro-life activists reach settlement with NC city over arrest for praying outside abortion clinic

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Unsplash/Jon Tyson

Pro-life activists have reached a settlement with a North Carolina city in which officials agreed to allow them to demonstrate peacefully on public sidewalks, including during public health emergencies.

Love Life, also known as Global Impact Ministries, and other pro-life activists sued the city of Greensboro and Guilford County, North Carolina, after they were arrested in March 2020 while praying outside A Woman’s Choice, an abortion clinic in Greensboro. Their arrest occurred at a time when state and local governments had implemented lockdown orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The two parties agreed to a joint stipulation of dismissal with prejudice on Friday, which was brought before the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina.

The dismissal agreement included the city resolving all the claims advanced by the plaintiffs and both sides covering their own attorneys’ fees and costs.

David Benham, Justin Reeder
David Benham, president of Cities4Life, and Justin Reeder, founder of Love Life Greensboro, North Carolina. |

Apart from Love Life, other plaintiffs named in the complaint included Love Life founder and President Justin Reeder, Carl Ubinas of Mooresville, Jason Oesterreich of Locust, Isaiah Burner of Statesville, Andre Gonzalez of Mooresville, Pastor Leroy Stokes Jr. of Greensboro, and Pastors Richard Whittier and Jon McAtee of Mint Hill.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a law firm representing the pro-life activists, filed a lawsuit against Greensboro and Guilford County in April 2020 in response to the arrests, arguing that the punishment of the pro-life activists was unconstitutional. The legal organization celebrated the resolution of the case as a victory for First Amendment rights. 

ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle, director of the ADF Center for Life, said in a statement released Monday that she believed “this case was never about public health and safety.” She concluded that instead, “it was about the government silencing people because it didn’t like what they had to say.”

“That said, we commend the city for finally agreeing to respect the free speech rights of Love Life members and acknowledge their freedom to pray and speak in the public square,” she added. ADF said in its statement Monday that city officials agreed to “uphold citizens’ First Amendment rights in any future proclamation order related to a public-health emergency like COVID-19.”

Although the plaintiffs argued that they had taken certain public health precautions to comply with public health orders issued by the city and county, such as limiting their gathering to 10 people and standing 6 feet apart, the activists were nevertheless arrested and threatened with fines of up to $1,000 for their actions outside the clinic.

In February, county officials reached a settlement with the pro-life activists, paying $15,000 in attorneys’ fees and agreeing to respect the First Amendment rights of the activists in the future. Like the settlement with the city of Greensboro, plaintiffs and defendant Guilford County agreed to a joint stipulation of dismissal. 

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