Pro-life activists win right to protest outside Ohio abortion clinic

Pro-life activist Calvin Zastrow reading from a Bible and preaching across the street from an abortion clinic in Toledo, Ohio, on Oct. 3, 2017.
Pro-life activist Calvin Zastrow reading from a Bible and preaching across the street from an abortion clinic in Toledo, Ohio, on Oct. 3, 2017. | (Photo: AFLC)

A district court judge ruled that two pro-life activists, a father and a daughter, have the right to protest outside of an Ohio-based abortion clinic.

Last August, Calvin Zastrow and his daughter, Corrie, filed a complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio against the city of Toledo, its police chief and two officers over being stopped from holding demonstrations outside an abortion clinic.

Judge James G. Carr issued a consent judgment and order on Tuesday in favor of the Zastrow family, concluding that the pro-life activists can engage in “non-obstructive, expressive activity” when demonstrating against the clinic.

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“The parties agree that the term ‘non-obstructive, expressive activity’ means activity protected by the First Amendment that does not physically prevent a pedestrian from using a public sidewalk or other public way or that does not physically impede a vehicle from traveling on a public road or street,” wrote Judge Carr.

“This does not mean that the person or persons engaging in the First Amendment activity must be moving all the time. Additionally, the First Amendment activity is not ‘obstructive’ because a pedestrian might have to walk around the person engaging in the expressive activity.”

As part of the order, the defendants will also pay the American Freedom Law Center, which represented the Zastrow family, $7,500 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

AFLC Co-Founder and Senior Counsel Robert Muise said in a statement released Wednesday that the order was “yet another victory for the First Amendment.”

“As this court order demonstrates, the Constitution protects our clients’ pro-life activity from such abuse,” stated Muise.

“The government has no authority to silence our clients’ speech simply because they are preaching the Gospel on a public sidewalk next to an abortion center.”

In August of last year, the Zastrows filed suit over multiple incidents in which Toledo police forced them to stop holding religious pro-life protests on the public sidewalk across the street from the Capital Care Network.

For example, one incident that took place on Oct. 3, 2017 involved Calvin being arrested for reading the Bible and preaching as he stood across the street from the abortion provider.

"At no time prior to his arrest, did Plaintiff Calvin Zastrow enter upon the property of the Capital Care abortion center nor did he impede or block anyone from entering the abortion center. He remained on the public sidewalk. At no time did Plaintiff Calvin Zastrow engage in any violence," explained the lawsuit filed last year.

"At no time did Plaintiff Calvin Zastrow employ any sound amplification device. He only used his voice and the spoken word. At no time did Plaintiff Calvin Zastrow physically block anyone from using the public sidewalk — the sidewalk is large enough to permit several people to walk on it at one time, as ... photographs ... demonstrate."

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