A federal judge in New York has struck down a lawsuit against a coalition of Christian pro-life protesters who had been accused of threatening patients, staff and family members outside of an abortion clinic in New York City last year.
U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon on Friday denied a request for an injunction in a federal lawsuit filed last June by Eric Schneiderman, then the New York Attorney General, saying there was lack of evidence of any of the purported threats, harassment, or groping that the prosecution had claimed occurred outside of the Choices Medical Clinic abortion facility in Jamaica, Queens.
The lawsuit by Schneiderman, a Democrat, claimed the pro-life counsellors repeatedly "harassed, threatened, and menaced patients, families, escorts, and clinic staff … every Saturday morning for at least five years."
Martin Cannon, Thomas More Society Special Counsel who represented the counsellors from Church@TheRock in Brooklyn, New York, who were among the defendants, said in a statement that the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, "specifically exempts constitutionally protected advocacy from its prohibitions."
The other defendants were from Grace Baptist Church in Woodhaven, Bright Dawn Ministries in Brooklyn, and a group called Helpers of God's Precious Infants.
"After a three-week trial on the preliminary injunction, she (Judge Bagley Amon) issued a 103-page opinion, systematically rejecting the credibility of the state's witnesses, the merits of the state's arguments, and the request for the injunction itself," Cannon added.
The judge wrote, "The interactions on the sidewalk outside Choices were generally quite short, and there is no credible evidence that any protester disregarded repeated requests to be left alone over an extended period or changed his or her tone or message in response to requests to be left alone in a way that suggested an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm."
She added, "The OAG [Office of the Attorney General] has failed to show that any defendant had the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm a patient, companion, or escort; thus, it has failed to show that any defendant has violated NYCCAA [the New York City Clinic Access Act], as interpreted by the OAG."
The lawsuit alleged: "Since 2012, protesters have subjected incoming patients to a barrage of unwanted physical contact, as well as verbal abuse, threats of harm, and lies about the clinic's hours and its services … Protesters descend on approaching patients to harangue them, sometimes pinning them against the clinic's exterior wall or parking meters, and even forcing them into the street and oncoming traffic as they try to escape the protesters. Some protesters go so far as to touch or grab at patients to get their attention and force printed anti-choice materials on them."
Schneiderman issued a statement at the time, alleging, "The tactics used to harass and menace Choices' patients, families, volunteers, and staff are not only horrifying — they're illegal … The law guarantees women the right to control their own bodies and access the reproductive health care they need, without obstruction."
Schneiderman, who portrayed himself as a champion of women's rights and publicly backed the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, resigned in May after four women "with whom he has had romantic relationships or encounters" wrote in The New Yorker accusing him of physical assault.