New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced today that he’s filed a lawsuit in federal court against aggressive and threatening demonstrators outside an abortion clinic in Queens. Schneiderman says the demonstrators are preventing patients from entering Choices Medical Center with illegal physical contact and “horrifying” harassment tactics.
Choices has always been beset by a group of particularly aggressive anti-abortion protesters, who tend to swarm the clinic on Saturday mornings. Some of them are affiliated with local church groups, as Gothamist writes, including Church at the Rock in Brooklyn, Grace Baptist Church in Woodlawn, and Bright Dawn Ministries in Brooklyn. (Church at the Rock specifically positions anti-abortion protesting as one of its “ministries.”) Three years ago, I was treated to the unforgettable site of a man outside Choices climbing a small step ladder with a megaphone, the better to loom over and scream insults at women trying to enter the clinic.
In a press release, Schneiderman said the lawsuit is designed to end the harassment against Choices, which the suit alleges includes crowding the patients, “deliberately colliding” with volunteer escorts trying to usher them inside, and making violent threats against everyone:
Among its allegations, the suit maintains that these protestors descend on approaching patients, sometimes walking them into the clinic’s exterior wall and pinning them against it. Protestors are alleged to crowd patients arriving by car, using their bodies to block the passenger-side doors and thrust their heads and hands through any open windows. Protestors are also alleged to deliberately collide into the volunteer escorts, and sometimes push and shove them, as the escorts try to shield patients from this unwanted physical contact and vitriol. These anti-choice protestors are also alleged to make violent threats against both the escorts and patients, referring to terrorist attacks and murderous assaults on abortion clinics, and warning that the same fate may befall them.’’
The suit also accuses the demonstrators of harassing patients’ families, including children, and lying to patients by telling them things like, “Don’t go in there, they will convince you to kill your baby—that’s how they make money.”
Schneiderman’s statement adds that these tactics “routinely deter or delay patients who are attempting to access medically necessary care.”
The suit accuses the protest groups of violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act and the New York State Clinic Access Act, and calls for a preliminary injunction to prevent them from continuing to harass patients. Schneiderman’s office said in their release that the lawsuit was filed after a yearlong investigation, and seeks a 16-foot protester-free buffer zone around the clinic.
You can read the full federal complaint here.