A federal judge has ruled in favor of 13 protesters who for the past several years have congregated outside a New York abortion provider, bombarding visitors with giant signs depicting aborted fetuses and allegedly issuing threats to those attempting to escort women into the center—whether they’re there for an abortion or not.
Last June, the state Attorney General filed a lawsuit alleging that the protesters were harassing women outside Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens, and asked the judge to issue a preliminary injunction as well as create a 16-foot buffer zone around the clinic.
But on Friday, Federal District Court for the Eastern District Judge Carol Bagley Amon said that the AG failed to show that the defendants intended to “harass, annoy, or alarm” patients as they entered. From the New York Times:
“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,” Judge Amon wrote in her decision.
She added that “this decision should not embolden the defendants to engage in more aggressive conduct,” and that “several of the defendants’ actions came close to crossing the line from activity protected by the First Amendment to conduct prohibited by” state law.
But Merle Hoffman, president and owner of the Choices Women’s Medical Center, felt differently, saying the judge “dismissed the lived experiences of the patients, the staff and the escorts.” By the time they do finally do make it inside, patients are often shaken, regardless of the purpose of their visit, since the protesters “don’t make a distinction,” she said. Along with abortion, Choices offers a variety of services ranging from Pap tests to prenatal care.
The decision comes at an especially precarious time for women’s reproductive rights, as Roe v. Wade faces an uncertain future largely contingent on Trump’s pick to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.
Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for acting Attorney General Barbara Underwood, told the Times the office was weighing an appeal. The investigation and ensuing lawsuit were both conducted under former AG Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in May after being accused of physical abuse by several women.