In a surprise reversal, pro-life advocates scored a big First Amendment win from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday when the court upheld their rights to peacefully protest outside a Queens, New York, abortion facility.
The Thomas More Society, representing the ten church members and their pastor, Rev. Kenneth Griepp, said their clients only offered information on life-affirming alternatives to abortion-bound women which is their right under the First Amendment.
Thomas More Senior Counsel Stephen Crampton applauded the 2nd Circuit's ruling.
"This is a great win, to be sure," declared Crampton, "But the case should never have been brought in the first place. It was always about politics, not justice. The New York Attorney General has wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money pursuing bogus claims and persecuting law-abiding Christians. The real crime here is not the actions of the defendants, but the actions of the Attorney General in ever filing this case."
NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman initially charged the group in 2017 under the state's Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law, known by the acronym FACE. The FACE law is intended to prevent actual, intentional interference with access to a clinic by means of force, threats of force, or physical obstruction. Peaceful pro-life activity is specifically protected, just as it is in the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
AG Schneiderman later had to resign his office because of a sex scandal. But subsequent AG's continued the litigation against the church members.
Thomas More Society attorneys have argued all along that the case was without merit because it was actually an assault on the First Amendment rights. Pro-life sidewalk counselors had been coming to Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens weekly since 2012 to peacefully speak with abortion-bound women. Despite a lack of evidence, the life advocates were falsely accused by Schneiderman of harassing and threatening women as they headed into the abortion facility.
The unanimous opinion handed down by Chief Judge Debra Ann Livingston, Circuit Judge Guido Calabresi, and Circuit Judge Rosemary S. Pooler, affirmed in all respects an earlier ruling by United States District Court Judge Carol Bagley Amon of the Eastern District of New York. Amon had denied the state's motion for a preliminary injunction brought against the church members.
The case will now return to federal district court for a trial on the merits and consideration of some of the unanswered questions concerning the constitutionality of the New York City Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act and the Attorney General's right to even bring suit under that act.
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