Ann Arbor, Michigan — A pro-life sidewalk counselor has filed a lawsuit against a city in Michigan and its police chief for prohibiting him from displaying a “free ultrasound” sign in his car outside of his local Planned Parenthood.
Paul Dobrowolski was ticketed last year for displaying the sign and others inside of his vehicle as part of his outreach to abortion-minded mothers. “Ask to See the Ultrasound,” “Abortion Hurts Women,” and “Free Ultrasound, Family Life Services, 2950 Packard, YPSI, 734-434-3088” were among the messages displayed in his legally-parked vehicle.
Police had reportedly told Dombrolski that it was against the law for him to “advertise” on his car. The Ann Arbor city code prohibits parking on the street “for the principal purpose of . . . [d]isplaying advertising.” Since Dobrowolski’s sign was considered “advertising,” police asserted that he had violated the code, and issued the pro-lifer several tickets.
During a hearing for one of the incidents, a female police officer reportedly testified that she was directed by her supervisor to ticket Dombrolski after a local business complained about the matter. The court found the sidewalk counselor guilty, advising that he “could have stored the signs in any other fashion [in the vehicle]; [he] could have laid them down; [or he] could have put them in the trunk” so that no one would read the messages and avoided legal penalties.
“But you don’t put them up in the window the way these things are with the desire for anything other than that somebody else is going to see them and that that person is going to be influenced by what they see,” the judge stated.
The court added that other signs besides Dombrolski’s “free ultrasounds” sign were permissible because they constituted “political speech” and not “advertising.”
The sidewalk counselor states that he has had to pay fines for the alleged violations, and fears that he will continue to be cited should he continue to offer women free ultrasounds in that manner. The American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a suit on his behalf Tuesday, and is asking the federal court to issue an injunction against the city and its police department from barring him from displaying the signs.
“The City’s content-based restriction on our client’s pro-life, political speech cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny,” commented AFLC co-founder and senior counsel Robert Muise. “Indeed, it is evident that the City of Ann Arbor is targeting our client’s speech because it is pro-life and likely harming Planned Parenthood’s abortion business.”
“The City is thereby using its speech restriction to silence pro-life advocates who are peacefully displaying signs for the ‘principal purpose’ of saving the lives of unborn children,” he continued. “The Constitution forbids such restrictions.”
“Unfortunately, today the government seems to have little respect for the right to life and the right to freedom of speech,” added business partner David Yerushalmi. “We seek to reverse that harmful trend.”
Planned Parenthood told local reporters that they do not mind Dombrolski’s presence.
“Our feeling … is this is the United States of America and people have the right to free speech,” said spokeswoman Desiree Cooper. “We never engage with protesters, nor try to move them or try to abridge their right to free speech.”
The city has yet to review the lawsuit and respond to the federal complaint.