Christians Threatened With ‘Loitering’ Citation for Pro-Life Outreach Take City to Court

Babies pdFORT MYERS, Fla. — Two Florida women have taken their city and local police to court after they were threatened with a loitering citation for conducting pro-life activities outside of a local abortion facility.

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed the legal challenge on behalf of Judith Minahan and JoAnn O’Connell of Fort Myers this fall, and a federal hearing was held over the matter on Tuesday. The women have been reaching out to pregnant mothers for the past decade outside of the Fort Myers Women’s Health Center, one of the largest abortion facilities in the area.

“When individuals who are driving into the medical office complex stop to speak with Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs will generally hand them literature and speak with them about abortion-related topics, including information about the possible emotional and physical effects of abortion, nearby maternity homes, local and national helplines, and fetal development,” the complaint filed by ACLJ reads.

Minahan and O’Connell stand on the public sidewalk during their outreach, do not block pedestrians and seek to reach women in a non-confrontational manner.

But the women state that in October of this year, as they and two others were engaging in pro-life outreach, they were approached by a member of the Fort Myers Police Department, who handed them a copy of the city’s loitering ordinance, which he said is usually enforced against prostitutes.

“Defendant Officer Conticelli stated that he would enforce the loitering ordinance against them if they (1) stood in one spot on the public sidewalk in front of the medical office complex and abortion clinic and did not keep walking on that public sidewalk, (2) approached any vehicles entering or leaving the medical office complex and abortion clinic to hand out literature or speak with the occupants of the vehicle, or (3) blocked vehicular traffic entering or leaving the medical office complex and abortion clinic by handing out literature or talking to the people in vehicles,” the complaint reads.

In turn, Minahan and O’Connell provided the officer with a copy of a consent decree from a previous lawsuit, in which the city had reportedly agreed not to interfere with their pro-life activities. But as the women remain under the threat of citation, they discontinued much of their activities.

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“Plaintiffs now—against their wishes—refrain from approaching vehicles, speaking with people in vehicles or handing them literature, and standing in one spot while on the public sidewalk in front of the medical office complex and abortion clinic, which includes refraining from standing together while praying, out of fear of arrest, citation, prosecution, and/or fine,” the ACLJ states.

Minahan and O’Connell are now seeking an injunction and are asking the court to declare the loitering ordinance unconstitutional, both on its face and as it is being applied to their free speech activities.

“I think it’s outrageous,” ACLJ Senior Counsel Edward White told Fox 4 of the threatened citation. “What my clients are doing is totally legal. It has nothing to do with any illegal conduct. They are peacefully exercising their first amendment rights by standing on a public sidewalk.”

City counsel said that the ordinance needs to be reviewed further before they form an opinion about the matter.

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  • James Grimes

    Judith Minahan and JoAnn O’Connell are doing the Lord’s work in trying to prevent the murder of unborn children. Praises and thanks…

  • 4everlife

    May the Lord bless and protect these two women who are reaching out to save His lovely gifts of life.
    This are the last of the last days: just wondering what consequences would follow if someone decided to open an animal abortion clinic…
    Please repent while there is time, unbelievers in Jesus Christ. He loves you, and He died willingly just to show it (John 3:16).

  • Neiman

    We have become a culture of death and children have been relegated to no more than trash to be disposed of if they are inconvenient.

    The First Amendment is dead! Both free speech and freedom of religious expression are being criminalized.

    God bless these women and may God forgive the city and this police officer.

  • bowie1

    In Canada Pro-Life demonstrators must stay outside a certain bubble zone which may make it difficult to reach women considering abortion. A certain Linda Gibbons has been in and out of jail for violating that court order so pray that she will be exonerated and allowed to carry on her mission.

  • robertzaccour

    I believe a lot of people defending abortion have had abortions themselves and fear the consequences of their actions. To those people I say there is forgiveness in Christ and your mistakes don’t necessarily have to dictate your future.

    • Phipps Mike

      I haven’t had any abortions and I support pro-choice. (that’s NOT pro-abortion, its pro-CHOICE). I would like to have at least ONE of my own children, I am 51 and unfortunately haven’t had any women including wives that could get pregnant. Anyway, its not right to force a woman to keep a child that was forced upon her as a result of rape or ask her to commit suicide in the situation where its mom OR baby to live.

      • getstryker

        To be ‘Pro-Choice’ is simply a ‘politically correct’ means of condoning murder of a child in the womb, no matter the circumstances of that child’s conception. It is murder.

        The three most frequently cited “hard cases” in which some argue abortion might be justified are rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother. However, women rarely report that they are seeking an abortion for any of these reasons:

        Rape: 0.3%

        Incest: 0.03%

        Protection of mother’s life: 0.2%

        In other words, out of 1,000 women procuring abortion, only three cite rape as the primary reason, and only two cite protecting her life as the reason for the abortion. Out of 10,000 women procuring abortion, only three cite incest as a reason.

        Source: Johnston, Wm. Robert. Reasons Given For Having Abortions In The United States.

        • Phipps Mike

          pro-choice just means that you don’t necessarily condone using it as a form of birth control. Pro-ABORTION means they DO want to use it as birth control. That’s a mighty big difference.

          add all of those small percentages to the population of how many women are pregnant and tell me that its justified to stop ALL abortions. When those numbers reduce to 0%, then we can be in agreement.

          • getstryker

            Twisting word meanings changes nothing – Pro-Choice and Pro-Abortion are synonymous . . . You claim a distinction – I say there is NO difference . . . their intent is to justify or condone the abortion of a child in the womb. I agree the numbers I showed are tiny and I certainly would like to see them reduced to 0% but that is not likely to happen. With the exception for the mother’s health, why did you not suggest carrying the child to term and then giving it up for adoption rather than murdering the child?

          • Phipps Mike

            do the math.: .8 % of the population of all pregnant women is NOT a small number. That’s TOO many to throw under the bus. The fact that you dont see a distinction between pro-abortion and pro-choice, shows you are NOT a smart person. Enough to call it quits with debating with you. Spock…beam me up.

          • getstryker

            And 57 Million+ abortions, for the sake of ‘convenience, is NOT a small number either. Isn’t it interesting that the first thing a liberal does when he has NO cogent arguments is ‘name calling’ He then declares the entire exchange over and implores a well-known TV character to extract him from an uncomfortable situation. BTW – it generally was: “Scotty, beam me up” . . . you can’t even get that right!

  • Here’s a thought, why not purchase property next to the abortuary and do outreach from there? There’s no law against standing in front of your own property is there?

  • Phipps Mike

    It seems that there needs to be a more articulate way of determining just WHERE the sidewalk is placed as to whats considered private property. There are such things as privately owned sidewalks.