BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A federal judge in New York cast doubt on Monday on the assertions of the state’s attorney general, who had sued a number of pro-lifers for allegedly “harassing” abortion-minded mothers outside of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica.
“[The defendants and their attorneys] have got to know clearly what harassment means,” U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon stated to Assistant Attorney General Sandra Pullman. “What is it? This is a little troubling. I don’t know what it is.”
When Pullman pointed to the dictionary definition of “repeated or persistent behavior that annoys or alarms someone,” Amon replied that if harassment charges were legally able to be filed for being annoying, “I could sue all of you here today.”
Her remarks drew laughter in the court.
As previously reported, last June, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued a number of pro-lifers that had been reaching women every Saturday for the past five years outside of Choices Women’s Medical Center. The men and women are members of various churches and Christian ministries, such as Church @ the Rock, Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, Bright Dawn Ministries and Grace Baptist Church.
Some, he claimed, approach vehicles when they arrive and lean into the window to offer literature, or follow patients closely on their way into the building, at times handing a pamphlet to the accompanying child and asking him or her to “give this to your mommy to read.”
“Defendant Randall Doe, while raising an enlarged image of a purportedly aborted fetus, harasses patients and closely follows them within nine feet of the clinic door, telling them that they will regret killing their child for the rest of their lives,” the lawsuit stated.
Schneiderman also took issue with the verbal speech of the pro-lifers, who he said call out “vitriolic” statements such as, “Don’t go in there; they will convince you to kill your baby—that’s how they make money,” “You have the blood of dead babies on your hands” and “They are killing babies above your heads.”
He further asserted that the men and women were disseminating false information, pointing, for example, to a pamphlet that reads, “We know you are probably upset and confused. To save the life of your baby, the laminaria (seaweed sticks) can still be removed. Please don’t do anything now that will hurt your child because you will later regret it.”
But attorneys with the Thomas More Society, which represented the pro-lifers in court, noted on Monday that the “harassment charges are unconstitutionally vague.”
“The prosecution’s very loose handling of a serious charge serves to highlight the baseless claims in a case solely intended to discourage any opposition to abortion,” said Special Counsel Martin Cannon.
Cannon is seeking to have the lawsuit dismissed, and the hearing was a result of the motion to dismiss.
According to Courthouse News, during the hearing, Judge Ammon presented a number of scenarios to try to ascertain what Schneiderman’s office considers “harassment.” She asked if someone followed a woman and said repeatedly but politely, “You should consider keeping your baby,” if that would be considered harassment.
What if the person remained several feet away? What if someone followed a person to repeatedly tell them that they liked their haircut? Is that harassment?
Ammon also noted that the distribution of pamphlets is a “form of really protected speech,” and that sidewalks are considered the “quintessential public forum.”
“We expect to be vindicated,” Kenneth Griepp, one of the defendants in the lawsuit and senior pastor at Church @ the Rock, said in a statement. “As a voice for the unborn, we are committed to raising awareness about the over 3,500 children that are being murdered every day here in America. We do so as peaceful people of God.”