Women’s health activists have come to expect throngs of protesters in front of clinics. Some even know the protesters by name. Unfortunately, abortion opponents are commonplace at clinics, regardless of the wide array of services provided by those clinics.
Despite the existence of a federal law designed to protect clinic patients and staff, oftentimes those protesters go beyond the waiving of signs and singing of hymns. The law, Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE, is nearly twenty years old and is designed specifically to prevent protesters from interfering with access to clinics that provide abortion services. But like most laws, its only as effective as its enforcement and over the past ten years its enforcement has been all but non-existent. After its passage in 1994 a total of 69 lawsuits have been filed. Only 25 of those were filed since 2000.
That may be changing though. US Attorney General Eric Holder filed suit last week, seeking an injunction preventing notorious Florida abortion protester Mary Susan Pine from entering any driveway leading to the clinic and anyone associated with her from blocking women from entering the clinic. If the Department of Justice is successful Pine would face a $10,000 fine.
The lawsuit comes after a promise made by Holder to vigorously enforce FACE in the wake of the murder of Dr. Tiller, an abortion provider who was gunned down at his church in Wichita, Kansas by anti-abortion zealot Scott Roeder. Just a week before Dr. Tiller’s murder, Roeder was seen gluing the locks of Dr. Tiller’s clinic–in violation of FACE–before ultimately escalating his actions to murder. This represents the sixth lawsuit filed by DOJ since Dr. Tiller’s death.
And that is the whole purpose of FACE- to prevent ideologues from having their actions escalate from vandalism to murder. It’s not too simple to ask that had FACE enforcement been taken seriously would Dr. Tiller’s murder have been prevented?
Like Roeder, Pine has a criminal history of harassing clinic patients and staff. In 2003 she was charged with trespassing on clinic grounds. The clinic has also been the target of escalating violence, including an unsolved 2006 fire.
And like Roeder, Pine insists that she is the victim here as the lawsuit represents some effort to squelch her First Amendment rights. But Pine is not protesting outside a government office, she is protesting outside private property–a medical clinic to be exact. Which is why more and more women’s health practitioners are embracing moving abortion services into general care facilities as an effort to stamp down abusive protesting tactics. This Florida suit makes a good argument as to why this kind of move should happen.
photo courtesy of blatch via Flickr