NEW YORK / NEWS RELEASE — Today, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a federal lawsuit against a coalition of anti-choice protesters who repeatedly harassed, threatened, and menaced patients, families, escorts, and clinic staff at the Choices Women’s Medical Center (“Choices”) in Jamaica, Queens.
The lawsuit and motion for a preliminary injunction against the protesters, as well as anyone acting in concert with them, alleges violations of federal, state, and local laws, and are the result of an investigation initiated by Attorney General Schneiderman in June 2016 with the cooperation of Choices – an outpatient surgery center that provides medical services for women, including abortion – following complaints of the protesters’ extremely aggressive behavior.
“The tactics used to harass and menace Choices’ patients, families, volunteers, and staff are not only horrifying – they’re illegal,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “The law guarantees women the right to control their own bodies and access the reproductive health care they need, without obstruction. We’ll do what it takes to protect those rights for women across New York.”
Attorney General Schneiderman’s lawsuit and preliminary injunction motion seek to enjoin the defendants from engaging in the unlawful conduct, and create a sixteen-foot buffer zone around the Choices premises to protect the rights and safety of patients, staff, and volunteers, in addition to seeking damages, penalties, costs, and attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York today, alleges that every Saturday morning for at least five years, an aggressive group of anti-choice protestors, and those acting in concert with them, have tried to impede access to reproductive health care services by subjecting incoming patients to a barrage of unwanted physical contact, as well as verbal abuse, threats of harm, and lies about the clinic’s hours and its services.
Among its allegations, the suit maintains that these protestors descend on approaching patients, sometimes walking them into the clinic’s exterior wall and pinning them against it. Protestors are alleged to crowd patients arriving by car, using their bodies to block the passenger-side doors and thrust their heads and hands through any open windows. Protestors are also alleged to deliberately collide into the volunteer escorts, and sometimes push and shove them, as the escorts try to shield patients from this unwanted physical contact and vitriol. These anti-choice protestors are also alleged to make violent threats against both the escorts and patients, referring to terrorist attacks and murderous assaults on abortion clinics, and warning that the same fate may befall them. These obstructive tactics routinely deter or delay patients who are attempting to access medically necessary care, as detailed in the Attorney General’s lawsuit.
The Attorney General’s claims are brought under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (“FACE”), the New York State Clinic Access Act (“NY Clinic Access Act”), and the New York City Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act (“NYC Clinic Access Act”), all of which prohibit obstructing access to reproductive health clinics.
Each of the named defendants is alleged to have engaged in one or more of the types of conduct described below:
Making death threats to escorts, stating “You can die at any moment,” and referencing mass shootings and terrorist attacks, telling them “You never know when you’re going to die,” as well as making a reference to the November 2015 shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado and telling the escorts, “You don’t know when you might get shot”;
Menacing clinic staff members by informing them their names are on a website devoted to anti-abortion activity, and that the protester could remove their names from the website provided that the staff member cease working at Choices.
Chasing and crowding patients as they approach the building, in an attempt to disseminate anti-choice literature, and ignoring patient pleas to be left alone;
Video recording patients and escorts outside of the Choices facility;
Purposely colliding into volunteer escorts who are attempting to shield patients from unwanted contact;
Stationing themselves immediately next to the passenger side of vehicles pulling up to the clinic entrance so as to block the passenger’s exit from the car;
Physically leaning into vehicles arriving or picking-up patients in order to force unwanted anti-choice literature and verbally harasses patients and their companions;
Pinning arriving patients and their companions against the outer wall of the Choices facility so as to disseminate anti-choice literature and rhetoric;
Procuring and distributing three-by-five foot posters of images of purportedly mangled fetuses to fellow church members, and directing them to assume positions narrowing the approximately sixteen-foot sidewalk surrounding Choices to just five feet;
Physically blocking the path of individuals attempting to enter Choices by holding said three-by-five foot posters;
Following and harassing patients, minor children, and volunteer escorts within fifteen feet of the facility, telling them: “Your money supports the clinic, so you’re a murderer”; “don’t go in there, they will convince you to kill your baby—that’s how they make money”, among other statements;
Today’s lawsuit follows a number of actions taken by Attorney General Schneiderman to protect women’s access to health care, including obtaining court-ordered protections for a Planned Parenthood clinic in Utica.