Judge questions definition of harassment in lawsuit against pro-life activists

(Reuters/Dominick Reuter)An abortion protester offers a pamphlet to a woman being escorted by a volunteer in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, June 28, 2014.

A judge has questioned the definition of harassment in the lawsuit brought by the New York attorney general against pro-life activists who protested outside a Queens women's clinic.

"[The defendants and their lawyers] have got to know clearly what harassment means," Judge Carol Bagley Amon said, according to Courthouse News. "What is it? This is a little troubling. I don't know what it is," she added.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed the lawsuit against 14 pro-life activists last June over their activities near a Choices Women's Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens. The pro-life advocates have reportedly held protests outside the clinic every Saturday since 2012.

Schneiderman described a five-year "barrage of unwanted physical contact, as well as verbal abuse, threats of harm, and lies," while Assistant Attorney General Sandra Pullman quoted Webster's definition of harassment as "repeated or persistent behavior that annoys or alarms someone."

Amon replied that if harassment charges could be brought for being annoying, "I could sue all of you here today."

The defendants in the lawsuit are members of various churches and Christian ministries, including Church at the Rock, Helpers of God's Precious Infants, Bright Dawn Ministries and Grace Baptist Church.

According to World Net Daily, the attorney general cited the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, also called FACE, which was enacted by Congress to prevent violence and physical obstruction of abortion clinic entrances.

Schneiderman alleged that the pro-life advocates unlawfully harassed patients, families and clinic staff, and claimed that they physically obstructed people from entering the clinic.

He further claimed that some of the protesters approach vehicles when they arrive and lean into the window to offer literature or follow the patients closely on their way to the clinic and sometimes hand out a pamphlet to an accompanying child, saying "give this to your mommy to read."

Liberty Counsel, which is working with one of the defendants, argued that Schneiderman is using FACE to shut down pro-life speech.

"It is obvious Attorney General Schneiderman abhors the Christian, pro-life message of our client and is willing to twist the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act to silence any opposition to abortion," said Roger Gannam, Liberty Counsel's assistant vice president of legal affairs.

The hearing that took place this week was on a request to dismiss the lawsuit against the protesters outside the clinic.

Attorneys with the Thomas More Society, which represented the other pro-life activists in court, said 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 Thomas More Society Special Counsel Martin Cannon.

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