Pro-life activists from a Brooklyn church are celebrating a legal victory after they survived an all-out attempt by New York's now-former attorney general to silence them.
Members of a Brooklyn church, Church at the Rock, are regular visitors outside a Queens abortion clinic, where they have counseled women entering Choices Women's Medical Center since 2012.
Such non-threatening activism is common in the pro-life movement but it got the attention of New York's then-attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, a vocal abortion supporter who claimed the pro-lifers were violating the state's Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act that prevents acts of violence and physical obstruction.
After a year of investigation, Schneiderman stood outside the abortion clinic in June 2017 (see photo above) and announced a federal lawsuit against 13 church members, accusing them of harassing and even shoving women outside the clinic.
"Pro-life protesters threatened to kill clinic patients, workers," The New York Post, citing the attorney general's claims, reported approximately a year ago.
The irony of those claims, however, is that the liberal state attorney general stepped down in May after four women stepped forward and made claims of assault at the height of the "Me Too" anti-harassment movement.
According to Thomas More Society attorney Martin Cannon, who represented 10 of the church members, the trial judge sat through hours of trial testimony and hundreds of exhibits that included surveillance videos recorded by the abortion clinic staff.
"And from the very beginning of the case," says Cannon, "it was apparent to us that the evidence just didn't match Mr. Schneiderman's accusations."
The findings of U.S. District Judge Carol Bagley Amon found that the defendants came close to violating the FACE Act by following and talking to Choice patients, but the judge found the state prosecutors failed to prove "follow-and-harass violations" despite video footage of interaction.
The judge wrote:
In sum, the OAG has introduced evidence that the protestors sometimes continued attempting to engage with a person who asked to be left alone and that the protestors sometimes attempted to engage people who were not receptive to a different protestor’s overtures. Although such conduct can be circumstantial evidence of an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm, it does not establish that intent here. The interactions on the sidewalk outside Choices were generally quite short, and there is no credible evidence that any protestor disregarded repeated requests to be left alone over an extended period or changed his or her tone or message in response to requests to be left alone in a way that suggested an intent to harass, annoy, or alarm. The OAG has failed to show that any defendant had the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm a patient, companion, or escort; thus, it has failed to show that any defendant has violated NYCCAA, as interpreted by the OAG.
Elsewhere in the ruling, Judge Anon wrote a "word of caution" to the defendants that her ruling in their favor should not be viewed as an excuse for "more aggressive conduct" outside the abortion clinic.
The judge's 103-page ruling can be read here.
Thomas More Law Center, which represented three of the 13 church members, has told OneNewsNow that the attorney general's office presented hours of surveillance footage and even undercover footage of AG investigators posing as Choices patients.
Cannon tells OneNewsNow that pro-abortion groups were watching the Brooklyn case very closely, because the attorney general's office was attempting to prosecute actions exempted by the FACE Act.
"If he'd pulled that off," Cannon says of Schneiderman, "I think you'd be seeing it nationwide but because he didn't and it failed in a big way, I think pro-lifers nationwide are not likely to see this kind of effort."