By GERARD J. HEKKER
Pro-life protesters and pickets are being urged not to stop their activities
in front of abortion clinics because of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision
supporting buffer zones around such facilities and despite local advocates'
being caught up in the legal fray.
On June 28, two days before the Supreme Court's decision, 21 persons were
arrested and jailed for blocking access to the Women's Medical Pavilion in Dobbs
Ferry where abortion protests have been held regularly for the past six years.
On July 1, State Attorney General Oliver Koppell filed a complaint in federal
court against these individuals for violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic
Entrances Act (FACE) which President Clinton signed into law May 24.
"Let's not automatically waive our rights to counsel and picket before these
rights are taken away clinic by clinic," said Christopher Slattery, program
director of Manhattan's Legal Center for Defense of Life. "Each clinic or city
would need to seek its own injunction in a federal or state court to apply to
On the date of the high court's decision, June 30, eight of those arrested
were sentenced to nine days in jail for disorderly conduct. The remaining
protesters, including Father Norman Weslin of the Lambs of Christ, a non-violent
antiabortion group, were sentenced to 45 days for contempt of court for
violating a protection order obtained by the clinic. These protesters had been
arrested earlier this year at the clinic and the order stipulated that they stay
away from it for a year.
Father Frank A. Pavone, who is national director or Priests for Life, called
for increased pro-life activities in an effort to spread the truth.
Noting that last Wednesday's Supreme Court decision was "both an attack on
the babies' right to life and the mothers' right to truth," Father Pavone said,
"The attempts to silence the pro-life message within a certain distance of the
killing center illustrates the fact that abortion providers are threatened by
In the action in federal court, the members of the Lambs of Christ will have
to appear in court Friday, July 18, and show cause why they should not be fined
as much as $75,000 for violation of former State Attorney General Robert Abrams'
court order not to block the Dobbs Ferry clinic. They will also have to pay
attorney fees and court costs.
Koppell also filed a separate complaint under the FACE law which asks for
"injunctive relief, damages and civil penalties" against the Lambs, a local
Operation Rescue group called LIFE, Father Weslin and other individuals
including several "Jane and John Does."
In the court papers, they are charged with preventing 13 women from entering
the clinic and "depriving the pavilion of business and costs and a monetary loss
Slattery told CNY that pro-life organizations that wish to picket or counsel
outside abortion centers should not assume that "buffer zones of 36 feet are
automatically in force because of the ruling." An injunction must first be
obtained by each such center, he said.
He maintained that the court's action "is a devastating decision for the
long-term future of sidewalk counseling." However, he could see a silver lining
in that the decision preserves the right of counselors to approach
abortion-bound women, the right to picket with signs of their choice and the
right to pass the homes of abortionists and their staff.
Joseph M. Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League of
Chicago, said that his group's sidewalk counselors would be out as usual. "If
women were guaranteed full information before they make a decision about
abortion, we might not have to be out in front of the clinics," he said. "But
they are denied this information and we have no choice but to provide them with
the opportunity to know the facts."
Father Pavone said Pope John Paul 11 at World Youth Day at Denver last August
urged the spread of "truth about life into the streets and public places."
"Priests for Life calls on all pro-lifers to come out into the streets in
greater numbers than ever, both at the killing centers and at every street
corner to proclaim the truth about abortion," he said.
The organization has prepared a manual on the purposes and methods of
pro-life street activities. Information: 888-PFL-3448.