After at least five years of anti-abortion protestors bombarding patients outside of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, New York, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has had enough.
Schneiderman and Choices have filed a lawsuit against the coalition of anti-abortion protestors that, every Saturday morning, would harass patients attempting to enter the building—both physically and verbally—by shoving photoshopped and highly edited images of aborted fetuses in their faces and lying to them about clinic hours. Even with the clinic escort volunteers, the harassment endured by patients and staff is too much for them to handle. According to court documents, types of harassment included violent threats, invoking terrorist attacks, recording license plate numbers and recording videos without consent. Through the lawsuit, Schneiderman and Choices were also able to secure a preliminary injunction motion to stop the protestors and create a 16-foot barrier around the clinic.
The lawsuit filed addresses the women’s issues of loss of easy access to reproductive healthcare, as well as physical, and emotional distress put upon them. “The tactics used to harass and menace Choices’ patients, families, volunteers, and staff are not only horrifying,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “They’re illegal. The law guarantees women the right to control their own bodies and access the reproductive healthcare they need, without obstruction. We’ll do what it takes to protect those rights for women across New York.”
This isn’t Schneiderman’s first time at the rodeo. In 2012, he expanded a buffer zone outside of a Utica Planned Parenthood, barring activities around the main entrances of the facility, in response to threatening and obstructive action by anti-choice protestors. Margaret Roberts, co-president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Mohawk Hudson explained in a statement the buffer zone would “help insure that both our staff an patients from across the region continue to have unfettered access to the office.”
“You are not allowed to…harass, intimidate and try to prevent people from exercising their constitutional right,” Schneiderman said in a press conference outside of the Choices clinic Tuesday, referencing that access to safe and legal abortion is also outlined in the U.S. constitution.
Patients and staff members being harassed by anti-abortion protestors is not just a problem in New York—it’s occurring nationwide at nearly record rates. In 2014, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law, calling it as unconstitutional. Three years later, harassment and threats against women’s health care centers, clinic staff, abortion providers and patients is happening at the highest rate in 20 years.
Schneiderman’s vigilance on this issue matters. Hopefully, other state leaders will see follow his lead.