AG’s Lawsuit Documents History Of Protesters’ Threatening, Violent, And Obstructive Behavior, Aimed At Blocking Women’s Access To Choices Women’s Medical Center; AG Seeks 16-Foot Buffer Zone Around Clinic.
New York, NY - June 20, 2017 - 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.”
Click here for video of the anti-choice protests outside Choices.
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.
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;
The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting the reproductive health access of all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ag.ny.gov.
The case against the protestors is being handled by Assistant Attorney Generals Nancy Trasande and Sandra Pullman of the Civil Rights Bureau. The Civil Rights Bureau is led by Lourdes Rosado, under the supervision of Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin J. Bragg.
“It is unconscionable that any person would be subjected to harassment, threats, and even physical violence for simply seeking or providing medical care,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “For too long, the patients and workers at Choices Women’s Medical Center have had to endure violent and traumatic situations at the hands of anti-choice protesters, clear violations of the rights of any person. I want to thank Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for his work on this lawsuit and efforts to finally hold these violent aggressors accountable for their actions.”
“Now more than ever is it important that we stand up in defense of the rights of New York women to access healthcare resources without being harassed or feeling endangered,” said Senator Leroy Comrie. “As we witness attacks on women's rights at the federal level and in state legislatures across the nation, I applaud the Attorney General for demonstrating a steadfast commitment to protecting reproductive healthcare rights in New York State.”
"No one should be forced to endure threats, intimidation, or harassment when seeking medical care,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6). “As Co-Chair of the City Council's Women's Caucus and a strong advocate for women's rights, I applaud Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for stepping up and taking action to protect New Yorker's access to reproductive health care."
“We commend Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and his team for challenging the notion that patients at women's health clinics must endure hostility and harassment to simply see their doctor,” said Sonia Ossorio, Executive Director of Women's Justice NOW & President, NOW-NYC. “A mother and child should not have to be subjected to someone following them with taunts like 'don't kill your child!' as they enter the premises. Our volunteer clinic escorts see this behavior firsthand. Buffer zones are vital for patients and their families. We're proud to be part of sending a clear and unwavering message that impeding access to women's healthcare will not be tolerated in New York.”
“The National Institute for Reproductive Health applauds the Attorney General for upholding the law and holding accountable individuals who obstruct access to reproductive health care clinics and threaten the safety of all patients, staff, and volunteers,” said National Institute for Reproductive Health President Andrea Miller. “With hostility toward reproductive rights reaching a crescendo at the federal level, women who live in and travel to New York City can be assured of their local and state protections to access the full range of reproductive health care services. We hope that elected officials in cities and states across the country follow Attorney General Schneiderman's lead to protect clinic access in their localities.”
“Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) applauds Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for standing up for improved access to reproductive health care,” said Joan Malin, President and CEO of PPNYC. “No person should face harassment, bullying or intimidation while accessing health care services, period. Local and federal clinic access laws were enacted to ensure the privacy, dignity and safety of patients accessing care while at the same time protecting the free speech of protesters. However, protesters have continued to obstruct access to health centers here in New York City, putting patients at risk. We stand with Choices’ staff and escorts and are pleased to see our elected officials taking action.”
“I have been on the front lines of this struggle for women's rights and women's freedom for nearly fifty years. I have endured bomb threats, death threats, multiple evictions and the maiming and murder of colleagues and friends. And I am still here, because I made a vow to my first patient and to myself--that I would always be there for women and girls who came to me for services. I stand with A.G. Schneiderman and his staff—and with all abortion providers and patients—to say that this injustice must stop,” said Merle Hoffman, the Founder, President and CEO of Choices Women’s Medical Center.