Barriers down: Everett Planned Parenthood opponents out front again; legal firm says it took threatening the city, city says it intended to take the barriers down anyway
Editor's note: This story is revised with new information that came after the print edition went to press Monday morning.
EVERETT — A national conservative law firm says its intervention caused the city to pull down barriers in front of the Everett Planned Parenthood. The city says it already planned to take down the barriers.
Each week, anti-abortion activists and pro-patient counter-protestors convene Wednesday mornings outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on 32nd Street near Colby Avenue.
The city erected the barriers in mid-March to separate the two groups from colliding near the clinic’s entryway, and split people to two distanced spots.
The Thomas More Society, the legal firm, argued that the barriers created an unconstitutional “de facto buffer zone” that interferes with sidewalk free speech rights of anti-abortion speakers.
The Thomas More Society said in a press release that on May 19, “after pressure from the not-for-profit, national public interest law firm, the city informed the Thomas More Society that it was removing all restrictions.”
An attorney with the Thomas More Society said the city had agreed during a phone call. Answers to questions asked to a city spokesman were not provided by the Tribune’s press time.
On Monday afternoon, city spokesman Julio Cortes said the police department already planned to take down the barriers.
"When implemented, it is common practice to continuously re-evaluate restrictions and determine if they remain necessary," Cortes said in a written statement. "The City received several comments, including from this group, on this particular set of restrictions, but after a month without any additional concerns, the police department concluded the risk to public safety at the Wednesday protest was minimal and removed the temporary restrictions with the belief individuals could avoid conflict without barriers or designated protest areas. The restrictions were preventative and intended to be temporary.
"Buffer zones are enacted to protect patients from harassment and assists in keeping people safe."
In a previous story, a city attorney explained to a reporter that the courts say a city cannot establish a clearly defined buffer zone, to keep people behind
do-not-cross lines, because of First Amendment rights in public spaces.
The city was using a “time, place and manner restriction.”
In its May 11 letter, Society attorneys wrote that “it appears City law enforcement has acted beyond its authority.”
If the city hadn’t removed the barriers, Everett would have been sued in federal court, a spokesman for the legal firm told this paper.
Pro-patient supporters go to counter the anti-abortion activists. The activists often call out to people entering the clinic attempting to start conversations or dissuade them.
Janean Desmarais, speaking for the patient advocates who counter the anti-abortion activists each week, said in a statement that “we are not surprised at the City of Everett’s decision to back down from a well-funded Catholic organization such as The Thomas More Society. This is just another example of the religious right playing the persecution card to their advantage.”
The courts created a way to create no-contact bubbles around patients within a certain distance to a health care facility, where they cannot be handed literature or blocked from entry. However, enforcing a precisely defined
distance bubble around a moving person, and maintaining protection only in that bubble, could be hard, a city attorney said previously.
Part of the activists’ approach is to explain the Biblical teaching that life starts at conception, not childbirth. Many are affiliated with two national pro-life organizations: Sidewalk Advocates for Life and 40 Days for Life.
Statement in reaction to press release from Thomas More Society
Janean Desmarais, representing the pro-patient advocates, originally gave a lengthier statement to the Tribune which there was not room to print.
It is below in full:
"We are not surprised at the City of Everett's decision to back down from a well-funded Catholic organization such as The Thomas More Society that has pressed the City to no longer protect the citizens from the harassment of anti-abortion protestors when visiting Planned Parenthood."
"We do find the assertion laughable that the (Everett Police Department) was biased on which group was able to occupy the position directly across from the clinic. It is simple. The pro-choice group was diligent to be the first ones in that position and the anti-choice showed up at their leisure. ‘Preferential treatment’ would be the police making the two groups take turns regardless of who was there first due to the anti-choice crowd complaints. This is just another example of the religious right playing the persecution card to their advantage."
"Planned Parenthood is an elevated position with a direct line of sight to the Pregnancy Aid and anyone standing outside. Any person entering or exiting Planned Parenthood could take it upon themselves to walk across the street and engage with the anti-choice crowd. People finally had a choice about engagement, something we know the anti-abortion is staunchly against, and now patients and staff will once again be subjected to yelling, name calling, harassment, and duped into taking inaccurate medical information about their health from people who are not doctors."
" 'The basic test for gauging the sufficiency of alternative channels is whether the speaker is afforded a forum that is accessible and where the intended audience is expected to pass.' "
"Lastly. We are PRO-ABORTION. Just like we are Pro-Vasectomy, Pro-Prostate Cancer treatment, and Pro-Erectile Dysfunction treatment because we are PRO-HEALTHCARE. Abortion is normal and it is not going away, and neither are we. See you on the sidewalk”
EVERETT — The city says it cannot establish a buffer zone to move anti-abortion protestors away from Planned Parenthood’s premises. Supporters say not stopping women from being harassed is beyond disappointing. Every Wednesday brings a crowd.
More on this story...
Michael Whitney photo
Every Wednesday, people both against and for Planned Parenthood on 32nd Street near Colby Avenue come out. This
photo is from across the street at the tail end of activities Wednesday, Feb. 24 after many people had gone home.
Check out our online publications!