The pro-life ministry takes place weekly outside of the Choices abortion clinic on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, by members of the Church of the Rock, joined by Christians from a number of other churches.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman alleges these Christians unlawfully harassed patients, families and clinic staff and physically obstruct them from entering the clinic.
“The tactics used to harass and menace Choices’s patients, families, volunteers and staff are not only horrifying – they’re illegal,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “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.”
The church members hold signs that show pictures of unborn babies in the womb with phrases like, “Am I Not Human? Were You Not Once Here Yourself?”
Another sign reads: “The body inside your body is not your body.”
Another sign pictured in the lawsuit shows a poster with a fetus torn from its mother’s womb and the words “this is not healthcare.”
The lawsuit claims the church members have reduced some women to tears, to the point where they need special counseling before they can receive the clinic’s services.
According to the lawsuit:
“Defendant Prisca Joseph routinely refers to the volunteer clinic escorts as ‘deathscorts’ and takes copious notes of what is happening outside the clinic, chronicling who enters, when they enter, and what they look like. On February 18, 2017, an escort observed her record the license plate number of a clinic staff person. On at least one occasion, Defendant Randall Doe chased a patient as she exited Choices and returned to her car parked more than a block away, hovering over her as she retrieved an item from her vehicle, and then following her back to the clinic.”
But the church says it uses prayer and peaceful persuasion, not violence or intimidation.
“Our goal with every client – whether pregnant or seeking post abortion help – is to nurture their relationship with Jesus so that they can go out and share the Good News of freedom and forgiveness with others,” the church says on its website.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court on June 20. It claims the church is violating the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or 18 U.S.C. § 248(a)(1), and the NY Clinic Access Act, N.Y. Penal Law or § 240.70(l)(a)-(b).
The suit seeks to bar the defendants from protesting within 16 feet of the Choices abortion clinic or physically blocking or intimidating the women trying to reach the clinic to abort their babies.
Newsweek magazine did a one-sided article on the church’s pro-life ministry the day the suit was filed. In the article, headlined “Abortion in America: Protesters Face Harassment Suit in New York After Hurling Death Threats and Harming Women,” the magazine accused the church of “making death threats” against pregnant women going in for abortions, but the lawsuit never mentions any actual death threats, only referencing hearsay quotes that the attorney general interpreted as “threats of force.”
For instance, on April 16, 2016, defendant Ronald George allegedly warned clinic escorts, “On 9/11, 3,000 people didn’t realize they wouldn’t be coming home that day. You never know when you wake up in the morning that you might die.”
On Jan. 7, 2017, defendant Randall Doe allegedly referenced mass shootings and terrorist events in the news, mentioning the Jan. 6, 2017, Fort Lauderdale airport shooting and cautioning, “you never know when you are going to die.”
The Thomas More Society is representing the church.
In response to the allegations, Thomas More Society General Counsel Andrew Bath, issued the following statement:
“Members of the Church at the Rock peacefully counsel women who are considering having an abortion. They conduct themselves reasonably and compassionately, and offer information about abortion alternatives to those willing to listen. This is the exercise of their core First Amendment rights, and is an activity that takes place on the public sidewalk, the traditional venue for expression concerning important ideas and societal issues.
“The New York Attorney General’s suit seeks to deny our clients their fundamental First Amendment rights and is without factual or legal basis. We will vigorously defend our clients’ right to continue to peacefully deliver a pro-life message to abortion-minded women on the public sidewalk, and will seek dismissal of the State of New York’s meritless attempt to deny our clients the rights guaranteed them by our Constitution. ”
The lawsuit names 14 defendants. Kenneth Griepp, the senior pastor at Church at the Rock, a nondenominational Christian church in Canarsie, Brooklyn, has led about two dozen other church members in weekly protests outside Choices since 2012.
“We’re there to advocate for the lives of the babies being killed in the mothers’ wombs,” a woman who identified herself only as Lois, told Newsweek.
She said the church members weren’t there as protesters but as advocates to offer help and alternatives to women who think an abortion is their only choice: “There have been women who are going in to have an abortion, they’re crying, they don’t want to have an abortion, they are the ones we are there for.”
Choices was founded in 1971, just after New York State legalized abortion and two years before Roe v. Wade. It was one of the first outpatient abortion centers in the U.S.
The clinic provides both medical abortions for women up to 10 weeks of gestation and surgical abortions in both the first and second trimesters.