The Department of Justice is bringing an elderly pro-life activist to court for allegedly intimidating women attempting to get abortions at a Planned Parenthood facility in Washington, D.C.
DOJ’s Civil Rights Division is seeking monetary damages, penalties and an order to prevent pro-lifer Richard Retta from coming within 20 feet of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington’s gate or obstructing patient or staff access to the clinic.
The suit, filed this month in D.C. District Court, claims that Retta violated the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, a law passed during the Clinton administration, which prohibits the use of intimidation to prevent women from obtaining an abortion.
“Individuals who seek to obtain or provide reproductive health services have the right to do so without encountering hazardous physical obstructions,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. “We will continue to aggressively enforce FACE against those who seek to violate the rights of their fellow Americans to safely provide or obtain such services.”
Some conservatives are criticizing DOJ’s pursuit of this case in light of the fact that the same Civil Rights Division dropped a 2008 voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party.
Judicial Watch, for example, found it odd that DOJ considers one unarmed elderly man a threat, when just a short while earlier they did not think that NBPP members wearing military attire and wielding a weapon outside a Philadelphia voting precinct intimidated voters enough to warrant prosecution.
According to one critic of the case, former Justice Department official and Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky, the Justice Department is abusing the FACE Act to silence Retta, who Spakovsky said actually trains counselors to not physically obstruct a patient’s path.
“It is no surprise that this politicized Justice Department is willing to abuse federal law to suppress anti-abortion views. After all, the two trial lawyers who signed the complaint were hired by the Obama administration,” Spakovsky told TheDC, noting that two of the three lawyers on the case, Aaron Zisser and Michelle Leung have histories working for liberal organizations. “Apparently, both of these lawyers who were hired into career civil service positions because of their left-wing ideology are more interested in protecting terrorists and stopping ‘[drug] dog sniffing’ than protecting the free speech rights of a 79-year old American citizen.”
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, agreed with Spakovsky’s sentiment. He told TheDC that the motives are largely political.
“This complaint seems like it was written more by Planned Parenthood than discerning professional lawyers,” Tom Fitton said.
“Ironically, the administration claims that the pro life advocate, a Maryland man named Richard Retta, intimidated and interfered with women seeking abortions in Washington D.C.-area clinics much like members of the New Black Panther Party did to white voters during the 2008 presidential election,” Fitton’s outfit wrote in a recent post about the case. “The difference is that the Black Panthers, clad in military attire, used weapons, racial insults and profanity to deter voters.”
While there is skepticism about the motives, DOJ insists that they have done nothing in either case but follow the law.
“The Department, in both cases, made determinations based on the facts and the law. In the New Black Panther Party case, OPR [Office of Professional Responsibility] found that both the decision to file the case and the decision to dismiss certain claims were based on just that,” DOJ spokesman Xochitl Hinojosa told TheDC. “In the complaint filed against Richard Retta, the complaint makes clear that Retta physically interfered with a person seeking reproductive health care services, which is a direct violation of the FACE Act.”