Even while facing a Justice Department lawsuit for allegedly obstructing access to an abortion facility, elderly pro-life activist Richard Retta continues to council and attempt to sway women from getting an abortion in front of the Planned Parenthood of downtown Washington, DC.
In July, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department filed a civil complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against Richard Retta for violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), a law passed under President Bill Clinton to prohibit the use of intimidation or obstruction to interfere with people trying to get an abortion.
DOJ is seeking monetary damages and an order preventing Retta from coming within 20 feet of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington’s gate.
Despite DOJ’s effort, Retta continues to spend every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday trying to convince women entering Planned Parenthood of Washington not to get an abortion.
“Well, we will give them some literature and offer them alternatives to abortion. We will let them know about the health care available and how we can help them,” Retta told TheDC. “Different types of medical help, food help, and we will talk to them about different financial help they need. We have different things available, so we tell them about that.”
The septuagenarian has been a active in the pro-life movement since 1998 and handing out pamphlets outside abortion facilities since 2001.
The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) is defending Retta, a retired engineer, against the charges pro bono. ACLJ has responded to the charges, on behalf of Retta, with a motion to dismiss the complaint, and is currently waiting for a response from DOJ.
In the interim, according to senior council Jim Henderson, Retta is free to continue his activities in front of the abortion provider.
“The Justice Department has not asked for, and the court has not granted, an injunction governing the activities in front,” he explained. According to Henderson if the court decides not to grant ACLJ’s dismissal request then Retta will go to court and a decision will be made then.
Retta and his lawyers are adamant that his speech is protected under the First Amendment and hopeful that the court will dismiss the charges.
“I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m just, you know, practicing my First Amendment rights,” Retta told TheDC. “And I have a right to offer women information, as long as it’s in a safe manner.”
According to some, the Justice Department’s fervor with which they are going after Retta is largely political.
“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,” former Justice Department official and Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky, told TheDC in July.
Henderson added that it is interesting that the New Black Panthers — whose members were wearing military attire and wielding a weapon outside a Philadelphia voting precinct — escaped prosecution while Retta continues to come under fire from the Justice Department.
“The have a lot of time since they aren’t going after the New Black Panthers, among other things.” Henderson said. “One of the president’s commitments in the election season was to reinvigorate enforcement of [this] statue, along with a couple others in the Special Litigation branch of the Civil Rights Division… So it is a political return of the election favors.”
The Justice Department maintains that their action is in the interests of the rights of women to obtain an abortion without physical impediments.
“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 in a statement. “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.”