The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that police can enforce a previously lame-duck law preventing pro-life advocates from protesting outside of Portland’s Planned Parenthood abortion clinic.
The ruling follows pro-lifer Andrew March’s 2015 suit against the city of Portland, several police offers, and the Maine Attorney General Janet Mills in 2015 after police told him he couldn’t demonstrate outside the abortion clinic.
After March’s suit, U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen granted a motion for a preliminary injunction in May 2016 ordering police to stop enforcing a 1995 state law which protects women receiving abortions from being heckled by protesters. Torresen ruled in March’s favor, saying that the noise ordinance was unconstitutional because it violated his free speech rights and attempted to censor what he had to say.
“This case presents the difficult question of whether a state law, providing protection to women seeking access to constitutionally protected health care violates the First Amendment rights of an individual who wishes to voice his opposition to abortion on a public sidewalk,” Torresen wrote in her explanation of the decision. “I conclude that it does.”
Torresen’s ruling however, was overturned Tuesday by an appellate court made up of three judges who insisted that the noise ordinance does not pertain to speech content and therefore should stand. “The noise provision was the product of a careful legislative process,” Judge David Barron wrote in the panel’s decision. “That process sought to forge a consensus among many competing interests in order to address what all parties to this dispute agree is a serious concern regarding the health and safety of those seeking health services.”
“This would be a reasonable restriction outside clinics,” said Maine’s assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin according to Bangor Daily News. “Protests are fine but once patients have run the gauntlet outside the clinic, once the door to the exam room or the consultation room is shut, that should be a sanctuary. People shouldn’t be barraged with screaming while obtaining medical care.”
March’s attorney, Kate Oliveri, told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday that even if the law on the books is in fact constitutional, its enforcement may not be. Pro-life protestors echoed her comments and fear the new ruling will be used to prevent them from expressing their opinions outside of abortion clinics in the state.
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