In May 2018, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman resigned from office in disgrace following reports that he had physically assaulted four women. Before his departure, Schneiderman had launched a year-long investigation into peaceful pro-life protestors. He eventually filed suit against 13 individuals in June 2017, alleging violations of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) and the state and city corollaries.
Ironically, in a press release announcing the lawsuit, Schneiderman accused the protestors of “threatening, violent, and obstructive behavior” at Choices Women’s Medical Center, a Queens, New York abortion facility.
However, after holding a hearing on the claims, a federal judge found the attorney general’s witnesses were not reliable and “that despite the availability of hundreds of hours of video evidence, the [attorney general] has not cited a single video that corroborates the witness testimony claiming near-weekly violations. Instead, the video evidence contradicts the escorts’ accounts of protestor conduct on specific occasions.”
While the decision obviously represents a victory for the defendants, most of whom are members of the Church at the Rock or Grace Baptist Church, the district court’s detailed summary of the facts proves important for another reason: It exposes the lies and tactics abortion activists and politicians rely upon to silence pro-life voices.
Government Surveillance of Pro-Life Activists
In her 100-plus page order, Judge Carol Bagley Amon, a George H.W. Bush appointee, dispassionately detailed Schneiderman’s efforts to keep the Christian protestors quiet, and why. At a press conference held outside the Choices facility to announce his lawsuit against the protestors, Schneiderman declared this is “not a nation where you can choose your point of view.”
In furtherance of these efforts, the attorney general dispatched undercover investigators to Choices, with most of the investigators “pretending to be patients and their companions, and wearing hidden cameras recording video and audio.” But, as Bagley Amon explained, “[d]espite these investigative activities, the [attorney general] did not call any of its investigators as witnesses, and introduced few of the undercover videos as evidence.”
In addition to the undercover investigators, Schneiderman used two of the abortion “escorts”—volunteers who walked abortion clients into the Choice facility—to help gather evidence. The escorts, Pearl Brady and Theresa White, wore recording devices and helped prepare a “protester dossier” that collected personal information about the protestors.
White recorded the protestors’ license plate numbers and periodically searched the Internet for information about the protestors. Brady also conducted Internet searches to learn information about the individuals protesting outside Choices and “created and maintained a Facebook account in which she pretended to be ‘Shelly Walker,’ a vocal and fictitious anti-abortion advocate. Brady used this fake account to ‘friend’ some of the protestors on Facebook, gather information about them, and determine whether they posted online any of the photos and videos they took outside Choices.”
In Court, Pretend You Don’t Know The Truth
Brady also used Facebook to communicate via “group chat” with fellow escort witnesses about how to testify in depositions: “Just remember,” she said, “yes, no, I don’t know, I don’t remember, and I don’t understand the question. Short answers. Don’t elaborate. This is for them to get more information, and it’s our job to give them as little help as possible.” These “directions” led the federal judge to question Brady’s veracity.
The attorney general called Brady, White, and several other escorts to testify as witnesses at a hearing held between February 12 and March 6, 2018. The judge found these witnesses’ testimony largely unreliable based on the “inconsistencies between [the witnesses’] descriptions of protestor conduct and the conduct shown in the supporting videos and photographs.” Although the district court generously called the witnesses’ sworn testimony “exaggerated descriptions of protestor misconduct,” “inconsistencies,” or “misremembered specific events,” the truth is the abortion activists lied.
For instance, one escort testified that two protestors “moved into [her],” but when questioned further revealed they had not actually moved “into her” but only close to her. The same escort had also testified in a deposition that the defendants had unlawfully obstructed clients from entering the abortion facility, but admitted after being confronted with a video recording that there was no such obstruction.
The district court also reviewed the security videos admitted as evidence and concluded that, contrary to the attorney general’s claim, the videos did not show the protestors obstructing access to Choices. Additionally, a security guard falsely testified that protestors would “shoulder check” clients, but when questioned on cross-examination, he admitted that what he really meant was that someone accidentally bumped into another person.
More Doctored and Exaggerated Evidence
Beyond the false testimony from the abortion escorts, the attorney general attempted to prove one of the protestors illegally intimidated clients when she filmed women on two occasions. The judge, however, noted that the protestor credibly testified that they “began filming because they had ‘a lot of incidents where the escorts would just surround, surround us ladies, at least those that were giving out literatures, [sic] and they would purposely push us out the way [sic] so, to have something documented, to have it on video just to protect ourselves because it’s going to be, when they call the cops, I want to be able to show the cops we didn’t do anything wrong.” Given the escorts’ propensity to lie, the protestors acted prudently, as well as legally, since they avoided capturing the clients’ faces on video.
Nonetheless, Bagley Amon refused to find that the witnesses intentionally lied at the hearing, stating instead “their overstatements of what occurred and who caused it are colored by their views that the protestors are overzealous and that it is the escorts’ mission to shield patients from any interaction with them.” But it wasn’t just the abortion activists’ testimony that was euphemistically “overstated,” it was also forms the abortion facility kept supposedly detailing confrontations with the protestors.
The attorney general attempted to admit these forms, which consisted of “Clinic Escort Recaps” and “Protester Experience Questionnaires,” but the judge refused to give that “evidence” any weight, finding the forms were not reliable. For instance, the Clinic Escort Recap forms, which escorts completed during a debriefing inside the abortion facility after the protestors left, purportedly provided an overview of the day’s events and noted any significant incidents. But the details included were false.
Bagley Amon illustrated this problem by pointing to one Clinic Escort Recap that stated: “Mary Lou called [the police] at 8:10 after being shoved by Ron and Griepp.” But, as Bagley Amon noted, the escort admitted during the hearing that the men did not “actually shove her,” but just moved toward her very quickly.
The attorney general also sought to prove the protestors violated the law by sharing the responses clients provided in “Protester Experience Questionnaires.” These questionnaires asked clients to summarize any interaction with protestors and any efforts to prevent them from entering the abortion facility.
The judge refused to consider this evidence because only a sampling of the questionnaires was submitted. Most were destroyed. When asked about the facility’s decision to destroy the forms, the abortion facility’s director of the volunteer escort program lied, claiming she had a system for deciding which questionnaires to keep, before eventually admitting she had no system.
Bad Behavior Is a Bad Reason to Respond In Kind?
Although the judge refused to call the abortion facility witnesses liars, she nonetheless concluded that their testimony was “insufficiently reliable” to support the attorney general’s accusation that the defendants used force against the escorts and clients. The district court likewise rejected claims that the defendants intentionally harassed the clients, in violation of the access laws. Yet the judge added a word of caution, telling the defendants that her “decision should not embolden the defendants to engage in more aggressive conduct,” noting that some of the protestors’ actions came close to crossing the line.
The judge added a practical point that pro-life protestors would be wise to heed: When a client asks to be left alone, voluntarily disengaging is evidence of goodwill. Continuing to hound the women will annoy and not persuade, and not only violates the law but would be contrary to the defendants’ stated objectives.
Goodwill and non-confrontational offers of help, however, won’t placate abortion activists, as seen most recently when the Texas-based Whole Woman’s Health abortion facility lobbied the South Bend, Indiana mayor to prevent a pregnancy resource center from locating next door. The nearly 35-year-old Women’s Care Center pledge to prohibiting all protesting on its property and stressed that there has never been an act of violence associated with its organization.
Nonetheless, the Democratic major, Pete Buttigieg, vetoed the common council’s rezoning approval necessary for the Women’s Care Center to open. Buttigieg justified his decision based on the same type of evidence Bagley Amon found worthless— abortion facility employees’ self-reported, anecdotal claims of violence.
Whole Woman’s Health’s reliance on fake statistics benefitted the abortion provider no more than the New York-based Choice abortion facility’s attempt to silence protestors with false claims of violence. Following the mayor’s veto and the common council’s failure to override the veto, a business owner across the street offered to sell his property (which was properly zoned) to the Women’s Care Center. This location proves even more ideal, because women facing crisis pregnancies will be able to access the pregnancy resource center without crossing paths with the protestors picketing across the street.