In the continuing battle over abortion rights in San Diego, anti-abortionists have adopted the legal tactics of their foes, charging that abortion providers are interfering with their First Amendment rights.
Jaime Bernal and Lesley Payne, two anti-abortionists who have picketed family planning and abortion clinics for more than two years, will seek a restraining order in federal court on Monday to prevent the workers of Birth Control Institute Inc. on El Cajon Boulevard and Family Planning Associates on Alvarado Boulevard from interfering with their rights to picket.
Burton Shamsky, the attorney for Bernal and Payne, said that the abortion providers harass his clients by having them falsely arrested and by calling police to intimidate them. He said the providers “scream and holler to try to scare picketers off” while the protesters speak with clients entering the clinics.
The harassment charges are similar to ones made by clinic personnel against another group of anti-abortion picketers last year. In those cases, the Birth Control Institute, Family Planning Associates and Womancare in Hillcrest won court injunctions against the Rev. Dorman Owens and members of his Santee-based Bible Missionary Fellowship, restricting them to picketing at a distance and prohibiting them from yelling and shouting words such as “baby killer” to women entering the clinics.
The clinic workers claimed that the picketers interfered with business, intimidated clients and impeded the women’s right to seek health care in a safe, non-hostile environment. The clinics offer gynecological care, birth control methods and abortions.
Owens and his followers began picketing the clinics in April, 1984. Birth Control Institute Director Carol Roberts said that Owens’ group or other anti-abortionists have picketed her clinic on weekends since then, except for the two-month period last fall when it was closed after an arson fire.
The clinic suffered about $200,000 worth of damage in the Sept. 13 fire, which is still under investigation. No one has been charged. The clinic was burned again March 16. Damage in that fire amounted to about $60,000 and one suspect was arrested, but charges have not been filed.
Roberts and a spokeswoman for Family Planning Associates said Owens and his followers have stopped picketing their clinics. Owens is on probation for violations of the court order.
The director of Family Planning Associates, who asked not to be identified in the newspaper for fear of threats, said her clinic is picketed about three times a week, but that she has not seen Owens or Bernal and Payne there in months.
Bernal, of El Cajon, has been picketing the institute on weekends since December, Roberts said. Shamsky said Payne has moved to Orange County.
Roberts keeps color photographs of Bernal running up to clients in their cars as they approach the clinic, and of his white Cadillac parked next to the institute bearing signs that say, “To Abort Is to Kill” in Spanish, or “Merry Christmas to Your Baby,” next to a picture of an almost fully developed fetus.
Shamsky said Bernal is exercising his civil rights but that the abortion providers “become pretty violent” against the picketers. “After all, every time we convince a woman not to have an abortion it’s money out of their pockets,” Shamsky said.
In the suit, Bernal accuses Roberts of putting herself between him and clients, flailing her arms and shouting, “You don’t have to listen to him” so that the women cannot hear him.
Roberts responded, “I haven’t raised my arms and shouted like that since I was in high school. The last thing the client needs is to be more frightened.”
She believes the suit is harassment but says she is taking it seriously.
“They’re trying to obtain an injunction against our business while they’re picketing our business. That’s ridiculous. I am more concerned about the client’s health and right to health care in a safe, non-hostile environment. The First Amendment issue is for the judge to decide,” she said.
In the suit, Bernal and Payne are seeking damages of $1.5 million from Family Planning Associates and $1.1 million from the Birth Control Institute, legal and medical costs, and a permanent injunction to keep the abortion providers from “harassing, arresting, threatening and interfering” with their picketing. They are asking for a jury trial.
The suit charges that Bernal and Payne always have protested in a polite and courteous way and were wrongfully arrested outside Family Planning Associates in October under the restraining order that applied to Owens and his followers.
It has been determined in Superior Court that the restraining order did not apply to Bernal and Payne.
The suit says Bernal and Payne “suffered humiliation, indignity, mental pain and suffering” as a result of the arrest, and have required medical services as a result of physical and emotional injuries and “shock to the nervous system” from the arrest.
Initially, the suit named the City of San Diego and arresting police, but they were dropped. Shamsky said they again may be named at a later date. The suit against Family Planning Associates was filed Nov. 15. The Birth Control Institute was added to the suit last month.
Bernal and Payne charge that the two agencies have conspired to stamp out the protests. They say the institute called police three times in December to intimidate Bernal and that Payne has all but abandoned her anti-abortion protests because of fear.
Bernal says in the suit that the mental strain from police intimidation and clinic workers and their escorts’ tactics “is devastating, affecting my sleep and relations with my wife, children and friends. I’m literally turning into a nervous wreck.” He adds that he will continue to picket because “the cause against the killing of unborn babies outweighs the persistent fear purposefully instilled in me.”
Roberts said the institute is organizing fund-raisers for the clinic’s legal defense. Roberts is named in the suit along with her father, Warren D. Roberts, who is on the board of directors, and two staff members.
Family Planning Associates owner Edward C. Allred of Los Angeles also is named in the suit.
Roberts said the Birth Control Institute continues to receive written and telephone threats, and that her home has been vandalized several times, presumably by anti-abortion sympathizers. She said workers plan to have someone sleeping at the clinic each night until the suspect in the second fire is charged and jailed.
Shane Cameron of San Diego, who was arrested shortly after the March fire on suspicion of arson, was released Friday on his own recognizance.
Agent Jim Stathes of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said charges are pending against Cameron. He said the agency expects to file them soon.