A federal court order that failed to prevent abortion foes from shutting down the office of an Escondido doctor over the weekend has raised questions from both pro-choice advocates and law enforcement officials about how the order should have been enforced.
The preliminary injunction, issued Wednesday by U. S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima, was supposed to prevent participants of Operation Rescue, or any similar group, from interfering with women seeking abortions. The order also restricted demonstrators from trespassing or blocking entrances on properties where abortions are performed.
But Saturday, more than 300 Project Rescue participants shut down the Escondido office of Dr. Ying Chen by blocking the entrances while police stood nearby.
Authorities said they had no power to enforce the court order, and participants stood singing as officials of the American Civil Liberties Union unsuccessfully attempted to read the court order to them.
“We didn’t enforce it for a couple of reasons,” said Lt. Earl Callandar, who was at the demonstration. “There were no victims, and no one wanted anyone arrested. Nobody was objecting to them being there. . . . If they were blocking the way, we could have escorted people, but there was no victim.”
Callandar said the order did not specifically direct police to enforce the injunction. “If the federal court order specifically directed us to remove them, then we’d have some decision to make,” he said.
Betty Wheeler, legal director of the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said she didn’t expect authorities to enforce the injunction.
“I think police officers would have taken action had there been people physically unable to get into the building because of the blockade,” she said.
Mark Salo, executive director of Planned Parenthood for San Diego and Riverside counties, agreed.
“It’s a good injunction, but it needs someone to say to police, ‘I need access to my building; please remove them.’ That was the ingredient that was not there Saturday.”
Several employees showed up Saturday morning, but left quickly. Only one got inside to cancel appointments.
But Carol Sobel, attorney for the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said: “Any lawful order that they (police) know about, they’re obligated to enforce. Their position is . . . they needed a complaining witness; I don’t think that’s the right attitude to take. If it was a question of a segregated school, and a minority wanted to get in, they would have enforced it.”
When to Get Involved
Callandar said police have to “wrestle” with the problem of when to get involved in demonstrations.
“At what point do the police interfere in the demonstration? Everybody’s civil rights are up for grabs, and we’re the first ones to be sued,” he said.
Callandar added that, because the order was issued from federal court out of the central district, it did not apply to his area.
Sobel said she is frustrated with law enforcement agencies that are “totally ignorant” of the law.
“Any federal court has the jurisdiction to issue a federal court order that can reach the entire state. If they don’t think the court’s authority applies to them, let them test it,” she said.
Sobel added that, although she was upset at the response of Escondido police, the court order is still useful for their purposes.
“It does do what it’s supposed to do, if not before the fact then after the fact,” she said.
“We will proceed with contempt proceedings. People recognize them, and we took photos of them. . . . There’s plenty of evidence. The fact that police don’t arrest them doesn’t mean they are not in violation of the court order.”