1,000 Activists Lobby for Abortion Rights : Cypress Clinic Area Barred to Protesters
Stunning anti-abortion forces, a judge on Monday banned all protesters from the parking lot of a Cypress abortion clinic and found that the picketers have unjustly hampered the patients’ rights to seek medical services.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Linda H. McLaughlin said the protesters--who have targeted the Cypress facility for the last 12 years, most recently by trying to dissuade women in the parking lot from entering the building--could effectively make their point from a nearby public sidewalk.
Stressing that “nothing could be more personal and private” than a woman’s choice to have an abortion, the judge said the protesters had violated the rights of both the patients and of the clinic’s owner, Dr. Edward Allred. A frequent target of protesters, Allred runs 23 clinics that perform abortions within his Family Planning Associates Medical Group, making him the largest operator of abortion clinics in the nation.
‘Made the Place a Zoo’
“This is great news, and we’re very, very pleased,” Allred said. “Those people have made the place a zoo--descending on the patients as they come in. It’s just not a good environment. Hopefully, that will change now.”
Just several weekends ago, for example, Allred said that police had to quiet a disturbance at the clinic when an outraged man pulled a knife after he and his girlfriend were confronted by anti-abortion pickets in the parking lot.
Under a 1987 injunction, a judge limited the protesters to only as many people in the lot as there were incoming cars, plus one person standing at the entrance. But Monday’s ruling banned them from the parking lot altogether.
Anti-abortion representatives say they will fight the ruling, which followed a 2-week trial. It came in the midst of intensified debate over the abortion question, both locally and nationwide in advance of an expected ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the emotional issue.
“This is a disgusting decision, just disgraceful,” said Ralph Buglione of Garden Grove, a co-defendant in the case, who said he has spent virtually every Saturday for the last 12 years protesting at the Cypress clinic.
“The judge has actually ruled against the First Amendment, that’s what she did,” said Buglione, a retired government worker. “She’s said that Allred has the right to kill babies, but we don’t have the right to give these women a little bit of information, to try and turn them around and make them see the light.”
Janet M. LaRue, a lawyer for the anti-abortionists, added: “If this decision stands, it will be a critical setback to the sidewalk counseling of pro-lifers and would cut off (protesters’) only effective means of communication before a woman enters the clinic.”
The decision means that patients can drive into the parking lot and walk to the clinic without having to be confronted by protesters who now will be confined to the sidewalk surrounding the lot.
Beyond its psychological impact in the abortion debate, lawyers involved in the case said the ruling carries potentially broad legal importance as well.
In a decision thought to be the first in the state to address the issue, McLaughlin found that abortion clinics are essentially private properties that are not subject to the same public access as shopping malls, grocery stores and other frequent targets of picketers.
That finding was a critical blow to anti-abortion protesters, who had hoped to show that the clinic was a quasi-public facility and that its parking lot should continue to be accessible to everyone, regardless of beliefs.
Unlike Operation Rescue protesters, who were banned last month by a federal judge from blockading entrances to abortion facilities, the Cypress protesters never tried to physically obstruct the facility’s operations, their lawyers argued; they sought only to use the parking lot to hand out literature and get their message across to women.
But Allred’s attorney, Ronald Talmo, said this First Amendment position was merely a “smoke screen” to hide the protesters’ harassment and intimidation of incoming patients.
The protesters, half a dozen or more each Saturday, Talmo alleged, would routinely try to bully incoming women in the parking lot by shoving graphic photos of fetuses in their faces, calling them names and following them around the lot.
Contact with protesters persuaded at least eight women not to go ahead with abortions, according to lawyers in the case.
The office manager at the Cypress clinic, who asked that her name not be used, said after learning of the decision: “This can only help our patients. The verbal harassment, the constant badgering--it’s been terribly upsetting for women who are already going through a difficult emotion time. And it had to stop.”
After protesters increased their visibility in late 1986 by moving from the sidewalk outside the Grindlay Street facility in Cypress to the parking lot, Allred decided to place “escorts” in the lot to lead patients inside and, he said, reduce any emotional trauma for them.
The protesters’ attorneys, in vigorous questioning of Allred and other witnesses, sought to show that protesters’ contacts with patients in the parking lot caused no increase in stress-related surgical complications once the women were inside. And they argued that beyond its effect, the contact came well within the protesters’ rights of free speech.
“We never interrupted business,” said Buglione, the longtime protester. “The women were free to go in--we never stopped them. We just offered an alternative.”
But in her ruling, McLaughlin said the trial evidence established that the protesters’ activities in the parking lot and walkways around the clinic “interfered with and burdened” the patients seeking treatment.
She said such interference represents a clear violation of the patient’s constitutional right to make her own personal and private decision about the future of her pregnancy--a right that has been well established by the courts.
McLaughlin’s “proposed statement of intended decision” was 12 pages long. She gave both sides another 20 days to comment before it becomes effective.