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Anti-Abortion Protesters Targeting Women’s Clinic in Queens Win Court Battle

Anti-abortion protesters allegedly harassing a patient and her child entering Choices Women’s Medical Center (NY State Attorney General’s Office)

Aug. 30, 2021 By Allie Griffin

Anti-abortion protesters scored a small victory Thursday when a federal appeals court refused to enter a preliminary injunction filed against them that aimed to prevent them from protesting outside a Jamaica health clinic.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a prior district court decision that blocked a preliminary injunction against the protesters. However, the victory is only short term.

The decision stems from a case filed in 2017 by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman against 13 anti-abortion protesters who allegedly harassed women who were entering Choices Women’s Medical Center — a reproductive health clinic that offers abortions among other services in Jamaica.

Schneiderman, who stepped down from office in 2018 following a sexual abuse scandal, filed a lawsuit alleging that the protesters also threatened staff members. The suit also argued that they physically surrounded patients and blocked them from entering the clinic.

The lawsuit argues that the protesters violated several state, federal and local laws including the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the New York State Clinic Access Act and the New York City Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act — all of which prohibit obstructing access to reproductive health clinics.

Schneiderman also sought a preliminary injunction against the protesters, with the aim of stopping their activities outside the facility while the case was being heard.

A judge in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, rejected the motion for an injunction against the protests in 2018 and the state appealed the decision. A Second Circuit panel with the Court of Appeals then heard the case and sided with the state but that ruling was vacated on Thursday.

The federal appeals court didn’t look at the merits of each party’s arguments. The appeals court rather made the decision based solely on its belief that the district court didn’t abuse its discretion in denying the injunction, according to court documents.

The case will now return to the Eastern District for a trial based on the merits of each party’s arguments. Schneiderman’s successors, first Barbara Underwood, and then Letitia James have continued to pursue the case.

An attorney for the protesters denied all the claims of harassment and said the case has no merit because the protesters were peacefully executing their first amendment rights.

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