BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) — Five years after anti-abortion protesters began a campaign of threatening, groping and harassing patients and staff at a Queens women’s clinic, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed a federal lawsuit to end it.
“The tactics used to harass and menace Choices’ patients, families, volunteers, and staff are not only horrifying – they’re illegal,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “The law guarantees women the right to control their own bodies and access the reproductive health care they need, without obstruction.”
Schneiderman said that his office launched its probe last year into protests outside the Choices Women’s Medical Center in the Queens neighborhood of Jamaica, where protesters had been gathering since 2012, usually on Saturdays.
On Tuesday, his office named 14 men and women — primarily from four church groups — behind what the lawsuit calls a “barrage of unwanted physical contact, as well as verbal abuse, threats of harm, and lies about the clinic’s hours and its services.”
The lead defendant is Kenneth Griepp, a senior pastor at the Church at the Rock in Brooklyn, New York.
Other defendants include pastors and congregants from the Grace Baptist Church in Woodhaven, Helpers of God’s Precious Infants in Brooklyn, Bright Dawn Ministries in Brooklyn, and protesters with no apparent group affiliation.
“Protesters descend on approaching patients to harangue them, sometimes pinning them against the clinic’s exterior wall or parking meters, and even forcing them into the street and oncoming traffic as they try to escape the protesters,” the 32-page complaint states.
“Some protesters go so far as to touch or grab at patients to get their attention and force printed anti-choice materials on them. The protesters also crowd patients arriving by car, using their bodies to block the passenger-side doors and thrusting their heads and hands through open windows in an effort to force their literature inside.”
Schneiderman said that some of these men and women made death threats that were all the more chilling in the wake of decades of fatal violence against at least 11 people working at abortion clinics in the United States.
Church at the Rock member Randall Doe is repeatedly quoted in the lawsuit taunting people at the Queens clinic that they “can die any minute.”
On Jan. 7, Doe mentioned the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting that had unfolded a day earlier before warning “you never know when you are going to die,” according to the complaint.
Along with the complaint, Schneiderman’s office released video footage and photographs of protesters holding pamphlets and posters of mangled fetuses outside the clinic. The lawsuit is filled with quotations of veiled threats of people being shot and firebombed.
Schneiderman blamed Ronald George, another pastor at the Church at the Rock, for inciting a passerby in March to shout at a clinic escort, “You are going to burn in hell, you red-headed slut.”
This passerby then shouted a racist slur: “I hope a nigger fucks you,” according to the complaint.
A stalwart defender of the right to free speech and protest, even the New York Civil Liberties Union’s director Donna Lieberman praised Schneiderman’s lawsuit.
“Everyone has the right to speak their mind, but no one has the right to block New Yorkers from accessing the constitutionally protected health care they need,” she said in a statement. “The Attorney General is right to recognize that the obstruction and abuse taking place outside of the Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica is a serious violation of the rights of the clinic’s patients and staff, and has no place in an open New York.”
In 2012, Schneiderman’s office obtained a court order expanding a buffer zone against protesters outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Utica.
The Church at the Rock, Grace Baptist Church, and Helpers of God’s Precious Infants did not respond Tuesday to email requests for comment made after business hours.
Bright Dawn Ministries could not be reached for comment after hours.