NEW YORK – A federal court yesterday ruled against the State of New York in a suit brought on behalf of patients and staff of Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens, who for years have endured a campaign of harassment, intimidation, and obstruction aimed at preventing women from obtaining healthcare services, including constitutionally protected abortion services. The suit, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, sought primarily to enforce the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the state New York Clinic Access Act, and the New York City Clinic Access Act, which together essentially prohibit the actual or threatened use of force, obstruction, or harassment to injure, intimidate, or interfere with a person accessing reproductive health services.
The court explicitly disregarded documents and the testimony of patients, staff, and volunteer escorts detailing an unrelenting campaign of threats, harassment, and obstruction as women attempted to enter the clinic on Saturday mornings, and bent over backwards to credit the testimony of harassers, and to interpret video evidence in their favor, without regard to the atmosphere of harassment and intimidation created by anti-choice zealots. But given the current attacks on the right of women to access legal abortion services and the nomination of a virulently anti-abortion judge to the Supreme Court, this verdict is not surprising.
“The court’s decision denying our patients and staff protection from the harassment and intimidation they currently experience on a weekly basis is inexplicable, and its utter disregard of their testimony is a shocking repudiation of their lived experiences. Only by ignoring the unbearable atmosphere of hate and chaos deliberately created by these anti-choice zealots could the court parse their conduct to avoid finding violations of federal, state, and city law. The Attorney General must appeal. I call on every agency responsible for protecting our patients and staff to be proactive and vigilant, as this decision will surely embolden those who already harass and threaten women exercising their constitutional right to safe and legal abortion services. Rest assured, Choices will never be deterred in its commitment to provide the best reproductive health care possible—including abortions and volunteer escorts will continue to support and protect patients from anti-choice harassment.”
— Merle Hoffman, Founder and President of Choices Women’s Medical Center
“The court’s ruling is another blow to Roe v. Wade, effectively limiting abortion rights to women willing to run a gauntlet of harassment, intimidation, obstruction, and humiliation. I urge the Attorney General to appeal this decision, and law enforcement at every level must ensure the safety of women seeking reproductive healthcare services, including abortion, at Choices.”
— Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), Chair of the Committee on the Justice System
“This decision sets a dangerous precedent. It is unconscionable that any person would be subjected to harassment, threats, and even physical violence for simply seeking or providing medical care – and that our courts would condone this behavior. Now, more than ever, we must establish laws in our state that protect women’s reproductive rights and ensure this type of behavior is never tolerated.”
— Public Advocate Letitia James
Especially in today’s current political climate, where we can expect reproductive rights to be increasingly under siege, it is crucial that states like New York move aggressively to ensure that women have more than just a theoretical choice about their health and wellbeing. If the courts are not willing to enforce clinic protection and access laws, we will see a swift degradation of women’s ability to make decisions about their own reproductive health.