Saturday, September 04, 1999

Abortion clinic chief: Protesters blocked door

Cincinnati facility among 3 cited in trial

The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — Abortion protesters rushed a door and blocked entrances at a Cincinnati clinic in July 1997, the director testified Friday in the trial of six demonstrators accused of restricting access to Ohio clinics.

        Julia Goodchild, director of the Women's Medical Center of Cincinnati, told a U.S. District Court jury that a group of demonstrators ran to a door after a patient was let in and then yanked on the locked door to try to get inside.

        “They physically put themselves up against the door,” she said. “They began to stand in front of it almost in layers, as if they were bowling pins.”

        The jury is hearing the U.S. Justice Department's March 1998 lawsuit against Dallas-based Operation Rescue and the six protesters. The government has prosecuted dozens of abortion protesters under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which bans the use of force, threats or blockades to interfere with access to reproductive health care.

        Defense attorneys deny that the demonstrators blocked access to the clinics in Cincinnati, Dayton and Kettering, a Dayton suburb.

        “The sole intent was to exercise their First Amendment right to protest something they feel very deeply about,” attorney David Langdon said.

        Ms. Goodchild said the protesters did not leave immediately after she and a police officer told them they would be arrested for trespassing if they failed to vacate the property.

        Under cross-examination, Ms. Goodchild said she did not specifically tell the protesters to step away from the door and that she did not see any patients trying to enter the clinic while the protesters were there.

        Prosecutors want the court to bar protesters from hampering access to the clinics. The government can ask for up to $10,000 in fines and $5,000 in damages against any defendant who is convicted.

        Shelley Jackson, attorney for the Justice Department, told the jury the case is not about whether abortion is right or wrong.

        “The United States government does not question the sincerity of the defendants' views or the right to hold them,” Ms. Jackson said. This case “is not about the defendants' beliefs, but their conduct.”

        Cincinnati police Lt. Joseph Hall testified that one of the defendants told him before the protest at the Cincinnati clinic that demonstrators intended to block entrances.

        Both Cincinnati police Capt. Phyllis Caskey and Charles Wever, a security guard at the clinic, testified that the protesters blocked the entrances. However, Capt. Caskey said no one was arrested because the demonstrators left after being warned.

        The trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday.


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