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Pro-life organization blocked from public sidewalk – September 2018

Rochester, NY

Members of a pro-life organization, ROC Sidewalk Advocates, were blocked from being on public sidewalks near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Rochester, NY. The city cited a 2005 federal injunction as the basis for enforcing this prohibition.

Key Players

The Thomas More Society is a national public interest law firm headquartered in in Chicago. According to its mission statement, it is a nonprofit “dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty.”

ROC Sidewalk Advocates for Life is a local branch of the national organization Sidewalk Advocates. Its stated mission is “to train, equip, and support local communities across the United States and the world in ‘sidewalk advocacy’: to be the hands and feet of Christ, offering loving, life-affirming alternatives to all present at the abortion center, thereby eliminating demand and ending abortion.” Jim Havens is the current program director for the Rochester branch.

Further Details

ROC Sidewalk Advocates have long gathered outside a Planned Parenthood facility on University Avenue in Rochester to offer “abortion alternatives” to women. But in June 2018, they were informed by Rochester police that they were in violation of a 15-foot-buffer-zone rule. The buffer zone was put in place by a 2005 federal injunction that originated from a “state attorney general lawsuit against Operation Rescue National and…other anti-abortion groups.” The injunction prohibits such groups from various antagonizing behaviors outside reproductive health clinics.

The Rochester police force enforced this injunction during the summer of 2018. Jim Havens, president of Rochester’s Sidewalk Advocates branch, pushed back on behalf of the organization with assistance from the Thomas More Society. They argued that since Sidewalk Advocates were not among the original defendants in the 2005 injunction case, and were not coordinating with anyone who was in violation of the injunction, they should not have to adhere to the 15-foot buffer requirement.

Outcome

City of Rochester reverses position, then reverts to original stand

Following the Thomas More Society’s legal advocacy on behalf of ROC Sidewalk Advocates, the city of Rochester informed the society that the police department would no longer enforce the injunction because the group was not acting in concert with any of the defendants from the 2005 legal matter. However, as of September 21, 2018, the city reverted to its original enforcement of the injunction. According to a letter from city officials to the Thomas More Society, it appears that Jim Havens and ROC Sidewalk Advocates have been “acting in concert with several of the defendants in that action,” and accordingly must now respect the 15-foot buffer zone rule.

External References

City decides pro-life marchers have 1st Amendment rights, WND

Rochester gives anti-abortion group green light for Planned Parenthood protests, Democrat & Chronicle

City, AG’s Office: Local protesters outside Planned Parenthood must adhere to buffer zone, WHAM

The Thomas More Society

Sidewalk Advocates for Life

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded to Tracker: October 8, 2018