An interesting incident occurred this morning at the Albany Medical-Surgical Center, the late-term abortion clinic located near our office on Chicago’s Northwest Side.
Officer Warns Counselors to Stand Back
Two of us from the League were praying in the alley when the two women who had been counseling at the sidewalk entrance approached us.
They said that a police officer—who was now parked in a nearby parking lot overlooking the abortion clinic—had told them they couldn’t stand within 15 feet of the entrance to the clinic. He told them he was sympathetic to their cause, but that the administrator of the clinic was becoming increasingly insistent that a pro-lifer be arrested.
The counselors were confused because the text of Chicago’s Bubble Zone Ordinance [pdf] uses the numbers “50” and “8”; nowhere does the number “15” appear in the text. (Not that this has stopped others from making up their own numbers—like 10, 150, and 1,000.)
I have a copy of the ordinance at my fingertips whenever I am at a Chicago abortion clinic, just in case.
So I approached the officer and asked him to clarify what he had said to the others. I asked if he had read the Bubble Ordinance, holding up a copy to show him. He told me he had. So I asked where the number “15” came from, since this is nowhere in the bill. He told me I only had a partial copy of the ordinance and that the actual ordinance is longer.
That confused me, since I was present when they voted the stupid bubble zone in and since I’ve been dealing with it repeatedly ever since.
Officer Warns of Potential FACE Violations
Then he started to explain that if someone stepped inside the fence of the clinic, they were violating the law. “Inside?” I gasped. He didn’t appreciate being interrupted, but all of my pro-life activism has occurred since the FACE law was passed, so the thought of going inside or on clinic property horrifies me!
As a refresher, in 1994 President Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act [pdf]. Any person who blocks someone from entering a clinic or tries to intimidate them from entering or who damages a clinic faces massive fines and jail time (up to $10,000 and one year in jail for the first offense!).
Once he began speaking more on blocking people and going on clinic property, I pulled out a copy of the FACE Act (this pdf, which has info about the rights of sidewalk counselors) and showed it to the officer. “Yes,” he said, “this is the bill.”
Clinic Is Pushing the Police To Make Arrests
So we talked and I clarified the situation further. Someone at the clinic (I suspect it’s the administrator, Diana Lamon) has been pressuring the police to make an arrest. In fact, they’re upset that no one has been arrested thus far.
They’ve begun video recording the sidewalk in front of the clinic (previously the cameras were just for show, from what we’ve heard). If any pro-lifer steps even a toe onto clinic property, the clinic staffers have told the police they will demand this person is immediately arrested.
This officer, not wanting to have to arrest anyone, was simply trying to explain the situation, first to the counselors, then to me.
With everything cleared up (except for where the “15 feet” thing comes from), I went back and explained to the counselors that they must be extra vigilant to not step on clinic property—or even to appear to—or to physically interfere with anyone entering the clinic. They promised to be on their guard and to stand back a bit from the edge of the clinic property as a precaution.
Never Go Alone
Unfortunately, today’s events are just one in a series of encounters with Chicago police at the Albany abortion clinic within the last few weeks. The clinic staff are obviously bothered by something (their consciences?) and are taking it out on the pro-lifers.
Also unfortunately, though, several of the pro-lifers have been alone when the clinic staff accused them of doing crazy things—throwing rocks, putting gum on a passing car, or stepping on clinic property. They have had no pro-life counter-witness to clear their names if the police were to make an arrest.
This just serves as a reminder to every pro-lifer who goes to an abortion clinic to pray or counsel: Never go alone. Always have a pro-life witness with you, just in case you are accused of doing something. Even when you’re just praying, sometimes they call the cops. So don’t go alone if at all humanly possible. And bring a camera or a video camera to document exactly what happens!
Like the officer said to me, you can’t do any good if you’re sitting in a jail cell.