Anti-choice protesters who allegedly harassed women who approached the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica between 2012 and 2017, were in federal court in Brooklyn for the past two weeks, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said.
State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman brought a suit against 14 anti-choice protesters on June 20, 2017 after surveillance video depicted one of the demonstrators advancing toward a woman who had her child with her as she tried to enter the center at 147-32 Jamaica Ave.
The individuals are charged with violating the New York City Clinic Access Act.
Pearl Brady, a volunteer for Choices, was on the stand as a witness for eight hours at one of the hearings.
According to Emily Kadar, a representative for National Institute for Reproductive Health, Brady recounted specific incidences with protesters from her time at the center from 2015 to 2017.
“One of the people she spoke about was Ron George, a pastor at Church of the Rock,” said Kadar. “She said when he followed patients he would ignore their requests to go away. She said another defendant was Patricia Muscom who was often recording patients and taking notes about them.”
Public Advocate Letitia James, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) publicly condemned the protesters for the alleged harassment.
“As we witness attacks on women’s rights at the federal level and in state legislatures across the nation, I applaud the attorney general for demonstrating a steadfast commitment to protecting reproductive health-care rights in New York state,” said Comrie.
According to Schneiderman’s lawsuit, “protesters have subjected incoming patients to a barrage of unwanted physical conduct as well as verbal abuse, threats of harm and lies about the clinic’s hours and its services.”
The lawsuit contends that Pastor Kenneth Griepp of Church at the Rock, located at 1288 East 92nd St. in Canarsie, Brooklyn, was leading some of the protests by gathering up to 23 people outside the center every other Saturday from 2012 to 2017.
Current and former members of the church who are also being sued are Randall Doe, Osayinwense Okuonghae, Anne Kaminsky, Brian George, Sharon Doe, Deborah Ryan, Angela Braxton and Jasmine Lalande, according to the suit.
Dorothy Rothar, a Sister of St. Joseph, who works with Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, an anti-abortion religious organization in Brooklyn, is also being sued.
The remaining defendants are Prisca Joseph and Scott Fitchett.
Joseph allegedly colluded “with clinic escorts in an effort to get close to patients as they approach the clinic,” according to the suit. Fitchett was accused of standing outside the clinic chanting “murderer, murderer” at approaching individuals and filming patients.
Lawyers for members of Church at the Rock contend that their clients were exercising their right to assemble and were offering women options outside of abortion.
“Members of the Church at the Rock peacefully counsel women who are considering having an abortion,” said Andrew Bath, of the Thomas More Society General Counsel. “They conduct themselves reasonably and compassionately, and offer information about abortion alternatives to those willing to listen. This is the exercise of their core First Amendment rights, and is an activity that takes place on the public sidewalk, the traditional venue for expression concerning important ideas and societal issues.”
Choices Women’s Medical Center provides gynecological, reproductive and behavioral health services. It was one of the first clinics in New York City to provide abortions since it was legalized in New York state in the 1970s, according to the center’s founder, Merle Hoffman.
“I am still here because I made a vow to my first patient and to myself—that I would always be there for women and girls who came to me for services,” said Hoffman. “I stand with A.G. Schneiderman and his staff—and with all abortion providers and patients—to say that this injustice must stop.”
Judge Carol Bagley presides over the case.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose