U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is seeking an injunction that would limit anti-choice activist Mary Susan Pine’s access to the driveways leading up to the Presidential Women’s Center, an abortion clinic in West Palm Beach, Florida. According to Sharon Levin, vice president and general counsel of the National Abortion Federation, this lawsuit is the first in Florida to employ the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, which prohibits obstructing clinic entrances, injuring anyone involved with a clinic, or causing damage to a clinic.
Holder’s action is part of a promised crackdown on clinic violence, a reaction to Kansas abortion provider George Tiller’s 2009 murder. While Pine currently has no charges of violence against her, she regularly participates in “sidewalk counseling” and, according to Holder, once blocked a car from entering one of the clinic’s driveways (an allegation she denies). Presidential Women’s Center attorney Louis Silber contends that Pine’s behavior oversteps the First Amendment, saying, “she’s gone beyond letting her opinion be known.”
This is not the first time the Presidential Women’s Center has dealt with violent action on their property. The Sun-Sentinel reports that an unknown arsonist set fire to the facility in 2006. While the incident initially prompted the West Palm Beach City Commission to enact a 20-foot buffer zone around the clinic, a judge later ruled the buffer zone to be “too restrictive” and replaced the law with one “that limits amplified noise near medical centers.”
The clinic’s struggle to gain legitimate protection from violent protest makes Holder’s efforts all the more significant. Buffer zones can reduce the risk of violence by deterring those who would otherwise consider violating elements of the FACE Act, and making them an integral part of clinic structure would increase the safety and dignity of anyone entering or exiting clinics. The First Amendment is always at the forefront of clinic protest and violence discussions, but the core of this issue is safety from violence, rather than a barricade against protester opinion.
Holder’s injunction could be just the start of many progressive actions taken to enforce federal laws protecting abortion clinics in the United States, and we look forward to more vigorous enforcement of the FACE Act by the federal government in the future.