Today I am writing you about an incredibly urgent issue.
Last night, the Columbus City Council heard a municipal ordinance based on the flawed Ohio House Bill 408. While the proposed city ordinance reiterates several existing city, state, and federal laws, the bill proposes new provisions that would make it illegal to annoy or inconvenience someone within fifteen feet of the premises of an abortion clinic, or any other “reproductive healthcare facility” (proposed 2317.51 A(2) and B(3).
Yes. This is correct. The City of Columbus is facing serious problems. Substance abuse is wrecking homes and families and lives. Addiction is fueling spikes in theft and burglary all across our city. Children are hungry, human trafficking victimizes our children, and our infant mortality rates are deplorable. Our schools are struggling and our police force is stretched thin. With all of these serious problems facing our community, why is it that the City of Columbus Council is focusing on passing a new law that makes it illegal to annoy an abortion clinic worker? Per their proposal, it is because there is an urgent issue of public safety because in 2015 there were 38 police complaints in the vicinity of a reproductive health clinic.
City, state, and federal laws already provide ample opportunity to prosecute anyone who blocks access to a clinic or who strikes, shoves, restrains, grabs, makes unwanted contact or makes a credible threat of any of the above to a patient or employee of a clinic – these are the other proposed contents of the bill. Prolife volunteers in central Ohio are not being arrested, fined, or cited on a regular basis because they are not violating the existing laws. For example, there is no reason to pass a law that it is illegal to hit someone within fifteen feet of an abortion clinic, because city ordinance already makes assault a crime everywhere in the city (Cols 2303.13). While Greater Columbus Right to Life has a zero tolerance policy with respect to violence, there is just absolutely no reason to believe that existing laws do not protect the safety of clinic employees and clients, and there is no justification for passing a law making annoyance a grounds for a criminal complaint.
These provisions have been included to create the appearance that there is a serious public safety issue at stake, when in reality this is just the abortion industry’s attempt to create a so-called bubble zone prohibiting pro-life speech in the vicinity of an abortion clinic. Time and time again, the courts have stricken these cases down – most recently in Massachusetts.
Let us be perfectly clear. This municipal ordinance is directly aimed at making the prayerful and peaceful work that Greater Columbus Right to Life does illegal. Under this law, if an employee, a customer, a vendor, or a neighbor finds it inconvenient or annoying to see you praying outside the abortion clinic, this Columbus municipal ordinance would make you a criminal – with sanctions up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine (proposed 2317 C). Moreover, the ability for abuse of this law goes far beyond the prolife speech and conduct it attempts to curtail, creating an avenue for petty neighbor squabbles all over the city.
This is an urgent issue. In Columbus, proposed ordinances can be moved on incredibly quickly. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for June 20th. If we do not act quickly, we may be defending ourselves and our rights in court by the 4th of July.
Since statewide abortion organizations have failed to get the state legislature to pass their flawed and unconstitutional HB 408, we have been closely watching proposed legislation at the city and county level here in central Ohio. Thus, it was with some surprise that a friend of GCRTL let us know that the proposal was heard at the June 6th City Council meeting. The proposal was not listed on the summary of actions that Council sends out, nor was it referenced on sponsor Councilwoman Brown’s media page. Surprisingly, not one mention of this proposed city ordinance was made in the weekly bulletins highlighting resolutions and ordinances.
We are not a political organization, but when the City of Columbus proposes to make it illegal to peacefully gather to pray and witness based on the overly vague concept of what might annoy or inconvenience someone, we will take measures to defend our mission – to defend innocent human life from conception until natural death by opposing abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and defending the rights of conscience related to this mission.
The timing of this proposal was not an accident. It was introduced just prior to a holiday weekend and was not published in the City Council’s weekly update of pending proposals. It is probably not a surprise that it was heard right before our biggest fundraiser of the year –perhaps they were hoping that we would be too busy to notice it was introduced until it was too late.
We are asking our friends and supporters to take immediate action today to help us stop this fast-moving train to crazy-land. Here is how you can help:
Over the next few days, we have a lot on our plate, but making sure that we continue to enjoy our right to peacefully assemble in public places in the expression of our faith and the good policy of this state will be on the forefront.