Life is precious - no matter how annoying and inconvenient this truth may be to those in the abortion industry and their friends on Columbus City Council.
Columbus City Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown has recently introduced a change to Columbus’ City Code that would, among other things, make it illegal to be within 15 feet of the property of a “reproductive health center” when your presence there is inconvenient or annoying. The penalty for a violation of this law? Up to one year in jail and a $1000 fine.
True, the proposal contains other prohibitions – for example it is illegal to block access to the clinic, to strike, grab, shove, restrain, etc., someone making their way into the clinic, and to threaten to do any of those things as well. However, each of these is already an illegal act at the local, state, or federal level. For example, blocking access to an abortion clinic, threatening or injuring a patient or employee of a clinic, or vandalizing the structure of an abortion clinic is a violation of the 1994 FACE Act, carrying criminal and civil penalties of tens of thousands of dollars and six months to three years’ incarceration. Assault carries a higher penalty at the state level, and the same penalty city-wide. Vandalism, kidnapping, abduction, and extortion are all also already illegal.
While Councilwoman Brown cites an increase in police calls near “reproductive health centers” in the last year, specifically that 38 police calls were made to their vicinity in 2015, as the justification for her proposal, you will notice that there have not been regular citations and prosecutions of pro-life advocates. In fact, when a woman – who was not reported as having any ties to local pro-life organizations, broke into and vandalized the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic on East Main Street, she was identified, apprehended, and charged within a matter of weeks – illustrating that the existing laws are sufficient to protect against actual crimes.
This law attempts to create a round-about way of stopping the prayerful, peaceful, and effective work of pro-life advocates at abortion clinics. It is worth noting that since the Greater Columbus Right to Life sidewalk counseling program was implemented, abortion rates have dramatically declined in central Ohio. Franklin County abortion rates have dropped by nearly 30% since 2012; Statewide the reduction has been closer to 17%. Our rates have declined not because laws and regulations have forced clinics to close, but because we have been partners in completing the circle of organizations that advocate for the dignity of human life – combining prayer, education, and grassroots work as part of a coalition that includes pregnancy help centers, post-abortion healing programs, and evangelization.
Because our volunteers are not violating any laws and because the US Supreme Court recently dealt a sweeping blow to efforts to create “bubble zones” that deny peaceful citizens the right to pray and protest on public property near abortion clinics, the abortion industry is trying a new route – to write a local statute that prohibits someone from hitting, pushing, shoving, or harassing a patient or an employee. While prohibiting these behaviors appears to be reasonable from a public safety perspective, it becomes unreasonable when looking at the proposed definition of “harass,” which in this case is, “engaging in a course of conduct that is directed at another that would cause a reasonable person to be seriously alarmed, annoyed or inconvenienced and that in fact seriously alarms, annoys or inconveniences another.”
This language is the basis of the entire proposed municipal ordinance, and it is outrageous and unconstitutional on its face. The otherwise reasonable prohibitions against striking, grabbing, shoving, and threatening a patient or an employee of an abortion clinic are already illegal: if there were reason to charge pro-life advocates for violating existing laws that prohibit that behavior, public safety offices would file criminal charges and abortion providers would file civil actions. Because we are not violating the existing laws, they need to create the new crime of annoying or inconveniencing someone within fifteen feet of the property line of the abortion clinic. Such a law is so unpalatable to anyone with regard for our Constitution that it must be packaged with other, seemingly reasonable laws – regardless of their redundancy.
The First Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 1, Sections 3 and 7 of the Ohio Constitution guarantee the basic rights of our citizens – rights to free speech, religious expression, peaceable assembly, and freedoms of conscience. These rights cannot be constrained by such frivolous and changing reasons as to prohibit behavior that may annoy or inconvenience another. Moreover, even if it were acceptable to infringe upon these rights for such arbitrary and insubstantial reasons annoyance and inconvenience, it would be impossible for our volunteers to know what behavior would be acceptable from day to day or personality to personality. It is unenforceable for the same reason. Beyond the insult to the Constitution, public safety forces should use their time to address the serious crimes in our community: substance abuse, theft, assault, human trafficking, and the dozens of other crimes that seriously plague the neighborhoods where abortion clinics are operating. They should not be asked to make citations based on the arbitrary and vague crime of being annoying or inconvenient, and it would take extensive training for them to be appropriate arbiters of such vague and inane language.
In the past 24 hours, hundreds have signed our petition against this proposal, and the momentum is continuing to grow. Under the leadership of Greater Columbus Right to Life and our partner churches and organizations, thousands of people have prayed at a local abortion clinic in the past three years alone. We will not be made into criminals because abortion advocates find opposition to abortion and our very prayers inconvenient and annoying.
Many have been shocked at the idea that city leaders would sponsor or support such a proposal. Words often attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta come to mind, “If abortion isn’t wrong, then nothing is wrong.” The converse also applies; if the promise of the preamble to the Constitution that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the Right to Life is not respected, how can such subsequent enumerated rights – speech, association, and religion be respected?
We oppose proposed Columbus City Ordinance 1428-2016 and call on its immediate and permanent rejection. If you would like to join us, visit our website for talking points, grassroots toolkits, and how to involve your church, organization, or small group.
 2303.13 of Columbus City Code. Enacted via ORD 2535-94.