Recently, several Ohio lawmakers introduced legislation with the stated purpose of protecting abortion clinic employees and clients from dangerous situations and acts of violence. When you take a closer look at the legislation, however, it becomes obvious that the proposed legislation actually would reduce existing criminal sanctions for many of the supposed violent and criminal acts described and would, instead, target the peaceful actions of organizations like Greater Columbus Right to Life. The proposed legislation, HB 408, appears to be nothing more than an opportunity to seek political advantage following a tragedy where a lone gunman with no affiliation to any legitimate prolife organization entered into a Planned Parenthood to do violence. We categorically stand against this kind of violence as contrary to the dignity of all human life. However, absolutely nothing in HB 408 would have prevented the tragic actions that unfolded that day. In fact, it is our opinion that provisions of 408 would actually weaken current protections in Ohio law that apply to all citizens and all businesses by trying to create carve-outs for health care facilities and “reproductive health care facilities.”Here are a few things that are contained in HB 408:
Many of these seem fairly reasonable on their face, probably because most of the legitimately criminal acts are already specifically illegal under the federal FACE law or because they are already criminal acts under current Ohio law. In fact, somewhat confusingly, many of the provisions would seem to create a carve-out where it is a lesser crime if the victim were a health care facility or reproductive health care facility employee. For example, Ohio law already makes the following things illegal:
In each of these instances, along with every provision contained in the federal FACE act, the proposed HB 408 would create a lesser penalty than the existing law for acts against a health care facility or facility employee. The only new provisions contained in the bill are the crime of annoying another person, the proposed anonymity provisions for those who file civil lawsuits under the provisions described for annoying, harassing, and intimidating, and the bubble/buffer zone.
Do we really think it is ok to create a private right for medical facility employees to sue people who annoy them? Does that include a right to sue the annoying coworker who chomps her gum just because she knows it annoys you? What about the persistent telemarketer or product representative? Does it include the nurse who considers herself an atheist that is annoyed by the family of a Christian patient because they continually pray while she is in the room? Of course not. This is intended to target the pro-life folks who routinely come out to pray at the abortion clinic. The reality, however, is that it is absurd apply a standard that limits the first amendment rights of one person based on the subjective standard of what might or does annoy another person. Furthermore, who gets to determine what serves a “legitimate” purpose (apparently actions that alarm, annoy, or harass but serve a legitimate purpose are permitted under the proposed law). Certainly every so-called “annoying” prolife person who offers an abortion minded woman information on other options available to her considers their actions to serve a legitimate purpose of saving the life of a child. In fact, it seems likely that Ohio law considers inviting women to consider childbirth over abortion as a codified legitimate purpose under 9.041 of our Revised Code, which states, “It is the public policy of the state of Ohio to prefer childbirth over abortion to the extent that is constitutionally permissible.”
With respect to permitting a person to file a civil lawsuit under a pseudonym, this is an issue that should be addressed by the Rules of Civil Procedure, where it is unclear at the state level. It should be noted that in their desire for anonymity, the bill appears to grant a right to employees of hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, abortion clinics and other health care facilities a statutory right to anonymity that does not seem to apply to rape victims when they sue for civil damages.
Lastly, the provision calling for a fifteen buffer or bubble zone around “reproductive health care facilities” is not a new issue. In fact, very recently the US Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts state law that provided a buffer zone around abortion clinics in the case McCullen v Coakley. In this case, however, it should be noted that the legislation’s broad definition of where the proposed buffer zone would fall is not limited to those prayerful people standing outside an abortion clinic. In fact, it would seem to create a hurdle for the local nurses union to protest a hospital (with a maternity ward) and call out severe displeasure to the hospital administrator or temporary staff during contract negotiations.
The reality is that this legislation is cheap political grandstanding that is playing on the fears of a community following a tragedy. It is specifically attempting to target organizations like Greater Columbus Right to Life using the same bullying and intimidation tactics that the abortion lobby purports to reject. Many people are quick to reference the freedom of religion enumerated by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In this instance, however, we would also remind those state representatives who wish to quell the voice of the prolife faithful that they also took an oath to uphold the Ohio Constitution, which enumerates our rights of conscience, education, the necessity of religion and knowledge with an eloquence that likely exceeds that of its national model. For 150 years, our state constitution has proclaimed,
All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience. No person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or maintain any form of worship, against his consent; and no preference shall be given, by law, to any religious society; nor shall any interference with the rights of conscience be permitted. No religious test shall be required, as a qualification for office, nor shall any person be incompetent to be a witness on account of his religious belief; but nothing herein shall be construed to dispense with oaths and affirmations. Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to pass suitable laws to protect every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of public worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.
The staff and volunteers of Greater Columbus Right to life have an indefeasible right to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, and any state or local legislative body that is contemplating a restriction on that right should not only look to the protections outlined in McCullen, but to the even more expansive provisions provided in our state constitution. Our consciences, informed by our sincere and devout faith, and supported by the basics of biological science, compel that we hold the life of every unborn child to be equal in intrinsic dignity and value to that of a born child or adult and call us to the communal actions of prayer, witness, and evangelization of those truths. We also hold that any action which intentionally destroys innocent human life – born or unborn – is an absolute moral wrong.
If House Bill 408 would protect abortion clinic employees from senseless acts of violence like the one committed in Colorado, we would stand up to support those provisions. We reject violence and those actions which compel people to violent acts. Our staff, leaders, and volunteers are each asked to affirm our Statement of Peace, Belief and Mission. Additional program requirements vary by program but include similar or stronger requirements specifically for those working with social media, youth, sidewalk counseling, and 40 Days for Life. We have not hesitated to disassociate ourselves from individuals who refused to sign those statements or whose actions have failed to maintain them, and while none of our volunteers or associates have ever expressed violent solutions to the cause of abortion, we would not hesitate to contact law enforcement if one did.
But House Bill 408 is not about stopping acts of violence, it is a public relations stunt aimed at behavior that annoys the abortion industry, which is evident within the first lines of the proposed bill.
Here is what we have done to annoy the abortion industry, and why they are so intent on driving public opinion against our prayerful, peaceful, and effective presence outside of the abortion clinics. Since the inception of our current sidewalk counseling program in 2013, we have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of abortions in central Ohio. There were 2,293 fewer abortions in 2013 and 2014 than there would have been if 2012 numbers had held steady, accounting for just under half of the total statewide reduction in abortion in that time. We annoyed the abortion industry when we shared that a local clinic hired a known child sex offender as an abortion provider until the man was indicted for child pornography. We annoyed the abortion industry when we documented that the local clinics were filthy according to the Ohio Department of Health standards. We annoyed the abortion industry when we told the story of one young woman who only learned that her doctor did not have state-required malpractice insurance after he performed a uterine abortion despite the fact that her pregnancy was ectopic and she went to the hospital septic and sterilized for life. We annoyed them when we told the story of another young woman who stumbled out of the clinic hemorrhaging after a botched abortion. We annoyed the abortion industry when we published that the operator of a local clinic owes the City of Columbus back taxes on more than a million dollars of income. We annoyed the abortion industry when we pointed out that they held secret fundraisers featuring sex toys and offensive ethnic stereotypes. Mostly, we annoy the abortion industry because we are unafraid and unapologetic when it comes to standing up for the undeniable truth that abortion is wrong because it involves the intentional death and destruction of unborn children who bear the image and likeness of God and because we share that truth in a loving and compassionate way we have helped hundreds of women turn away from the abortion clinics, steering hundreds of thousands of dollars away from them.
We have a strong message to send to Ohio’s abortion clinics. We have no desire to do you harm. We care about you, although you will prefer not to believe it. We think that you are just as valuable as the unborn child. We are, however, going to continue to annoy you by speaking truth in the public square, telling women that they have better options, and most certainly by continuing to pray on the sidewalks in front of your offices. Know that each time we are there, we are praying for you, too.
We also have a message to send to our supporters. This is a direct attack against our work. If you would like to help us respond by becoming a prayer partner, volunteer today. If you would like to help us with a financial gift to continue our work, donate today.
 Defined in current law to include things like doctors’ offices, outpatient clinics, urgent cares, hospitals, and ambulatory surgical facilities – including ambulatory surgical facilities that perform abortions.
 defined in the proposed legislation as a facility where heath care services or health care counseling relating to human reproductive system – this would ostensibly include OBGYN offices, birthing centers, hospitals, clinics that provide STD testing/treatment, locations that distribute birth control, etc. The language appears to mimic the federal Free Access to Clinic Entrances [FACE] law in several places.
 Note: A first degree misdemeanor carries a fine of no more than $1000 and a jail sentence of no more than 180 days. An unspecified fourth degree felony probably carries a presumption against prison, but if prison there is a maximum of 18 months and a maximum fine of $500. Learn more about Ohio felony sentencing here.