Ben Johnson

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Vermont ordinance could ban pro-lifers from protesting at Planned Parenthood clinic

Ben Johnson
Ben Johnson

BURLINGTON, VERMONT, May 22, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – The city council of Burlington, Vermont, has passed a new ordinance that could have the effect of banning pro-life protesters from exercising their right to protest in front of the town’s Planned Parenthood facility.

On Monday, council members voted to establish a 35-foot “safety zone” about the town’s abortion clinic by a vote of 13-1. Republican Paul Decelles cast the lone dissenting vote. The measure now goes to a three-member Ordinance Committee for final wording.   

Ten council members supported the measure going in, although the Burlington Free Press reports pro-life and pro-choice citizens who attended the more than hour-long meeting at Contois Auditorium were “roughly equal.” 

Jill Krowinski, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE) told the meeting sidewalk protesters had been loud and threatening, and “we need help with this.”

However, Burlington police Deputy Chief Andi Higbee said the department has dispatched officers to the clinic only twice to respond to reports of “aggressive protesting,” and no one has been arrested, ticketed, or cited with any violation.

“There’s no need for the ordinance,” Mary Hahn Beerworth, executive director of Vermont Right to Life Committee, told LifeSiteNews.com. She said the last arrest occurred sometime in the 1980s at the facility’s old location on Mansfield Avenue.

Vermont Right to Life conducts informational protests on Saturdays, instead of Wednesdays, the day the Burlington clinic performs abortions. The group, composed largely of nuns and post-abortive women, are counseled not to respond to hecklers who shout at them while they are praying the rosary.

“The whole thing is just a concocted story,” Beerworth said. “All that said, that hasn’t stopped the city of Burlington from passing the ordinance.”

The new policy could have the effect of ending all protests in front of the abortion facility. “This 35-foot bubble zone may take the protesters out completely,” Beerworth told LifeSiteNews, adding that the parking lot across the street from the clinic – the nearest site outside the 35-foot radius – was being leased.

“We’re not going to sit around and have our First Amendment rights trampled,” she said. “We will see what the final product is. We’re not going to take it. ”

That raises issues of the ordinance’s constitutionality. Cheryl Hanna, a professor at Vermont Law School, warned that the measure could be struck down if the U.S. Supreme Court took a “First Amendment absolutist position.” However, council members Bram Kranichfeld warned that protesters’ free speech would have “a chilling effect” on women seeking an abortion.

“This is a publicity stunt I think,” Beerworth told LifeSiteNews. “They’ve been defunded by Maine and New Hampshire, so Vermont is their hope.”

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Planned Parenthood – which performed the vast majority of abortions in the state – has seen a dip in business. She noted the group is moving a West Lebanon, New Hampshire, clinic to greener pastures in Vermont.

Vermont allows nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and nurse midwives to perform abortions.

The Alan Guttmacher Institutes notes, “Vermont does not have any of the major types of abortion restrictions—such as waiting periods, mandated parental involvement or limitations on publicly funded abortions—often found in other states.”

Beerworth says the group will continue to protest at the clinic as it awaits the ordinance’s final wording – but she is not hopeful her group’s constitutional rights will be upheld.

“In Vermont, Planned Parenthood is the fourth branch of government,” she said.

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New York farmers stop hosting weddings after $13,000 fine for declining lesbian ceremony

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By Dustin Siggins

New York farmers Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who were ordered last week to pay $13,000 for not hosting a same-sex "wedding," say they are closing that part of their operation.

"Going forward, the Giffords have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their farm, other than the ones already under contract," said Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) lawyer James Trainor. ADF represented the Giffords in their legal fight against New York's non-discrimination law.

Last week, the Giffords were ordered to pay a $10,000 fine to the state of New York and $3,000 in damages to a lesbian couple, Jennifer McCarthy and Melisa Erwin, who approached them in 2012 about hosting their "wedding." The Giffords, who are Roman Catholic, said their religious convictions would not let them host the ceremony, but that McCarthy and Erwin could hold their reception on their property.

Unbeknownst to the Giffords, lesbian couple recorded the two-to-three minute conversation. After declining to hold the reception on the Giffords' farm, on which they live and rent property, the lesbian couple decided to make a formal complaint to the state's Division of Human Rights.

Eventually, Judge Migdalia Pares ruled that the Giffords' farm, Liberty Ridge Farm, constitutes a public accommodation because space is rented on the grounds and fees are collected from the public. The Giffords argued that because they live on the property with their children, they should be exempt from the state law, but Pares said that this does not mean their business is private.

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Trainor told TheBlaze that the Giffords' decision to end wedding ceremonies at Liberty Ridge “will hurt their business in the short run," but that was preferable to violating their religious beliefs.

“The Giffords serve all people with respect and care. They have hired homosexual employees and have hosted events for same-sex couples,” he said.

However, "since the state of New York has essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions," Trainor explained to LifeSiteNews. "No American should be forced by the government to choose between their livelihood and their faith, but that’s exactly the choice the state of New York has forced upon the Giffords."

"They will continue to host wedding receptions," said Trainor.

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South African mom files ‘wrongful life’ lawsuit on behalf of Downs son

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

A South African woman has launched a "wrongful life" lawsuit against the Cape Town-based Foetal Assessment Centre, claiming a failure to inform her that the child she was carrying was at risk of having Down Syndrome prevented her from aborting her baby.

A twist in this lawsuit is that, unlike other "wrongful birth" lawsuits, the mother in this case missed the time limit to file the claim on her own behalf, so she is asking the South African Constitutional Court to allow her to sue the center for “wrongful life” on behalf of her now-born son.

“You have a duty to tell my mother carrying me that I'm malformed so that she can make an informed decision as to whether or not to carry me to term,” the statement of claim against the Foetal Assessment Centre reads, according to SABC News.

“It is not as if the foetus is sort of putting up its hand and saying why you didn’t destroy me," the mother's lawyer, Paul Hoffman, explained to Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. "The foetus is complaining that its malformation, its development is the result of the bad advice that was given.”

The SABC report did not say what compensation the woman is seeking.

The scope of the case is similar to that of a New Zealand couple who won a lawsuit claiming monetary compensation after a routine 20 week ultrasound scan failed to discover that their daughter had spina bifida.

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The mother, whose name has not been released, claimed that the continuance of the pregnancy was a “personal injury,” and, had she been given the correct diagnosis after that scan, she would have aborted her daughter.

"We consider that the continued pregnancy of the appellant following a misdiagnosis in the 20 week scan is capable of being an injury suffered by the appellant,” the court ruled, and directed the New Zealand Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) to make the woman eligible for compensation for the ongoing surgical and physiotherapy expenses incurred by their child.

New Zealand disability advocate Mike Sullivan said the underpinning attitude behind the decision is that those with disability, both born and unborn, are seen as a burden on society.

“This is what happens,” Sullivan said, when “the children become reduced to nothing – wrong even to exist.”

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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