City of Huntsville may alter city ordinance to get pro-life protesters off abortion center sidewalk
HUNTSVILLE, AL, April 23, 2013 (LifeSiteNews) – In the wake of two alleged clashes between protesters on the public sidewalk in front of Huntsville’s lone abortion center, the city is holding a work session Thursday evening to discuss potential changes to city ordinances governing events held on public property.
But some activists say the proposed changes will make protesting more dangerous for both pro-life and pro-abortion demonstrators, placing them in closer quarters and forcing them to compete for public space.
The debate comes as one pro-life demonstrator is on trial for harassment for allegedly spritzing pro-abortion protesters with Holy Water, and another has filed suit accusing a pro-abortion activist of physically assaulting her teenage son.
Joyce Fecteau, who is in her seventies, is accused of spraying Holy Water from a spray bottle into the face of pro-abortion activist Lisa Cox back in December. Fecteau denies she intended to spray Cox in the face. She maintains she squirted it into the air because a pro-abortion demonstrator was burning a ‘smudge stick’ nearby. A smudge stick is a bundle of sage and other dried herbs frequently used in New Age, Pagan and Shamanist rituals.
“I had been told repeatedly by my health care provider not to breathe in that smoke because it’s making me sick,” Fecteau told Alabama Live in January. “I can't tell if [the holy water] drifted on this lady's face.”
Meanwhile, Kristy Vogel of Lawrenceburg, TN has filed a civil lawsuit alleging that pro-abortion activist Kristopher Zentner “physically assaulted and battered” her 16-year-old son on the sidewalk in front of the abortion center in early December. She is seeking more than $10,000 in damages. The pro-abortion activist who led the counter protest in front of the Huntsville abortion center that day dismisses her claim as “ridiculous.”
“[Vogel’s son] was blocking the sidewalk, and Kris just walked through him,” Pamela Watters told Alabama Live. “He was in no way assaulted. It’s ridiculous.”
But Carol Henderson, who helps her husband, Rev. James Henderson, to coordinate the pro-life prayer vigil, says Zentner has a history of aggressiveness. Henderson told LifeSiteNews that when a Latina woman joined her group to pray in front of the clinic, Zentner verbally abused her in Spanish, calling her “b**ch” and “whore” and shaking a pair of handcuffs at her.
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The conflicts in front of the clinic began in October 2012, when Watters organized a group of clinic escorts to try to isolate abortion-minded women from the pro-life protesters who had been praying there for twenty years.
Henderson’s group has held a permit, or ‘reservation,’ to protest on the sidewalk in front of the clinic since 2004. At first, the permit allowed them to pray and demonstrate whenever they wanted, because the abortion clinic operated at irregular hours and they wanted to have someone there praying whenever abortions were being performed. As time went on, the clinic’s abortion schedule became more predictable, so the pro-life group adjusted their permit accordingly. Periodically, the abortionists alter the schedule to confuse the pro-lifers, but someone typically drives by every day just to see if it is operating.
Henderson told LifeSiteNews that when the first pro-abortion activists showed up in October 2012, “they were all over the place.” Said Henderson, “We told them that we had a reservation on the sidewalk; that it was our space and they couldn’t be on the space. So they called the police.”
The police showed the pro-abortion protesters where the pro-life group’s reserved zone was, and ordered them to stay out of it. But the police received so many calls from both sides over the next few weeks that they offered another solution: A new reservation that showed exactly where each group was permitted to stand, with limits on how many people could be there.
The pro-abortion activists could stand anywhere on the clinic property, including the strip of grass between the building and the sidewalk. They would have to stop standing in the bushes between the grass and the sidewalk, however, because the bushes are part of a city easement. For the most part, the sidewalk in front of the clinic belonged to the pro-life protesters. The pro-abortion escorts could walk on the sidewalk, but could not stop to engage anyone in debate or conversation. If they were on the sidewalk, they had to be moving.
This, Henderson said, lessened tensions considerably. “It’s worked out pretty good,” Henderson told LSN. “Everybody knew where they were supposed to stay, how many could be on the sidewalk, where we could stand.”
“But the pro-abortion people decided that wasn’t fair,” Henderson said. “They wanted the sidewalk we had, which is directly in front of the clinic.”
Now, the city of Huntsville is taking steps that may give them exactly what they want.
A work session will be held at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, April 25 to discuss proposed new event rules that pro-life activists say seem designed specifically to target the situation at the abortion center. “Minor events” attended by fewer than 50 people will no longer require a reservation, but will be first-come, first-served. Since the pro-abortion group has inside access to the abortionists’ schedules, the proposed ordinance would give them a distinct advantage in making sure they are always first on the scene. Unless the pro-life group can maintain a 24-hour-a-day presence, it seems inevitable that they will lose their coveted spot in front of the abortion center.
Additionally, the proposed amendments to the city ordinances would give individual police officers sole discretion to decide in any given conflict between groups of protesters which group should stay, and which group must go.
“[If the new ordinance passes], it’s going to be a huge mess,” Henderson told LifeSiteNews. “It will be chaos, because nobody’s really going to know who goes where, who gets what, or what they can do.” She worries that the lack of clarity offered by the changed regulations might lead to more intense conflicts between protesters and even violence.
Asked what she thinks the city should do to make the situation safer for both sides, Henderson said she thinks the city should leave well enough alone.
“I would like them to leave it like it is,” said Henderson. “What they have worked out has worked. The abortion people are still doing abortions. They’re still escorting the girls. They’re doing everything they need to do to run that business. So why should they get the sidewalk, too?”
Calls from LifeSiteNews to Huntsville City Attorney Peter Joffrion, who authored the proposed changes to the event ordinance, were not immediately returned. His office can be reached at (256) 427-5026, or
[email protected] .
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