Court rules pro-lifer was wrongly ticketed for handing out pamphlets near abortion center
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama, July 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – After two years in court, an Alabama pro-life advocate has prevailed against charges she violated a city law when handing out pro-life pamphlets near the state’s busiest abortion facility.
The Alabama Court of Appeals reversed Ellen Hermann’s conviction and $250 fine from the City of Tuscaloosa in a unanimous decision Friday.
Hermann was ticketed May 1, 2017, for distributing pro-life pamphlets without a permit while on the public right-of-way at the entrance to the Riverside Office Center where Tuscaloosa’s abortion facility, the West Alabama Women's Center, is located.
The court ruled that the city's prosecution of Hermann's distribution of pamphlets on the basis that she failed to obtain a permit was unjustifiable, because the very law under which she was charged expressly states she did not need a permit.
“We hold that, under the specific facts of this case, Hermann's conduct did not violate (the law) and that her conviction therefore cannot stand,” court documents said.
The officer who ticketed Hermann was responding to a complaint that she was “stopping traffic” at the entrance of the complex, according to court documents, and found that Hermann in fact was not impeding traffic. He issued her a citation anyway because she did not have a permit.
The Tuscaloosa Municipal Court found Hermann guilty on August 8, 2017. Her lawyers had argued that Tuscaloosa's code was unconstitutional and violated her First Amendment rights, and also that she was wrongly ticketed because she did not violate the city’s code.
Hermann then appealed to the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court.
The Circuit Court found her guilty in July 2018, and Hermann filed her appeal to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which reversed her guilty verdict by the Circuit Court on July 12, 2019.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with Hermann that it was unnecessary for her to obtain a permit because her activity was a “minor event demonstration.” These demonstrations are defined under the Tuscaloosa City Code as events with fewer than 20 people occurring at least 10 feet away from a major arterial road.
Although Tuscaloosa’s law concerning permits does not define “major arterial road,” the officer who ticketed Hermann said she was 10 yards – 30 feet – away from Jack Warner Parkway, the four-lane divided roadway off of which the office complex is located.
Martin Cannon, lead attorney with the Thomas More Society (TMS), which represented Hermann, told LifeSiteNews the Tuscaloosa law was never intended to keep someone like Hermann from distributing her leaflets.
He welcomed the decision and said it and others on which TMS has worked communicate that the local pro-life community is prepared to mobilize and obtain legal representation when it comes to the First Amendment and witnessing for the right to life.
“People need to know that these things will be defended,” Cannon said, “and that they’re not going to be slam dunks” for those favoring abortion.
The local group Prolife Tuscaloosa, calling the decision a “major pro-life victory,” shared an excerpt from the ruling on its Facebook page:
“Thus, the city’s prosecution of Hermann’s distribution of pamphlets on the basis that she failed to obtain a permit is unjustifiable; the city cannot prosecute Hermann for violating the permit requirement … when the very ordinance that provides the permitting process expressly states that Hermann’s conduct did not require a permit,” wrote Judge Chris McCool in an opinion that the other four justices on the court agreed with. “The city cannot punish Hermann for failing to obtain a permit for conduct the city has expressly provided does not require a permit. Accordingly, under the specific facts of this case, we reverse Hermann’s conviction and render a judgment in her favor.”
Alabama passed one of the strongest pro-life bills in the U.S. May 15.
Under the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, abortions are only allowed to “avert (the mother’s) death or serious risk of substantial physical impairment of a major bodily function.” The measure makes performing an abortion a Class A felony punishable by up to 99 years in prison, and attempting to perform an abortion a Class C felony.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Alabama, and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the pro-life law in late May.
The office complex where Hermann was ticketed is also the location of Choices Pregnancy Clinic, giving pro-life advocates there an on-site alternative to offer abortion-vulnerable mothers.