Grandma wrongly ticketed for pro-life witness wins in court, explains why she won’t stop
TUSCALOOSA, Alabama, July 17, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – After an unfounded complaint, a $250 ticket, and nearly two years of litigation, pro-life advocate Ellen Hermann has prevailed against the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for citing her over pro-life outreach.
And while fighting the citation she got two years ago for distributing pro-life information has been an unsettling experience, she’s more resolute than ever to try and save lives outside the state’s highest-volume abortion center.
“You feel the closest to heaven and the closest to hell” while reaching out to people near an abortion facility, she told LifeSiteNews. “You see the devil alive and well, and you see the angels.”
Hermann and her husband Patrick have welcomed parents who’ve been in crisis pregnancies into their home, and people have told them that they changed their minds about going ahead with an abortion because they talked to the Hermanns.
Amid a volatile climate for pro-lifers on the ground in Alabama, hearing from someone that she chose life because you were there makes it all worth it, Ellen Hermann said.
“People need to know what they’re doing,” she said of efforts to intimidate pro-lifers. “But they also need to know about the saves.”
The state has been in the spotlight for passage of one of the strongest pro-life laws earlier this spring, banning most abortions. It’s been the target of pro-abortion protests since.
Hermann’s case began before the latest wave of pro-life laws in various states, passed with an eye on the potential of reversing Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court. But it serves to highlight challenges faced by pro-life advocates for years.
Cop: Sign this paper or be taken to jail
Hermann was distributing a pamphlet on a public right-of-way at the entrance to the office building where the West Alabama Women's Center is located on May 1, 2017, when she was ticketed for not having a permit. The center is Tuscaloosa's abortion facility and also the state’s busiest.
The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Hermann’s conviction this past Friday, ruling that the city's prosecution of her distribution of pamphlets based upon her not having a permit was unjustifiable, because the very law under which she was charged expressly states she did not need a permit. Neither her location nor her conduct were unlawful according to the code.
Since August 2017 the case has gone through Tuscaloosa Municipal Court and then the Tuscaloosa Circuit Court. In a unanimous decision Friday, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Hermann’s conviction and $250 fine.
Law enforcement reported receiving a complaint the morning of May 1, 2017, that Hermann was stopping traffic – but the responding officer said she was not impeding traffic, according to court documents.
Prior to the officer’s arrival, Hermann had observed and recorded video of escorts from the abortion facility watching her and discussing her presence.
But she was cited anyway, for failing to get a permit.
Hermann was presented a document by police without explanation and told to sign it or be taken to jail, and initially told she could not call her husband or lawyer.
But she persisted, spoke to an attorney on the phone, and summoned her husband, after which the tone of things became less threatening.
Nevertheless the exchange was frightening, she said, a departure from her usual friendly engagement with people near the site, and the beginning of a two-year legal ordeal that created fear within the pro-life community.
“It was scary, I was just upset,” Hermann said. “I was so scared.”
There were many trips to court since that day, she said, the stress ultimately affecting her health.
“It’s been a long year and a half,” said Hermann.
But it’s made her all the more determined to minister to and pray for people who think they need an abortion.
‘This is a spiritual battle...God’s calling people to be out there’
Hermann is a Catholic, RN, and former OB nurse who is very passionate about life.
“I feel like I’m just an educator,” she said. “I’m trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus. No woman wants be walking into an abortion center – no woman wants to be walking in there.”
The pamphlet she was offering to people had been made with Pro Life Tuscaloosa. It provided information on pregnancy and abortion, saying, “You’re not alone.”
She explained to the officers, and court documents corroborate, that she merely waves and greets motorists, and if they wish to engage with her they will, without stopping traffic. She lets them know about the abortion facility and that there are other options available.
Hermann explained she’s neither angry nor belligerent with anyone she encounters there, and rather, she is soft-spoken.
“I’m Grandma Ellie, I’m 61 years old,” she told LifeSiteNews. “How could I be dangerous?”
Hermann goes out to the site two or more days a week, for three to six hours, praying and distributing the pamphlets.
Typically she’s not alone – she just happened to be on the day she was ticketed.
That day she was praying the rosary and had a sign that read, “Pray to End Abortion,” as she reached out to people in their cars.
“This is a spiritual battle,” Hermann said. “We need to pray.”
Hermann first began praying outside the abortion facility some 20-plus years ago, and said she would simply hold a sign with, “We love you” written in blue marker, not going out of her way to speak with anyone.
“It was just a matter of being friendly,” she said. “How do you want someone to talk to you on the way into an abortion facility?”
She saw back then that the simple presence of pro-life prayer on the sidewalk can be effective. But she’s also learned since that engaging with people could be even more so, and she has kept the same approach of friendliness and prayer in her more recent outreach.
She’s been at it long enough to see firsthand that the effort and witness saves successive generations of lives, and effuses, “It’s just an amazing thing to do.”
Last Friday when the Alabama Court of Appeals decision came down, Hermann was in Dallas visiting her son and daughter-in-law and their children, including a new grandbaby.
Because she was there being Grandma Ellie, focused on the new baby and her other 18-month-old grandchild, she wasn’t paying attention to her phone and didn’t get word of the ruling at first.
Her husband contacted her son and daughter-in-law, who went into action and quickly scrambled to assemble champagne, glasses, and a note. The toddler presented her with the note, which read, “Grandma, you won your case.”
“I kept thinking I was dreaming,” Hermann recalled.
She emphasized that God really uses people with pro-life sidewalk outreach.
She has witnessed scenarios where on a particular day, a Spanish-speaking woman who needed ministering to was there – and the Spanish-speaking pro-life advocate was out there, too.
Hermann offered encouragement to anyone who has not sidewalk counseled before,. They should consider doing it, to get with others who have been doing it, and go out there to try and save lives, she said.
Don’t worry about what to do while you’re there, she said – pray, read the Bible, “do what God tells you to do.”
“God’s calling people to be out there,” Hermann added. “That’s the day you may be needed.”