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Mississippi pro-life victory angers abortion facility operator

Fr. Mark Hodges Fr. Mark Hodges

JACKSON, Mississippi, October 13, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Pro-Life Mississippi has won an agreement with the City of Jackson that protects abortion protesters, leaving Jackson's last clinic owner "absolutely outraged."

The victory for free speech in federal court took two years but prompted abortion business owner Diane Derzis to tell the Jackson Free Press, "I am outraged ... absolutely outraged … and the first thing I did was call my lawyer."

For years, Pro-Life Mississippi has complained that Jackson police have illegally harassed peaceful pro-life demonstrators, even making false arrests by citing nonexistent laws. Police have confiscated signs, equipment, a Bible, and other items.

The Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF) represented Pro-Life Mississippi, explaining that the Jackson Police Department has “systematically infringed, and continues to infringe, upon the free speech rights of citizens by unlawfully arresting, citing, and threatening to arrest” pro-lifers “for conduct that is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

In one example, Pro-Life Mississippi says officers arrested two members because they held their signs rather than allowing them to rest on the sidewalk. In another instance, police threatened to arrest Created Equal pro-lifers by citing the exact opposite: They must hold their signs and not allow signs to rest on the sidewalk.

There is no law, statute or city ordinance that requires either option.

ProLife Mississippi media spokeswoman Tanya Britton told LifeSiteNews, "Several of our faithful sidewalk counselors have been systematically targeted by the City of Jackson's law enforcement. They have … had their signs confiscated by the police, forbidden to preach/read scripture."

Conversely, LLDF charges that “JPD officers allow pro-abortionists to stand and sit anywhere along the public sidewalk or right-of-way ... without arrest or threat of arrest."

"Handing out information and holding a peaceful discussion on a public sidewalk is basic, protected First Amendment activity," Lauren Muzyka, executive director of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, told LifeSiteNews. "The police and local government cannot discriminate against peaceful pro-life people because they simply don't like their message — that's the heart of the First Amendment."

Pro-Life Mississippi's new legal agreement with the city delineates acceptable protest conduct, specifically that Jackson police will no longer interfere with protesters' "First Amendment rights" while pro-lifers are "holding signs and speaking and/or preaching on the public sidewalks and right-of-ways" while "letting the held signs rest on the sidewalk" next to them, "provided that the sign does not cover the entire width of the sidewalk."

The agreement also states that pro-lifers can sit on a chair with a sign, "provided that neither the sign or stool or combination covers the entire width of the sidewalk."

The agreement “requires the police to undergo training on First Amendment rights, what a public right-of-way is, and it prohibits them from forbidding preaching unless they can prove that there is a true violation of the city's noise ordinance and the use of equipment to objectively determine 'noise levels,'" Britton explained to LifeSiteNews. 

The decision also ordered the Jackson Police Department to return all equipment, signs, and literature confiscated over the years. Additionally, the city agreed to pay $2,500 in reimbursements to Pro-Life Mississippi.

"All charges against the sidewalk counselors are to be dropped, and the city must return bail money paid," Britton explained.

"There are few rights more sacred than the right to speak freely in the public arena about matters of grave public importance," Allison Aranda of Life Legal Defense Foundation said in a press release. "Life Legal is committed to fighting to protect that right so that brave pro-life advocates are able to share their life-saving message of love and hope with the hopeless."

"I'm thrilled that Pro-Life Mississippi won't have their peaceful outreach thwarted by those who disagree with their free offer of help to mothers-in-need," Muzyka said.

Derzis, the abortion center owner, is not thrilled. "What the city has done is declare a free-for-all in front of my clinic," Derzis told the Jackson Free Press, "in front of my legally operating, tax-paying business. And they didn't have the balls to call me."

"It's no wonder the abortion facility owner is upset," Muzyka reflected.  "Peaceful sidewalk counseling sees results, because it cuts to the heart of what a mother knows to be true: that she doesn't have to take the life of her child to solve her problems."

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Derzis' Jackson Women's Health Organization recently was allowed to continue abortions despite its non-compliance with Mississippi law requiring admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Derzis' abortion businesses have racked up a history of safety violations, unnoticed by officials, until January, when two women in one day were rushed to the hospital from Derzis' Birmingham clinic — and the ambulance at first had to be turned away because the clinic was not accessible to paramedics.

A later investigation by the Alabama Department of Public Health found 76 pages of violations, including completely untrained staff performing medical procedures on patients, outdated equipment, and numerous failures in record keeping.

Derzis responded to the myriad safety violations by characterizing herself as a victim in a pro-life "war on women," and symbolically painted the exterior of her Jackson abortion business hot pink.

Derzis equates abortion with God's work, telling the Associated Press, “I feel like God wants me to do this job.” She proudly relates that she herself had an abortion at age 20.

“I thank God every day I had that abortion,” she said.



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