PORTLAND, ME, May 23, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – A federal judge has ruled in favor of a pro-life advocate, saying that Maine's largest city singled him out for violating its anti-noise ordinance.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen, who was appointed to the bench by President Obama in 2011, wrote that the law was facially unconstitutional, the plaintiff's attorney tells LifeSiteNews.
“This is a victory regardless of whether you acknowledge that unborn children present lives worth defending,” Kate Oliveri of the Thomas More Law Center, which filed the lawsuit, told LifeSiteNews by phone. “Free speech rights are essential to maintaining our free society, and the court took a huge step today toward protecting those rights for all citizens of Maine.”
Andrew March, the pastor of Cell 53 church in Lewiston, filed a countersuit after Maine Attorney General Janet Mills and several Portland police officers charged a member of his church, Brian Ingalls, with violating women's human rights by protesting against abortion too loudly.
Ingalls, they charged, had “interfered with the delivery of health services” last October 23 by protesting so loudly that he could be heard inside the Portland Parenthood abortion facility. That violated an amendment to the Maine Civil Rights Act, Mills said.
Pastor March asked for, and won, an injunction against the law.
“The case presents the difficult question of whether a state law providing protection to women seeking access to constitutionally protected health care [abortion] violates the First Amendment rights of an individual who wishes to voice his opposition to abortion on a public sidewalk,” Judge Torresen wrote in a 35-page ruling on Monday. “I conclude that it does.”
The Obama appointee is not a rock-ribbed pro-lifer. She added candidly, “If I were balancing a woman’s right to receive safe and effective medical treatment against [March's] right to speak at his chosen volume outside the windows of the health center, I would conclude that the former is considerably more important than the latter.”
Oliveri told LifeSiteNews that the law, while facially unconstitutional, had been applied specifically to stifle pro-life speech while ignoring other political messages.
“There have been other people out there that have not been speaking out with a pro-life message,” she said.
“There was a climate change protest with hundreds of people yelling and shouting in unison down the street,” Oliveri said. “There is a video of a pro-choice woman yelling at the protesters.”
“This is the main street in Portland. This is where the Veterans Day parade goes. This is where the gay pride parade goes,” Oliveri told LifeSiteNews. “They have not been cited for violation of this ordinance.”
“The only individuals who have been cited or warned under this ordinance are peaceful, pro-life preachers,” she said.
Judge Torrsen wrote that the city could use other methods, such as disorderly conduct laws, to prevent unruly protests, but in this case the state had violated bedrock legal principles.
The victory in Portland is significant, Oliveri said, because “it is such a hostile environment for these peaceful preachers.”
The city repealed a law establishing a 39-foot bubble zone around the same Planned Parenthood in 2014, after the Supreme Court struck down a similar statute in Massachusetts.
“They're just going down the list of ways to silence peaceful pro-life preachers, because they don't like their message,” Oliveri told LifeSiteNews.