SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court today upheld restrictions on rowdy right-to-life demonstrators found in contempt of a federal court order for disrupting abortion services at a Portland, Ore., clinic.
The use of an injunction to curtail taunting, jeering anti-abortion demonstrators could become a model for other areas of the country where spirited demonstrations have obstructed legitimate abortion services for women, authorities said.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the validity of an injunction against Advocates for Life Inc., a nonprofit corporation that engages in right-to-life advocacy, seven members of the group and 100 unnamed demonstrators.
The Portland Feminist Women's Health Center sued to curtail rowdy demonstrations that have continued regularly outside the clinic since 1984.
The Advocates group challenged the order by U.S. District Judge Helen Frye limiting the yelling and intimidation of patients. The group argued that it was an infringement of their constitutional rights of free expression.
The appeals court unanimously ruled that the injunction did not bar the content of the speech outside the clinic, only the volume and the interference with medical services.
Judge Proctor Hug, joined by Judges Jerome Farris and William Canby, wrote that the injunction "refers not at all to the specific viewpoints that the advocates press, nor even to the general issues raised at their demonstrations. Rather, it focuses exclusively on the location and manner of expression . . . it protects the clinic from loudness and physical intimidation."
Demonstrators would scream and yell at center clients, escorts and staff sometimes inches away from their faces as they entered or left the clinic.
Protesters would try to block passage into the center by bumping, grabbing and pushing people wishing to enter.
They would shout and scream on the sidewalks so that it could be heard inside during medical procedures and created risks to clients, according to the court.