“All patients have the right to receive medical services free of ‘the cacophony of political protests,’ in the words of the United States Supreme Court,” [Maine Attorney General Janet] Mills said in a statement to The Washington Post.
“Don’t continue in your sin,” he said over the summer in a video posted on YouTube. “Look to Jesus for forgiveness; look to Jesus for reconciling you to the Father so that the Father will wrap you in his embrace. … All you’re doing is running, continually, toward self-satisfaction. But all it’s doing — is leading towards your death, and leading towards the death of others.”
He added: “Walk out of the office. Don’t go through with this. Save your child’s life.”
Brian Ingalls, from Lisbon, Me., sometimes stands outside the Planned Parenthood in downtown Portland, preaching similar sermons to women inside. But after one particularly boisterous speech last month, the state has ordered him to stop.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills (D) announced Tuesday that she has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the anti-abortion protester for disturbing patients at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England in Portland. The complaint, filed in Cumberland County Superior Court, claims Ingalls violated patients’ rights by “making loud statements in opposition to the facility’s abortion services.”
According to the lawsuit, that’s a violation of the state’s Civil Rights Act, which protects patients receiving medical services from noisy disruptions.
“All patients have the right to receive medical services free of ‘the cacophony of political protests,’ in the words of the United States Supreme Court,” Mills said in a statement to The Washington Post. “While protestors [sic] have every right to say anything they want in a public area in the vicinity of a medical facility, they are not permitted to disrupt another citizen’s health care services.”
Pro-Life Missionaries of Maine, which defines itself online as “a group of committed Christians who minister outside the Killing Center,” posted Ingalls’s summertime speech on YouTube. The group confirmed to The Post on Tuesday that the man in the video was Ingalls. Moments later, the video was set to private; but a copy of the clip was posted Tuesday elsewhere on YouTube.
The video does not capture the incident at the center of the civil rights lawsuit. That incident occurred Oct. 23 when Ingalls was preaching from a sidewalk outside the Planned Parenthood facility.
Ingalls was yelling about “murdering babies, aborted babies’ blood and Jesus,” according to the complaint. “Ingalls’ yelling was so loud that it could be heard within the examination and counseling rooms of the building and disrupted the safe and effective delivery of health services, particularly the counseling that staff was attempting to provide its patients.”
Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, told The Post that workers had to call police.
“It was loud and intrusive to the point that it was making it difficult for medical practitioners to provide medical information to patients,” she said.
Police responded to the noise complaint and instructed Ingalls to lower his voice so he would not disturb patients inside the healthcare center, according to court documents. But when police left the scene, he continued shouting, demonstrating “his intent to interfere with the safe and effective delivery of health services at Planned Parenthood,” according to the documents.
Erin Kuenzig, trial counsel for Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Ingalls, said her client was with his wife and baby “preaching from the Bible.” She said when police told him to quiet down, he did — but that Planned Parenthood called in another complaint anyway.
“Planned Parenthood didn’t like what this young Christian was saying,” Kuenzig told The Post.
Maine’s Civil Rights Act states that when someone has been ordered by law enforcement to stop making noise, it is a violation for the person to intentionally continue doing so when it can be heard inside a health-care facility, when the intent is to “jeopardize the health of persons receiving health services within the building” or to “interfere with the safe and effective delivery of those services within the building.”
A spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office told the Portland Press Herald that the lawsuit against Ingalls marks the first time the state has used the Maine Civil Rights Act in litigation against anti-abortion protesters.
The state has requested that the court issue an injunction to keep him 50 feet from Planned Parenthood’s facilities, and declare that he has violated the state’s Civil Rights Act and order him to pay up to $5,000 fine.
“We want to protect people’s privacy when they’re accessing healthcare of any sort,” Mills told The Post. “They have a right to access health services without being disrupted by people who are being very loud outside.”
A few years ago, Portland established an ordinance that created a 39-foot no-protest zone around the Planned Parenthood clinic — and anti-abortion activists challenged it in court. The Thomas More Law Center took on the case, complaining that the zone violated the protesters’ First Amendment rights.
At the same time, a similar case was unfolding in Massachusetts, where lawmakers had established 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the zones represented an unconstitutional infringement on free speech. Portland then reexamined its own ordinance.
“We need to conduct a review of the Supreme Court’s ruling to examine how it will apply to our buffer zone ordinance here in Portland,” Jessica Grondin, a city spokeswoman, told the Portland Press Herald in a statement at the time. “In regards to our pending legal case, we will wait to hear from the court to see what the next steps are.”
Soon after, Portland’s city council voted to repealed its ordinance, according to the newspaper.
The city settled the lawsuit last month.
But Kuenzig, Ingalls’s attorney, said she believes the state’s recent case against her client is a similar attempt to “silence his speech.”
“We see this as being a blatant violation of the First Amendment,” she said. “The First Amendment protects free speech and does not allow the government to ban free speech because it doesn’t like message that is being preached.”
But the attorney general said her lawsuit is not in response to any other case.
“This has nothing to do with buffer zones,” Mills told The Post. “It has to do with one individual … who wants to be heard inside the healthcare facility.”
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England said it just wants to protect its patients from it.
“This is about our patients — to make sure they have access to the medical care we provide,” said Clegg, the Planned Parenthood spokeswoman. The Oct. 23 incident, she said, was “incredibly disrespectful.”
“Our hope is that we don’t encounter the situation again,” she said.