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Planned Parenthood continues calls for enforcement on anti-abortion protests

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 22, 2020

Christine Stickelmeyer raises her hand during a devotional song sung by her son, Gabe Blomgren, during a protest rally and church service led by The Church at Planned Parenthood on May 19 at Planned Parenthood’s offices at 123 E. Indiana Ave. in Spokane.  (Adam Shanks / The Spokesman-Review)
Christine Stickelmeyer raises her hand during a devotional song sung by her son, Gabe Blomgren, during a protest rally and church service led by The Church at Planned Parenthood on May 19 at Planned Parenthood’s offices at 123 E. Indiana Ave. in Spokane. (Adam Shanks / The Spokesman-Review)

Protesters have changed tactics, but Planned Parenthood believes the monthly demonstrations outside its Spokane clinic continue to violate a court order. At the protest on Tuesday evening, Pastor Ken Peters gripped the microphone and asked the crowd to cross Indiana Avenue and join him in prayer next to Planned Parenthood.

Last month, a Spokane County judge ordered anti-abortion protesters known as The Church at Planned Parenthood to move their rallies across the street from Planned Parenthood’s clinic on Indiana.

But the following day, Spokane police looked on as protesters gathered on the thin green space adjacent to the clinic anyway, with officers hesitant to take action after the city’s legal department warned the judge’s order carried no explicit enforcement mechanism.

Police took the same approach this week, issuing zero citations to anti-abortion activists who shuttled onto the prohibited area.

Now, representatives for the nonprofit feel they’re back where they began.

“We feel like we’ve been caught in a time loop,” Planned Parenthood spokesman Paul Dillon said. “These events have been going on for two years, and they say they’re applying the law equally and fairly, but that is completely untrue.”

No arrests were made at Tuesday’s demonstrations and police received no complaints, according to department spokeswoman Julie Humphreys. Code enforcement officers were on scene taking decibel readings to ensure compliance with the city’s noise ordinance.

Police officers on scene noted that several people went to the north side of the street “praying for about 10 minutes before it started,” and estimated the crowd for TCAPP’s service reached about 250 people, according to Humphreys.

Peters did not return a request for comment on Thursday.

Planned Parenthood believed it had won a reprieve in Spokane County Superior Court on Sept. 21 when Judge Raymond Clary issued a preliminary injunction that required TCAPP to move its demonstrations across the street and not start until 7 p.m., after the last of the clinic’s patients have left the building.

The order was not a final ruling, but indicated the judge believes Planned Parenthood is likely to be successful in its lawsuit against TCAPP leaders, which claims the protests violate city and state laws against interfering with a health care clinic.

“The motive of Defendants and TCAPP is expressed in Facebook posts that reveal a desire to harass and shut Planned Parenthood down,” Clary wrote.

The nonprofit filed a lawsuit against the leaders of TCAPP in June.

The named defendants include state Rep. Matt Shea; Covenant Church and Covenant Christian School; Peters and fellow pastors Gabe Blomgren and Seth Haberman; and Clay Roy, who is described as the director of TCAPP.

Although presented as different entities, lawyers for Planned Parenthood noted in court that Covenant Church raises funds for TCAPP and facilitates its events.

TCAPP has skirted the judge’s order by hosting its amplified demonstration across the street at 7 p.m., but encouraging people to gather directly outside the Planned Parenthood building as early as 6 p.m.

In a post to Facebook ahead of the demonstration on Tuesday, Peters invited people to arrive at 6 p.m. for “pre service prayer” outside the building.

The nonprofit has argued that the judge’s order was based on the existing law, which it believes the protests violate, and that police should take action.

“It’s a bit of a waiting game to see what the judge is going to do next. Clearly, in our view, The Church at Planned Parenthood has defied the preliminary injunction,” Dillon said. “This last time it was more clear that that was a direct and coordinated effort. They were advertising in advance for people to come across the street.”

For now, the police department, along with the city’s legal department, say the judge’s preliminary order did not carry criminal penalties. Instead, they’ve taken the approach of only documenting the demonstrations, even when they believe the order is being violated.

Planned Parenthood hopes to win a permanent injunction.

The intensity of the rallies has only increased, according to Dillon.

“They’re going to continue to push things, and (Peters) said they would not stop until we were shut down,” Dillon said.

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