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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Judge orders anti-abortion gatherings away from Planned Parenthood

Some 200 people rally outside Spokane’s Planned Parenthood clinic as part of an anti-abortion religious service called “The Church at Planned Parenthood” on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. The health care provider is suing leaders of the group.  (Chad Sokol / The Spokesman-Review)

A judge on Monday ordered anti-abortion protesters who routinely gather outside Spokane’s Planned Parenthood clinic to move their demonstrations across the street.

Spokane Superior Court Judge Raymond Clary issued a preliminary injunction that requires The Church at Planned Parenthood, or TCAPP, to gather across the street from the Indiana Avenue clinic, or anywhere at least 35 feet from the building, instead of directly adjacent to the property.

The order also requires TCAPP – which has held regular anti-abortion events outside the clinic since 2018 that sometimes draw hundreds of attendees – start its gatherings at least one hour after Planned Parenthood stops accepting new patients at 6 p.m.

“This is great news for patients and staff, this is a huge victory and we’re thrilled to see the judge’s order,” said Paul Dillon, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.

TCAPP and its congregants also are prohibited from blocking the entrance to the clinic, trespassing on its property or making noise that “unreasonably disturbs the peace” inside.

The preliminary injunction is not a final ruling, but signals Clary believes Planned Parenthood is likely to be successful as it pursues litigation against TCAPP.

The anti-abortion group regularly draws large crowds to its events, where leaders use amplified speakers and direct people to sing, chant and pray.

Three leaders of TCAPP did not immediately respond to messages or declined to comment on Monday. The next TCAPP event, announced prior to Monday’s decision, is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Tuesday. It’s unclear if it will be rescheduled to abide by the judge’s order.

Planned Parenthood, which offers a variety of health care services including abortion, has long decried the events as a form of intimidation that disrupts the services inside the clinic.

The debate between Planned Parenthood and the anti-abortion protesters came to a head in June when the nonprofit filed a lawsuit against the leaders of TCAPP.

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

The judge had to determine whether the gatherings are protected by the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, or are a violation of the Washington state law that protects health care facilities from excessive noise and intrusion.

“The right to protest does not include protesting to shut Planned Parenthood down or to harass its patients and health care providers,” Clary wrote in a 15-page order.

Clary’s order largely matches the preliminary injunction requested by Planned Parenthood, although his version includes time constraints on the gatherings. Clary’s decision followed a hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request last week.

“The laws are very clear in Washington about interference with a health care facility, and The Church at Planned Parenthood has completely disregarded the laws that were established with good reason,” Dillon said.

Monday’s order did not include a decision on Planned Parenthood’s request for unspecified damages.

Planned Parenthood tapped Legal Voice, a progressive legal advocacy nonprofit, for representation in the case.

Kim Clark, the attorney representing Planned Parenthood, argued at last week’s hearing the injunction was the only means remaining to end the intimidation and intrusion caused by amplified protests held on a small green space just outside Planned Parenthood property.

The attorney representing TCAPP’s leaders said the matter came down to free speech.

“Plaintiffs do not like the speech that is occurring outside of their walls, they want it completely eradicated,” attorney Tracy Tribbett said. “People do not picket away from the place where they have an issue.”

Although Covenant Church and TCAPP are publicly presented as separate entities, they are functionally the same, attorneys for Planned Parenthood argued last week. Donations solicited by TCAPP are taken by the nonprofit corporation formed by Covenant Church.