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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Church at Planned Parenthood permanently ordered away from clinic

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, 2020, at Planned Parenthood’s offices, 123 E. Indiana Ave., in Spokane.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND/The Spokesman-Review)

A Spokane County Superior Court judge has permanently barred anti-abortion protesters from loudly demonstrating just outside the doors of Planned Parenthood’s Spokane clinic.

In a victory for the health care nonprofit, Judge Timothy B. Fennessy issued a permanent injunction Wednesday against the Church at Planned Parenthood that prohibits the group from demonstrating immediately outside the facility, and while the facility is open to patients.

The ruling extends the rules laid out under a preliminary injunction granted by the court last year.

The Church at Planned Parenthood, led by officials from the Covenant Church, holds routine, amplified gatherings outside the Indiana Avenue clinic to protest abortion.

In his ruling, Fennessy wrote that “reasonable minds can only reach one conclusion, that Covenant Church intends to interfere with access to or safe and effective delivery of health care services provided by” Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and Northern Idaho first filed suit against church leaders last year, claiming the demonstrations violated state laws intended to protect health care facilities from interference.

“In Washington state we have very strong laws about the right to care and right to accessing reproductive health services, and I think we need to continue to build on that to safeguard our patients and their respect for privacy and care,” said Paul Dillon, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood.

The Church at Planned Parenthood’s attorneys have argued that the protests are protected speech.

Ken Peters, the founder and director of TCAPP, was unsurprised by the ruling. Peters, one of the church leaders named in the suit, described the judge as a “leftist” who is “typical” of Washington state.

“I think the ruling is unconstitutional,” said Peters, who is now based in Tennessee.

Last September, the nonprofit won a preliminary injunction ordering protesters to gather across the street and at least 35 feet away from the facility. They were ordered not to gather between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., when patients are inside the building.

In his order Wednesday, Fennessy found that the Church at Planned Parenthood has interrupted examinations and treatments inside the facility.

Since the preliminary injunction granted last year, he noted the church’s leaders have “advocated and encouraged ways of circumventing” the parameters of the preliminary injunction.

Peters believes TCAPP has a constitutional right to protest on the small piece of city-owned property directly outside Planned Parenthood, which falls within the 35-foot buffer outlined by the injunction, when Planned Parenthood is not in operation.

“Why are they keeping us off of city property if they’re not even doing business?” Peters asked.

Planned Parenthood has contended the amplified gatherings outside that can be heard within the clinic have actively disrupted patient care.

While the parameters of the permanent injunction are similar to the preliminary version, Planned Parenthood believes Wednesday’s order offers more clarity. For example, it specifies the rules also apply to followers of the church, not just its leaders.

Following last year’s preliminary injunction, Dillon alleged that church leaders would send followers across the street to protest directly outside the Planned Parenthood property. Police were hesitant to enforce the injunction against anybody not named in the lawsuit.

“They keep moving the goalposts and trying to tiptoe around the judge’s order,” Dillon said, describing church leaders’ tactics as being to deny that they were directing people to go across the street with a “nod nod, wink wink.”

Peters said those efforts were an attempt to exercise “a bit of civil disobedience.”

“We think we are under the laws of god and the Constitution, which are higher than this leftist judge,” Peters said.

Peters said he prefers the optics of being directly outside the clinic, but acknowledged the group can still make its case against abortion from across the street.

“Even though we feel like the judge is unconstitutional, do we want to pick this battle right now? And I think that, at this moment, no, until I get some more legal advice and pray about it, I don’t want to defy this order,” Peters said.

The ruling comes as efforts to restrict access to abortion have gained ground across the country. The U.S. Supreme Court recently allowed a Texas law to take effect that empowers citizens to sue medical providers and others if they perform an abortion or assist someone in having one as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

“The Texas law very much is about, and other laws we’ve seen around the country, about intimidation and reinforcing stigma. We need to use every tool we can in Washington to go bold, and I hope that because this is a significant test of the state (law), this will set a precedent for health centers across Washington state,” Dillon said.

Peters, meanwhile, expects the ruling to only encourage more people to participate in TCAPP.

“That’s going to stir up Christians, patriots, constitutionalists, Trump supporters. We’re already getting super-backed into a corner and ticked off,” Peters said. “It’s only going to stir us up more, and it’s only going to make us more aggressive and make us grow our movement.”

It is unclear if TCAPP leaders will appeal the ruling. Peters said he intended to consult with his attorney Thursday.