A group of anti-abortion protesters calling itself The Church at Planned Parenthood plans to continue protesting this spring despite being ordered by a judge to pay $960,000 to Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.
Ken Peters, founder of TCAPP and pastor at Patriot Church, said the church’s insurance covered the $850,000 in legal fees the group owes to Planned Parenthood and will likely cover some of the $110,000 in civil damages levied against the group by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Fennessy. The judge found the protesters violated state law during numerous protests.
“We’re there to exercise our First Amendment rights. We weren’t trying to stop abortions,” Peters said in an interview Monday. “We were there to peacefully protest because of, what we feel like, is the murder of human lives.”
The group was permanently barred from loudly demonstrating just outside the doors of Planned Parenthood in Spokane in 2021, after Fennessy found the group’s protest interfered with patient care.
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.
The group continued to violate Fennessy’s ruling, which resulted in civil damages.
“Every judge’s decision had affirmed our claims and there needs to be accountability for anti-abortion harassers,” said Paul Dillon, Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.
The Church at Planned Parenthood was founded by Covenant Church, where former state Rep. Matt Shea was a pastor. Since then, Shea has split from Peters. Shea leads On Fire Ministries in Spokane.
Peters said Covenant Church was insured by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co., one of the largest insurance companies in the United States that offers coverage to churches. Brotherhood Mutual “provides innovative insurance coverage and risk management resources specifically designed for ministries,” its website reads.
Brotherhood Mutual did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Covenant Church’s insurance policy will cover the entirety of the attorneys fees but Peters is unsure how much of the fine will be covered. Still, even if the church had to pay the full $110,000, it won’t bankrupt them, he said.
The civil suit wasn’t about money, Dillon said.
“It’s about keeping the injunction permanent, that has led to safer outcomes for our patients and providers,” Dillon said. “Their presence was certainly interfering with operations.”
Peters said he had no chance of winning the lawsuit against Planned Parenthood’s attorney from a large Seattle firm helped by Legal Voice, which describes itself as a “progressive feminist organization” that uses litigation to make positive change for women and LGBTQ people in the Northwest.
Tracy Tribbett, Peters’ attorney, works with the Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom and parental rights.
“It’s like I have no chance against this bazillion dollar organization,” Peters said. “I got crushed by the steamroller, but that’s what they do to babies, so.”
On Facebook, Peters has continued to call Fennessy a “leftist judge” who misinterpreted the law.
“They just hated our righteous stand, pure and simple,” Peters wrote.
Peters has continued to say the protests weren’t meant to impede Planned Parenthood’s services and were mostly scheduled after closing time, although patients were still present in the building.
The Church at Planned Parenthood and Peters have planned five events this year called “Not Backing Down” with the first set for March 14.
The events will start at 7:15 p.m., more than an hour after Planned Parenthood closes, and will be held across the street from the clinic, Peters said.
Planned Parenthood will closely monitor the protests to see if they violate state law, Dillon said.
He has already seen threats online from local extremists related to the upcoming events, Dillon said. He also noted that individual protesters see TCAP and Peter’s rhetoric and come to the clinic to harass patients.
“Their associations and rhetoric fuel hateful acts and they cannot deny their extremism,” Dillon said.
Despite the large fine, attorneys fees, and continued monitoring of the protests, Peters said TCAP plans to keep going.
“They gave just their best shot, they sued the tar out of a little church,” Peters said.”We’re going to keep standing for what we believe in, legally and peacefully.”