A judge in Spokane County, Washington ruled on Friday that “The Church at Planned Parenthood” (TCAPP) violated the law when it blocked patient care outside a clinic, and the Christian group will now have to pay $110,000 in damages to the abortion providers.
So that plan backfired on the right-wing extremists.
For years now, members of Covenant Church in Spokane protested outside Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. While protests are legal, this one was intended to block people from using the clinic’s services through intimidation. They used speakers to loudly denounce abortion even though state law prohibits excessive noise and intrusion at health care facilities. They got right up outside the doors of the clinic.
This wasn’t a constitutionally protected form of debating ideological differences; this was harassment, plain and simple.
In September of 2020, Spokane Superior Court Judge Raymond Clary put a temporary stop to it. His preliminary injunction required TCAPP to stand at least 35 feet from the building and begin their “gatherings” at least an hour after 6:00 p.m. when the clinic stopped accepting new patients for the day. Clary added that TCAPP couldn’t block the entrance, trespass on the clinic’s property, or “unreasonably [disturb] the peace” with their noise.
One problem with that injunction? It only applied to the people named in the lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood: the leaders of TCAPP. That meant members of the “church” were allowed to continue their harassment as before, since cops “were hesitant to enforce the injunction against anybody not named in the lawsuit.”
A year later, thankfully, that preliminary injunction was made permanent—and broadened. Superior Court Judge Timothy B. Fennessy permanently banned TCAPP from harassing patients and included TCAPP members as well as its leaders. Fennessy plugged up those loopholes.
Not surprisingly, not being allowed to invade a health care facility infuriated TCAPP leaders like founder and director Ken Peters, who described the ruling—and the judge—as “leftist”, “typical” of the state, and “unconstitutional.” (He didn’t bother explaining what in the ruling was illegal). In fact, Peters responded to the ban by resorting to threats:
“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.”
Nothing screams “We’re true patriots” like hearing people who violate the Constitution insisting that it won’t stop them from getting even worse…
At the time, Peters said he’d “get some more legal advice” and “pray about it” before pursuing a course of action. He also said he didn’t plan on defying the order. But the question remained: How much would the Christian extremists have to pay for violating the law all those times they protested outside the facility?
Now we have an answer: The Church at Planned Parenthood will have to pay $110,000 in damages for interfering with patient care.
The judge said TCAPP’s actions created an increased risk of hypertension, increased pain, and a variety of psychiatric symptoms for Planned Parenthood patients.
TCAPP repeatedly violated Washington state law by “willfully or recklessly disrupt[ing] the normal functioning of a health care facility” by, among other things, “making noise that unreasonably disturbs the peace within the facility.”
Ken Peters admitted the loss but acted like his group hadn’t done anything wrong:
They didn’t obey the law. This wasn’t peaceful assembly. And he clearly has no remorse because he says he’d “do it again.” All I’m taking away from his reaction is that the penalty wasn’t substantial enough.
You can bet the group will just resort to the typical “persecution” playbook. But this was never about their faith. This was always about people using Christianity as an excuse to prevent others from receiving health care. It’s religious cruelty. The group deserves every bit of that fine and then some.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)