Jolene Troyer, a 19-year-old resident of Greensboro, N.C., and her sister met up with two friends on March 28 for a prayer walk to an abortion business. They started in the parking lot of a nearby church and were still across the street from A Woman’s Choice when police officers approached and told them to return to their cars, citing the county’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Troyer and her friends complied and returned to the church parking lot, but a few leaders with the pro-life organization Love Life returned later that day. The police arrested them when they refused to leave.
The day before the incident in Greensboro, the Pro-Life Action League hosted a conference call with attorney Peter Breen of the Thomas More Society, who interpreted the orders as allowing pro-lifers to stand outside of abortion businesses: “In every single order I have seen, there’s an allowance for outdoor activity.”
Many of the nation’s stay-at-home orders also make exceptions for people providing essential services.
“If you are providing information about local pregnancy centers, you’re connecting them to healthcare generally,” Breen said. “Certainly that would cover you providing information and counseling on these issues.”
He encouraged pro-life advocates to comply with other health guidelines by staying 6 feet away from one another, covering coughs, and perhaps carrying hand sanitizer.
“We want to make sure we are complying with the law,” Breen said. “We want to help flatten the curve like everyone else.”
The city of Greensboro said in a statement that police officers talked with the demonstrators before they came out on March 28 “and informed the group that their presence at A Women’s Choice of Greensboro on Saturday would be considered non-essential activity under the County’s stay-at-home order and they would be subject to citation or arrest.” On March 30, police arrested more pro-life advocates at the Greensboro facility.
Stephen Crampton, another Thomas More attorney working directly with the Greensboro pro-life advocates, called the arrests “an overreaction by the city and its law enforcement looking to … use the emergency as an excuse to suppress the views of the pro-life folks.”
Other cities have seen similar pushback on pro-life advocates. Police in San Francisco cited an 86-year-old man last week while he prayed and walked in front of a Planned Parenthood facility. A Detroit pro-lifer last week also received a citation for preaching and holding a pro-life sign outside of an abortion business. According to a lawsuit filed by the American Freedom Law Center on his behalf, the man had been “practicing social distancing” when he received the citation.
In Charlotte, N.C., about 50 pro-life advocates congregated outside of an abortion business over the weekend. Police issued citations to a dozen people in that group and arrested eight. While they encourage people to continue ministering outside abortion businesses, pro-life leadership has tried to discourage gatherings of this size. In the March 27 conference call, Eric Scheidler of the Pro-Life Action League advised listeners to keep their groups small, with ideally no more than two or three people at a time. “Certainly not ever more than 10 people,” per the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he added.
Both Breen and Crampton of the Thomas More Society encouraged pro-life advocates to respect law enforcement in situations like these.
“When you receive a direct order that would, if disobeyed, result in a citation or arrest, then comply with the order,” advised Crampton. “Try to document it. Ideally, capture it on video or something … and call us right away.”