Vitals Reporting on the pro-life movement

The right to show up and pray, even in lockdown

Abortion | Pro-life advocates defend ministries from COVID-19 enforcement
by Leah Hickman
Posted 4/20/20, 06:03 pm

Andrew Belanger was still in his car at the Scotsdale Women’s Center in Detroit when the abortion business’s security guard warned him the police would probably show up that day. It was the last day of March, and “the security guard told me that [the facility’s director] was itching to have the police out there,” Belanger said. But he took his normal place outside of the building anyway, holding a pro-life sign as he told passersby about the hope and help they could have in Jesus.

“Sure enough, once I started to talk to somebody, the police started to drive by,” Belanger said. Later, officers arrived and issued him a citation for violating Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

Belanger took legal action to protect his First Amendment right to minister outside the abortion business and won. Across the country, pro-life advocates have pushed back against stay-at-home orders and other coronavirus-related restrictions with mixed results.

Belanger is a full-time missionary with One Life for Life. He has come to the Scotsdale Women’s Center almost every day since November. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, he had several interactions with police officers who came to check on him when the facility director would call to complain about the protester outside. But the citation for violating the stay-at-home order was his first.

When the officers approached him that Tuesday, Belanger said he had been practicing social distancing and taking other safety precautions to respect the state’s concerns about spreading the virus.

“In my talking to people, there was a great distance from me to them,” he said. “I didn’t pass any information out—wasn’t going to do that.”

Since it was a cold day, Belanger even had gloves on.

The American Freedom Law Center filed suit on his behalf and for two other pro-life advocates who joined him later that day.

“We understand the critical need to stop the spread of the coronavirus, as do our clients, who are adhering to the social distancing guidelines,” AFLC co-founder Robert Muise said. “We only seek to prohibit the use of the executive order to criminalize our clients’ peaceful, free speech activity.” He noted the stay-at-home order allowed outdoor activity, “but the police issued Andrew a criminal misdemeanor citation for standing on that same sidewalk and preaching.”

Following the lawsuit, Whitmer, a Democrat, clarified that her executive order did not limit activities protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. On April 13, a U.S. District Judge Janet T. Neff signed an order spelling out the protections for Belanger and the other pro-life demonstrators and dismissing the citation against him.

“I am so grateful for how it all transpired,” Belanger said. “My hope would have been, though, that Gov. Whitmer would have deemed abortion nonessential.” Despite a statewide ban on elective medical procedures, the state made a special exception for abortions.

In North Carolina, two lawsuits filed in defense of pro-life demonstrators are still in progress. Last week, Alliance Defending Freedom sued the city of Greensboro on behalf of the Christian ministry Love Life. Greensboro police officers arrested several Love Life members in March for praying together outside an abortion business.

ADF also sued the city of Charlotte for arresting pro-life demonstrators who had gathered at an abortion business but were practicing social distancing. Some news outlets reported that more than 50 pro-life advocates gathered outside of the center, but ADF lawyer Kevin Theriot said those claims exaggerated the number and ignored the function of the pro-life groups represented at the facility that day. The demonstrators stayed 6 feet apart and carried hand sanitizer.

“They even used sidewalk chalk to mark and maintain appropriate distances between individuals,” the lawsuit stated. ADF also argued that stay-at-home orders should not apply to one of the groups represented, Cities4Life, because it offers essential services to pregnant women, including diapers, baby clothes, groceries, and money for rent and prenatal care.

Associated Press/Photo by Rick Bowmer Associated Press/Photo by Rick Bowmer Planned Parenthood of Utah in Salt Lake City

Follow the money

Recently unsealed invoices from a Planned Parenthood affiliate show the abortion giant charged the tissue company StemExpress almost $25,000 for fetal body parts over two months in 2012. Pro-life activist David Daleiden turned over the invoices to a state court in Colorado last week as part of a defamation lawsuit against a former Planned Parenthood employee who claimed Daleiden deceptively edited videos of her discussing the sale of baby body parts.

Planned Parenthood previously claimed it never charged money for tissue samples from aborted babies. Any charges associated with the transaction, the abortion giant said, were merely reimbursements for costs such as shipping or packaging.

But Daleiden said these invoices show no evidence of Planned Parenthood charging for shipping and packaging. “They show Planned Parenthood selling baby body parts based on the number of specimens ‘determined in the clinic to be usable,’” he said. “Tying payments to marketable body parts in a quid pro quo is exactly the kind of criminal ‘valuable consideration’ that federal law forbids. … When abortion businesses can make $25,000 a quarter selling baby body parts, it is long past time for the Department of Justice to do its job and hold them accountable.” —L.H.

Associated Press/Photo by Mark Humphrey (file) Associated Press/Photo by Mark Humphrey (file) Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee

Across the nation

Mississippi: Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, issued an executive order earlier this month postponing all elective procedures, including abortions, during the pandemic. Pro-abortion groups in the state said they are “exploring all options” to push back against the order.

Oklahoma: The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last Monday upheld a ruling preventing Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, from calling a halt to abortions during the coronavirus pandemic to conserve personal protective equipment.

Texas: The 5th Circuit on Monday overruled U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel’s order from last week that blocked Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s restrictions on medication abortions during the pandemic. The appeals court let Yeakel’s other ruling stand, which allows abortions for women who would be more than 20 weeks pregnant, the state’s legal limit, by the time Abbott’s order expires.

Arkansas: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, asked the 8th Circuit on Wednesday to overturn an order that allows the state’s only abortion facility to continue operating despite the state’s restrictions on nonessential medical procedures.

Alabama: The state on Thursday appealed to the 11th Circuit a ruling by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson’s injunction against a hold on elective abortions during the pandemic.

Tennessee: U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman on Friday night issued a ruling requiring the state to continue allowing abortion centers to provide the procedure despite the shortage of personal protective equipment. —L.H. The Canadian Parliament building in Ottawa

Online March for Life in Canada

Organizers canceled the annual March for Life events in Ottawa and Alberta, Canada, due to concerns over COVID-19. Originally set for May 14, Canada’s largest pro-life event will now take place online and will run from May 10 to 14. The first three days will feature interviews with movement leaders and pro-life films. On May 13, the group will hold a virtual candlelight vigil, and on May 14, the organizers will livestream a “virtual rally.”

If it goes well, it could open up opportunities for future online pro-life events.

“It is important for people to come together, gather together and share that experience together, and that will never change,” said organizer Debbie Duval. “We will see how it goes this year, what works and what doesn’t, and how maybe this can be something in the future in addition to the annual march every year in Ottawa.” —L.H.

Medication abortion slowdown

Airport closures during the coronavirus pandemic have led to a shortage of abortion pills for an illegal distributor. The Dutch website Aid Access has continued to sell the pills directly to women in the United States who want abortions despite orders to stop issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Now the group’s supplier in India cannot ship any medications because the Indian government shut down all international airports.

Although abortion proponents trumpet drug-induced abortions as a safe and easy, studies show that abortion drugs put women at heightened risk of hemorrhaging or other complications that could require emergency care. —L.H.

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Leah Hickman

Leah is a reporter for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Cleveland, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @leahmhickman.

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  • OldMike
    Posted: Tue, 04/21/2020 12:59 pm

    The devotion of abortion proponents to their "religion" should cause shame among those of us who understand abortion is wrong but do nothing to halt it.