Pro-life advocates win First Amendment showdown with City of Tuscaloosa
Thomas More Society attorneys have beaten back efforts by the City of Tuscaloosa to require permits for constitutionally-protected activities outside the West Alabama Women’s Center, the state’s busiest abortion facility.
A press release explained that members of Prolife Tuscaloosa were told recently they would now need a permit to engage in traditional sidewalk advocacy and prayer. When they showed up on the public sidewalk outside the clinic without a permit (which they have done for many years), police officers reportedly appeared and threatened them with arrest if they did not leave.
Thomas More Society attorneys Martin Cannon and Sam McLure then met with City officials and secured the following three significant reversals:
1. The city had announced that a permit would be required for any individual to stand and counsel on the public right of way near the abortion clinic. But after meeting with Thomas More Society attorneys, the City abandoned this requirement.
2. The City had justified its permit requirement by pointing out that the public property in question was dedicated to parking and that cars had priority over the sidewalk counselors. But after meeting with Thomas More Society attorneys, the city installed a permanent steel barrier to exclude the cars.
3. After abandoning its permit requirement, the City announced that a group on either side of the issue could voluntarily obtain a one-week permit for sidewalk advocacy at the site and exclude other groups during that week. But after meeting with Thomas More Society attorneys, the city abandoned that as well.
Cannon advised that the city was wrong to deny pro-life advocates their First Amendment rights to be present and speak while on a public right of way for lack of a permit — no matter what kind of an excuse Tuscaloosa officials gave.
“Those speaking out against abortion must have the same access to the public right of way as those promoting it,” Cannon added. “Overt interference with a lawful assembly is illegal. The public, peaceful assembly of individuals or small groups at the site doesn’t rise to a level supporting a permit requirement. It is the root of American democracy to protect this right to an open public forum.”
He concluded, “Because of the prompt and forceful involvement of Thomas More attorneys, the city of Tuscaloosa realized it cannot make pro-life advocates jump through hoops to exercise their constitutionally protected rights. Over 100 children are aborted weekly at West Alabama Women’s Center – more than are born alive in Tuscaloosa County during that same period. If the members of Prolife Tuscaloosa want to educate consumers about that and pray for it to stop – they have the right to do so, and the Thomas More Society is here to defend them.”
The Thomas More Society is a national not-for-profit law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family and religious liberty.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn