Anti-abortion group arrested outside NC clinic during stay-home order. Now it’s suing

Anti-abortion group arrested outside NC clinic during stay-home order. Now it’s suing
Daniel Parks, Executive Director of Cities4Life offers information to a driver as they leave A Preferred Women's Health Center on Latrobe Drive in Charlotte, NC on Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Leaders of the center are upset by the continued presence of sidewalk counselors outside their abortion clinic despite stay home orders from the county and state. (Source: Jeff Siner)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Hayley Fowler/The Charlotte Observer) - Anti-abortion advocates were arrested outside a North Carolina abortion clinic on two separate occasions for violating a stay-at-home order during the coronavirus pandemic.

The group now says its constitutional rights were violated.

Love Life — a Charlotte-based religious group that opposes abortion — said its members were praying and ministering outside A Woman’s Choice abortion clinic in Greensboro at the end of March when police arrived, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday.

Several were arrested and charged with “travel[ing] for a non-essential function,” the complaint states.

“The government can’t allow some people to walk and talk on sidewalks and then say that these pro-life citizens can’t walk and pray there,” attorney Denise Harle said in a news release. “This was never about public health and safety; it was about the government silencing people because it doesn’t like what they have to say.”

Love Life is suing the city of Greensboro and Guilford County for allegedly violating the First Amendment. They’re represented by the conservative Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, where Harle is senior counsel.

Representatives for the city and county didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News.

According to the complaint, Love Live is a “faith-based” nonprofit that partners with North Carolina churches to provide counseling and services to women facing an unplanned pregnancy.

Members of the group were arrested April 4 in Charlotte for protesting at a different abortion clinic, The Charlotte Observer reported. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas criticized the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in a tweet later that day, calling their arrests unconstitutional.

Counsel for Love Life echoed that argument in Tuesday’s lawsuit.

Guilford County, in agreement with the city of Greensboro, instituted a stay-at-home order on March 27 limiting non-essential travel. Gatherings of more than 10 people and church services are banned under the order, but outdoor activities such as walking, biking and hiking are permitted.

According to the complaint, that provision was later amended to expressly define outdoor activities as “outside exercise and/or recreational activity.”

“It does not include outside activity for other purposes,” the amended order states.

Love Life staff members, the group’s legal counsel and several pastors were outside the Greensboro abortion clinic on March 28 and 30 when they were cited and — in some cases — arrested by the Greensboro Police Department, the lawsuit states.

They were warned by police again on April 4, according to the complaint.

Officers reportedly said they were “travel[ing] for a non-essential function[/purpose]” and otherwise acting “outside the realm of the stay-at-home order.”

“LOVE LIFE is an ‘Organization that provides charitable and social services’ and therefore, pursuant to several provisions of the Guilford County proclamation, not to mention the Constitution, LOVE LIFE is expressly permitted to continue prayer and ministry,” the group said on Facebook in response.

Attorneys for Love Life said officials’ interpretation of the stay-at-home order violates the group’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment.

“If abortion businesses can stay open to perform elective abortions during the pandemic, Christians who abide by health and safety guidelines should certainly be allowed to pray outside,” Harle said in the news release.

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