Denver (AP) — A judge Thursday denied the federal government's request to keep a longtime anti-abortion protester from being able to stop cars and talk to drivers as they enter Denver's Planned Parenthood center.
U.S. District Judge Philip Brimmer rejected the Justice Department's argument that Kenneth Scott's actions make it "unreasonably difficult" for patients and employees to get to the clinic.
"Great news," one of Scott's lawyers, Peter Breen, said of Brimmer's late-evening ruling.
Washington, D.C.-based attorney Gayle Winsome argued during a hearing earlier Thursday that a 1994 law protecting access to abortion clinics requires that Scott be at least 25 feet away from the entrance, in this case a driveway leading to the clinic.
Winsome said Scott would still be able to express his views at a distance without impeding traffic and without visitors having to worry about hitting Scott.
"This case is not about freedom of expression," Gayle argued in court. A spokeswoman with the Justice Department's civil rights division did not return a phone call seeking comment about Brimmer's decision.
Breen argued that Scott is a peaceful protester with a constitutional right to speak from public areas leading up to the property line of the Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains center.
Breen, of the Thomas More Society, said the government lawsuit against Scott is an overreach under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, passed in the wake of clinic sit-ins and a 1993 shooting that wounded Kansas abortion provider George Tiller. He was shot again and killed in 2009 at his Wichita church.
"Everything that Mr. Scott is accused of doing is protected by the First Amendment," Breen said.
The FACE act went mostly unused under George W. Bush, but the Obama administration has taken a harder line against anti-abortion activists. Lawsuits have been filed against a Texas man who threw his body across the door of a patient waiting area in San Antonio and a Pennsylvania man who posted online the names and addresses of abortion providers and urged people to kill them.
A lawsuit was also filed against a Florida woman who does "sidewalk counseling" at a West Palm Beach abortion clinic, but earlier this month a judge ruled that the government failed to prove that Mary Susan Pine created a physical obstruction.
During the Denver hearing, the center's security director identified Scott as the person seen standing in the driveway in surveillance video from 2010 as a car approached and in another video showing him on the sidewalk next to the entrance.
When questioned by another of Scott's lawyers, Mike Wagner said he wasn't aware of any fender-benders because of Scott or allegations of violence. Wagner, a former police officer, testified that he felt "concerned and frightened" when he wasn't able to get into the driveway in September 2009 because the driver of the car in front of him stopped because of Scott, but he said he didn't file a report or talk to the driver in front of him or get the license plate number.
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