A federal judge in Alexandria said yesterday the rights of women seeking legal abortions at the Northern Virginia Women's Medical Center were probably violated by antiabortion demonstrators and ordered the protesters to stay away from the clinic indefinitely.
U.S. District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. issued a temporary injunction against two "pro-file" demonstrators and "those persons acting in concert or participation with them . . ." which prohibits them from going on the center's property in Fairfax County unless they are invited there.
Bryan last week temporary prohibited 11 demonstrators from entering the center's grounds until both sides could be heard more fully yesterday. Bryan's injunction only singles out two of the original 11 defendants because they were the only ones in court with attorneys to represent them.
The medical center and its administrator last week filed suit against the demonstrators because the protesters on several occasions have blocked the center's entrance and tried to prevent women from having abortions. Since 1973, about 16,000 abortions have been performed at the clinic.
Police have arrested the demonstrators on trespass charges. But Fairfax County General District Court judges have acquitted them the last two times they've been in court.
Judge Lewis Griffin last OCtober acquitted six defendants of trespass charges, saying at the time that "they had a good-faith belief that their actions were necessary to save lives," according to the complaint filed by the center's attorney, Philip J. Hirschkop.
Two weeks ago another judge, J. Mason Grove, acquitted eight demonstrators of trespass charges and called Virginia's abortion statue unconstitutional although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that abortions are legal.
As a result the county police were directed by Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. not to arrest any more demonstrators because the judges would only acquit them.
The Fairfax abortion center issue has raised questions of constitutional rights of both the protesters and women who want abortions and has generated grievances by Fairfax prosecutors and police against the General District Court judges.
At yesterday's hearing attorneys for the protesters likened then case to that of antiwar and civil rights protesters of the last decade who intentionally broke laws in order to try to change them.
The protesters, according to their lawyers, want to bring the abortion issue back before the Supreme Court because they said they have more information they want the court to consider. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled that states could not interfere with those seeking first trimester aborions.
In that case "there was no finding of fact as to when life begins," said Gary Sheehan, attorney for one of the protesters, Dave Gaetano.
At one point Bryan asked Sheehan, "You say they have the right to go on private property to interfere with something the Supreme Court" has sanctioned?
"It is not private," Sheehan replied. "It is like a drugstore that refused to serve blacks."
"It's like the sit-ins for integration," Sheehan later added. "These people are going in non violently trying to interfere with the taking of life."
Bryan said he would issue a temporary injunction rather than extend his temporary restraining order, partly to let the demonstrators appeal his decision.
"I don't agree with you at all," Bryan said. "But somebody may," meaning an appellate court. "You'll have to get somebody up the road to reverse the Supreme Court."
Bryan said his order allows the demonstrators to peacefully picket and distribute leaflets on public property near the clinic, located at 3918 Prosperity Ave.
Gaetano said after the hearing that such a limitation will force the protestors to stay about 100 yards away from the clinic.