A Montgomery County Circuit Court judge ordered a doctor yesterday to stop performing abortions at his Bethesda office because protesters in front of the building were hurting business at neighboring professional and retail firms.
The order by Judge J. James McKenna was directed at Dr. Alan Ross, who operates a medical clinic at 8311 Wisconsin Ave. Neither Ross nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
The action stemmed from a suit by owners of the building where the clinic is housed. The owners contended that antiabortion protesters were driving away customers from adjacent businesses by forming picket lines and on occasion distributing antiabortion literature in other businesses.
The owners are seeking to have Ross permanently barred from performing abortions. Yesterday's order by McKenna bars such activity until a full trial on the issue is held next May.
Ross, who also operates a clinic in Gaithersburg, was convicted in May 1985 of assault and battery and carrying a deadly weapon with intent to injure after an incident outside that clinic in which he allegedly assaulted an antiabortion activist with a hypodermic syringe.
Yesterday's order does not prohibit Ross from performing abortions at the Gaithersburg clinic.
In addition to halting abortions at the Bethesda clinic, McKenna ordered the building owner, Bethesda Plaza Condominum Inc., to post $2,500 bond. A spokesman for McKenna said the money would be used to make up for business the physician loses in the event he appeals yesterday's order and wins.
John Heise, attorney for Bethesda Plaza, said the judge issued the order against Ross after finding that the physician had given written assurances to the building owners that he would not perform abortions at the site.
Heise said Circuit Judge William M. Cave issued a temporary restraining order in May similarly barring Ross from performing abortions for 10 days.
Conrad Wong, law clerk to McKenna, said the decision was "not on the merits of abortion, but it was done because the tenants have rights to peaceful enjoyment" of their property. Wong said the ruling could be considered unusual because it "takes two constitutional rights -- protesting and the right to abortion -- and has the effect of halting one. It's really a property rights case, not an abortion case."
Protest leader John Cavanaugh O'Keefe said the order "is a substantial ruling for the people of Bethesda. There are now three abortion clinics operating in the county instead of four."
Staff writer Claudia Levy contributed to this report.