Maryland Agencies Asked to Allow Abortion Protest After Pro-Lifers Strip-Searched

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 22, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Maryland Agencies Asked to Allow Abortion Protest After Pro-Lifers Strip-Searched

by Steven Ertelt Editor
July 22
, 2009

Bel Air, MD ( — A pro-life legal group has written to a handful of state and local agencies in Maryland asking that the First Amendment rights of pro-life protesters be respected. The letter comes after pro-life women were shackled and strip searched after peacefully protesting abortion in the city of Bel Air.

The incident involves a group of pro-life advocates who, in August 2008, were arrested without warning by Hartford County State Police during their multi-city protest featuring abortion signs.

At least a dozen police officers arrived in more than seven marked vehicles and then arrested, jailed, shackled, and strip searched them.

As reported last month, U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett refused to grant motions by the defendants — Harford County, the town of Bel Air, and seven police officials — to dismiss the lawsuit pro-life legal groups filed.

Now, the pro-life advocates are heading back to Bel Air to protest again and they want assurances their rights will be protected.

Tom Brejcha, the lead attorney for the Thomas More Society, told, “Last year the blatant mass arrest, handcuffing, prolonged detention and jailing, and needless, invasive strip searches of fully peaceable, non-violent pro-life demonstrators by Maryland State Police was an outrageous suppression of citizens’ exercise of fundamental First Amendment rights."

The pro-life people, organized under the group Defend Life, brought their pro-life message to Annapolis yesterday and they plan to return to Bel Air next week.

"We’re coming back to Bel Air. We’re going to have 15 stops on our 15th annual tour beginning Monday, July 27 through Friday, July 31. Our very last stop again this year will be Bel Air," said Defend Life member Jack Ames.

Angela Swagler, a pro-life protester, also commented.

"Because my speech was deemed offensive by police, I was arrested, imprisoned, shackled and strip-searched twice. I’m here today to make sure that justice is done and that no one else trying to protect innocent life has to go through what I went through," she said.

WBAL-TV asked local police to comment on the return of the pro-life advocates and they would not do so, citing the pending litigation.

Once in custody, the three young women–two of whom are teenagers–were subjected to two rounds of less-than-private strip searches. Only after the unlawful strip searches and a night spent in jail were they told why they were arrested.

The first search took place in the police station parking lot in front of other males. A female officer pulled out the young ladies’ shirt collars to inspect their breasts before reaching down their pants to feel around their waistlines.

The Harford County Detention Center administered the second strip search after the pro-life participants were transferred there. A female officer took the women one by one into a bathroom with a partially open door and ordered them to lift up their shirts and brassieres.

A week after their release, the state dropped the charges ultimately filed against them: loitering, disorderly conduct, and failure to obey a lawful order. None of the participants were ever charged with any sort of permit violation.

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