Pro-Life Girls Protest Abortion Again After Strip Search Incident

State   Steven Ertelt   Jul 29, 2011   |   12:24PM    Bel Air, MD

The pro-life girls and other pro-life advocates who were shacked and subjected to strip searchers after protesting abortion in Maryland a few years ago are back to protest again now that courts have ruled in their favor.

Defend Life, a Catholic organization based in Baltimore, is back in Bel Air to line the streets with pro-life posters on Route 24 and MacPhail Road this afternoon. The display is part of the organization’s 11th annual Face the Truth Tour, which takes them to locations in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. to share the pro-life message with local communities.

They hope the abortion protests fare better than in 2008 when the pro-life advocates, including college-aged girls, were shacked and strip searched. The multi-faceted case has been ongoing for years and some of the defendants have settled their case while a judge recently ruled in favor of other participants.

Maryland state troopers handcuffed and arrested 18 pro-life advocates for sharing a peaceful pro-life message along a Bel Air, Maryland public street in August 2008. Among those arrested were three young women who were later shackled, strip-searched, and detained overnight by other police.

Maggie Egger, co-director of the Face the Truth tour, told the Hartford County newspaper that she doesn’t expect much concern since the pro-life advocates have returned to the same place previously.

“For the last three years we have stuck to the same place and haven’t really had any problems,” she said. “Last year [police] came out and said they weren’t sure if we were breaking any laws…We reminded them about the lawsuit that hadn’t been settled at the time.”

“Sometimes the police come out just to make sure we are obeying the law,” Egger said. “I would be very, very surprised if they try to give us any trouble.”

Egger told the paper she has been pleased at the outcome of the litigation in response to the incident.

“From everyone that I have talked to, they were very happy with the settlement,” she said.

Recently, Hon. Richard D. Bennett of the federal district court for the District of Maryland issued a 49-page opinion in a civil rights action filed by attorneys with the American Catholic Lawyers Association in 2009. The decision, following extensive motions for summary judgment by both plaintiffs and defendants, holds that the First and Fourth Amendment rights of the seven pro-life advocates who are the plaintiffs (as well as two pro-life advocates represented by the Alliance Defense Fund) were violated when the state troopers arrested and jailed them.

“We are gratified by the court’s comprehensive decision, and we are preparing to move ahead to a final resolution of this case,” Ferrara, the president of the American Catholic Lawyers Association, told LifeNews in a statement.

In January, the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejected an appeal taken by defendant police officers in a suit brought by Defend Life.

The court granted a motion to dismiss the appeal filed by Thomas More Society’s special counsel.

The appeals court dismissed the appeal on the grounds that material questions of fact were presented as to whether the police defendants acted in good faith. Indeed, plaintiffs already adduced compelling evidence of bad faith, including legally baseless arrests followed by failure to prosecute belated criminal charges, needless strip searches of fully peaceable, nonviolent demonstrators, and 911 tapes and police recordings. The recordings showed how police enforced a “heckler’s veto” (acting on phone calls objecting to the content of protest signs) in making the arrests, and showing deep police bias — with officers commenting “…they can sit in a cell for an hour … or three or four and rot.”

During the initial event, the pro-life people were arrested without warning by Harford County State Troopers during their multi-city protest featuring abortions signs. At least a dozen police officers arrived in more than seven marked vehicles.

They had started their peaceful pro-life event along a public road in Harford County but relocated to the town of Bel Air after being told by officers to leave the county for not having a county permit to engage in free speech activities. The officers then arrested them in Bel Air without explanation.

Once in custody, three young women among the group arrested–two of whom were teenagers–were subjected to two rounds of strip searches. Only after the 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. Officials cast the pro-life participants in leg irons, denied them permission to call parents until after midnight.

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.