Court Allows Continued Harassment of Pro-Life Advocates in Mississippi

State   |   Tom Ciesielka   |   Oct 29, 2014   |   3:19PM   |   Jackson, MS

Life Legal Defense Foundation’s request that pro-life advocates receive injunctive relief from harassment by the City of Jackson, Mississippi Police Department was denied by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi Jackson Division yesterday.

Despite hours of supportive testimony and a long and well documented history of police misconduct, Judge Carlton Reeves denied a preliminary injunction prohibiting the city police from further persecution of peaceful pro-life protestors. The injunction was requested to protect the victims of harassment while awaiting a lawsuit on the matter, set to go trial next spring.

prolifestudents38Life Legal Defense Foundation had requested that the court:

  • Declare the Jackson police actions against the pro-life advocates to be unconstitutional
  • Declare the City of Jackson in contempt of a legal consent decree issued in the matter over 6 years ago
  • Prohibit the Jackson police from interfering with lawful pro-life speech on public sidewalks and right-of-ways
  • Prohibit the Jackson police from using threats to suppress constitutionally protected pro-life speech
  • Compensate those pro-life advocates whose civil and Constitutional rights were violated via harassment, even false arrest

The police misconduct testified to in court was directed at pro-life sidewalk counselors outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining abortion facility in Mississippi. A recently-enacted law requiring abortion practitioners to have admitting privileges at a local hospital dictates that the clinic must close, but a federal court has temporarily stayed enforcement of that law.

Life Legal Defense Foundation Senior Staff Counsel Allison Aranda and local counsel Steve Thornton called witness after witness to describe the years of threatening, harassing conduct pro-lifers endured from Jackson police officers. This conduct included issuing numerous citations and threats of arrest for constitutionally protected activity such as leafleting and standing with signs on the public sidewalk outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

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Despite the denial of this preliminary injunction, the lawsuit, filed in July, will now proceed to the discovery stage.

“We are deeply disappointed in the court’s failure to protect the clearly established free speech rights of the people of Mississippi,” said Allison Aranda, Senior Staff Counsel, Life Legal Defense Foundation.  It is a sad day where in the birthplace of the civil rights movement a court refuses to protect the constitutional rights of politically disfavored speech. If the Supreme Court had turned a blinds eye to the free speech rights of anti-segregation demonstrators as the court did towards pro-life sidewalk counselors we would not be where we are today as a nation!”

“We are very concerned about the potential for police mistreatment of our clients as this case awaits its day in court,” explained Life Legal Defense Foundation Executive Director and President Dana Cody, “That is why we sought preliminary relief.” She added, “It is very disappointing that the District Court did not acknowledge that a police department that is already behaving with impunity might perceive this as an opportunity to continue illegal harassment of private citizens exercising their constitutionally protected freedoms.”

Read the original Life Legal Defense Foundation court filing in United States District Court HERE.