In a huge victory for free speech and unborn babies, United States District Judge Nancy Torresen, yesterday, issued a preliminary injunction barring the Maine Attorney General and City of Portland police officers from enforcing the Noise Provision of the Maine Civil Rights Act (“Act”). Under the Act, after being warned by a police officer, it is illegal to make noise that can be heard inside an abortion clinic with the intent to interfere with a medical procedure.
In a 35–page opinion and order, Judge Torresen, an Obama appointee, held that the Noise Provision of the Act is content-based because it restricts speech based on its purpose, and therefore, is facially unconstitutional. Read Judge Torresen’s entire opinion here.
The Thomas More Law Center (“TMLC”), a national, nonprofit public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed a lawsuit in December 2015, on behalf of Pastor Andrew March after a Portland police officer officially warned Pastor March under the Act, and ordered him to quiet his pro-life speech on the public sidewalk outside the Portland Planned Parenthood facility or face prosecution. Despite this threat of prosecution, Pastor Andrew March courageously continued to plead for the lives of the unborn at the doors of the Planned Parenthood facility.
Kate Oliveri, the Thomas More Law Center Trial Counsel handling the case, commented, “This is a victory regardless of whether you acknowledge that unborn children posses lives worth defending. Free speech rights are central to maintaining a free society and the court took a huge step toward protecting those rights for all citizens of Maine.”
The Planned Parenthood facility, located on a loud and busy thoroughfare in downtown Portland, has been the focus of pro-life counselors and prayer groups for the last several years. However, in October 2015, the Maine Attorney General resurrected the 15-year-old Noise Provision of the Act to sue Pastor Brian Ingalls in a state court for his opposition to abortion on those sidewalks. This occurred only two weeks after the City of Portland admitted that their a previous attempt to drown out free speech on the public sidewalk—a 39 foot buffer zone—was unconstitutional. The state case against Brian Ingalls is still pending. After the State sued Pastor Ingalls, Pastor March stepped in and began his preaching to save the lives of unborn babies.
Because a judge must determine that a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction has a likelihood of success on the merits, by granting TMLC’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Judge Torresen has indicated that Pastor March will ultimately prevail in his claim that the Act is an unconstitutional suppression of free speech when the case goes to summary judgment. In the mean time, the order assures that Pastor March and other individuals can continue to preach pro-life messages and pray without being silenced by the Noise Provision.
Judge Torresen focused on the “intent to interfere with a medical procedure” portion of the statute. This portion restricts speech based on the purpose for which the speech is made and differentiates speech based on the message expressed. In order for a content-based restriction on speech to be constitutional, it must be the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. Judge Torresen concluded that the State had other content-neutral means of keeping peace at abortion clinics.