HOUSTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - The 5th Circuit court of appeals ruled that an abortion protester was wrongfully arrested and his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
In 2013 Jonathan Davidson was falsely arrested while peacefully praying and sidewalk counseling outside a Planned Parenthood (PP) facility in Stafford, Texas. After being strip-searched he spent about eight hours in jail before being released on bond.
Davidson retained an attorney, Jerad Najvar, who contacted the city of Stafford in order to ensure his constitutional rights would be protected. Officials confirmed Davidson would not face any prosecution for the 2013 arrest, however, no assurance was given his constitutional right to protest outside the abortion mill would be respected in the future.
He then chose to file suit against the arresting officers, the chief of police, and the city of Stafford but lost an initial lawsuit in federal court. He accused the defendants of violating his right to freedom of speech and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure.
A new decision, however, by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on February 7 found Davidson was wrongfully arrested, describing the arrest as "objectively unreasonable" and that he had a right to protest the abortion mill.
Najvar commented in a press release, "This is an important ruling," he continued, "because the Court's decision makes clear to the abortion industry and to law enforcement that Pro-Lifers have the right to communicate with — and distribute information to — individuals entering and leaving abortion facilities without fear of being arrested based on false or misleading accusations."
On March 31, 2013, Davidson was standing on public property between the road and the Planned Parenthood facility in Stafford. He was praying. offering coupons for free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds and praying and holding a sign saying "Pray to End Abortion" — as he had done outside abortion mills for years.
A female PP employee aggressively demanded Davidson leave even though he was on public property. She called police, complaining he was "flagging down our patients before they come in the clinic."
Two Stafford PD officers arrived and after one officer's lengthy conversation with Planned Parenthood, they approached Davidson aggressively, asking if he was talking to Planned Parenthood's customers. He answered "yes" and was then informed that, if he continued, he would be taken to jail. Sensing unreasonable hostility from the officers, Davidson attempted to formally introduce himself, giving his name, and explaining that he was also offering coupons for free ultrasounds and free pregnancy tests.
Even though Jonathan had not committed a crime, and there was no probable cause for arrest, the officers arrested him for "failure to identify." Under Texas law, you are not required to identify yourself unless you are under arrest for a crime.
In the initial lawsuit, the court granted immunity to the officers, even though it found that they arrested Davidson without probable cause. The court allows for immunity in circumstances where officers might make "reasonable but mistaken judgments." It stated that the officers "reasonably believed" he was obstructing traffic and was harassing Planned Parenthood's customers, despite neither claim actually being true, and despite Davidson never being charged with those crimes.
At Planned Parenthood and other abortion facilities throughout the United States, it is very common for abortion activists to falsely accuse pro-life protesters of trespassing, harassment, and other crimes. Planned Parenthood employees, apparently seeing how successful pro-lifers can be outside abortion mills, also attempt to accuse pro-lifers of "blocking" their driveways.
Najvar, speaking to Church Militant, noted that pro-lifers outside of abortion mills have the right to talk to people and give literature to them, including engaging people who are in a vehicle pulling into or out of a driveway.
Davidson noted an abortion mill's driveway is an important place, because it is typically the only opportunity pro-lifers have to reach someone before they enter the facility. "Even if we only have a few seconds to smile and hand them some literature and a coupon for a free ultrasound or pregnancy test," he says, "it might be the only hope that person has received from anyone, and it might lead to an innocent baby's life being saved."