Pro-lifers take back “no-free speech” buffer zone
By Meredith Raney
MELBOURNE (May 18, 1996) – Melbourne’s only abortion clinic has killed two days a week for the past seven years. The last four weeks they have only killed one day a week because they have lost their University of Florida residents who quit coming to Melbourne even before the July 1st effective date. Aware Woman can’t find another doctor to replace Dr. Gostal Arcelin and three other residents from the University of Florida Hospital in Jacksonville who had been coming on Saturday. Dr. Arcelin resigned in a letter to Christians For Life effective April 1, 1996 after only one day of picketing at his hospital and neighborhood. Christians For Life, a pro-life group in Melbourne, Florida organized a peaceful, one-day, 12-person picketing excursion that triggered all of this. Only God could have arranged the results.
In recent years, there has been much protest activity on the public property around the Aware Woman abortion clinic . In 1993, Judge McGregor issued an injunction against three organizations and six individuals and all persons “acting in concert” with them. This injunction requires these respondents to stay outside of a 36 foot buffer zone created on public property. To this day all of the named parties have obeyed the injunction and stayed out of the buffer zone.
- In 1993, 104 people, none of them named on the injunction, were convicted of violating this injunction. These trials were before a judge who was brought out of retirement from north Florida just for these trials. He was not accountable to the citizens of Brevard county. Also, no jury trial was allowed. All 104 defendants believe that they were unjustly convicted. They were on public property where they had every right to be as members of the public. No judge had ever told them to stay out of the buffer zone.
- In the Madsen case in June of 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 36-foot buffer zone part of the injunction as it applies to named parties. Since no non-parties were plaintiffs in the case, no ruling was made about the “in concert” clause.
- In the Alf case in the fall of 1995, the U.S. Supreme court refused to hear the case of the 104 non-parties even though it had basically invited this case in the opinion written in the Madsen case. The Supreme Court has refused to give a clear, definitive ruling on the “in concert” part of this injunction.
- Since June 1994, there have been over 20 injunction violation charges made by the Melbourne Police Department. Not one of these cases has been brought to trial. They have all been dismissed.
Yet the City Attorney is quoted in Florida Today as saying, “The injunction has been approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. It doesn’t get any better than that.” Yet more than 20 recent cases have been summarily dismissed.
At some point, arrest with the knowledge that there will be no prosecution becomes harassment. Being dragged off to jail, having to post bond, and then having to show up for as many as nine court dates over a period of nine months, as in one defendant’s case, just to see the charges dropped is harassment. This is unconstitutional. The sixth amendment to our Constitution guarantees that the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial and to be confronted with the witnesses against him.
After two years of court battles and over 20 individual arrests, pro-lifers were recently able to take back the buffer zone. Graham Dugas, who lives across the street from the Aware Woman Abortuary and its infamous 36-foot buffer zone, took the buffer zone back on Saturday, May 11, 1996. On the previous Thursday, Dugas had successfully defended himself in Court on a buffer zone violation charge. On May 11, he went back into the zone using the same props with the court evidence tags still attached. He was carrying a pro-life sign and the transmitting half of a baby monitor being used as a disposable remote microphone to pick up audio for the video camera when he was previously arrested. He was immediately warned again at which time he left the buffer zone and asked to speak to a supervisor. A lieutenant came out and after some discussion, withdrew the warning. Dugas then went back into the buffer zone and waved everyone over.
About 30 people walked, prayed and picketed in the buffer zone freely for the first time in three years. Two people, who had previously served jail time for buffer zone violations, were warned and chose to leave the buffer zone because they weren’t killing babies that day anyway. Scheduled trials this month should clear this problem up as well.
In the meantime, six separate prayer groups from six Melbourne area churches meet on the sidewalk one day a month to pray for the unborn. Sidewalk counseling is taking place on the sidewalk again for the first time in almost two years. The past has shown that when Christians pray and counsel women from this sidewalk more women are disuaded from having their babies aborted than when people are not allowed to come within the 36-foot zone.
Meredith Raney is a spokesman for Christians For Life of Melbourne, Florida.