The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is exposing how tenuous First Amendment freedoms are as police enforce social distancing rules across the nation. A pro-life group in Greensboro, N.C., is suing the city after several of its members were arrested for violating a stay-at-home order during protests, despite practicing proper social distancing.
Most states say abortion clinics and facilities such as Planned Parenthood are considered essential services. But what about those who minister to and pray with people on the sidewalk outside these clinics? They provide valuable services to women in a time of need – even from a distance.
A Virginia Beach police officer recently issued pro-life volunteer Cheri Britt a court summons for violating Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam‘s stay-at-home order. “It was just me with the ministry on the sidewalk and he said, ‘You’ll have to leave or I’ll give you a summons,’” Britt said. “And I said, ‘I don’t understand why I am going to get a summons, because you know, we are providing essential services.”
Britt says she was following all of the stated social distancing protocols, was alone at the time and was not breaking any other laws.
Britt’s Hope for Life ministry has operated a mobile bus clinic for five years, offering free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds for women as an alternative to abortion services offered at the Planned Parenthood clinic next door. The ministry also provides essential items such as free food, clothing and diaper wipes to expectant mothers in need.
Misty, a licensed ultrasound technician, said, “The opinion right now from our governor is that Planned Parenthood is essential. If Planned Parenthood is essential, there is no question that Hope for Life is essential. These women are struggling, especially in this time right now. I went for my little one, couldn’t even find wipes, zero wipes. We have wipes to give out to women.”
Britt said Planned Parenthood officials often ask police to remove members of her ministry from the sidewalk in front of the building. Police records show Planned Parenthood called the police in this instance. While most police just watched from their cars as Britt stood alone praying, two officers eventually approached her to write the summons.
“They like to consider us as protestors, but we’re not protestors,” she said. “We are not out here against women, we are out here to serve women and to help women. And last week, we worked hard with clothes and gave out 500 diapers and free baby hygiene and food. We’re making deliveries for women who don’t have vehicles and can’t get out.”
–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice