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Sidewalk Counselors at Planned Parenthood threatened with arrest, Cited for violation of Stay Home Stay Safe city ordinance despite “religious activities” protection

by | Apr 8, 2020

By Holly Gatling, Executive Director, South Carolina Citizens for Life

Photo Courtesy of Valerie Berry

COLUMBIA, S.C. (Tuesday, April 7, 2020) For the past seven years, Mark Baumgarner has lead his pro-life ministry, A Moment of Hope, in front of Planned Parenthood, the unborn-child-killing center of South Carolina’s capitol city. On Tuesday, a cadres of city police confronted Mr. Baumgartner and told him he was in violation of the Stay Home ordinance of the City of Columbia.

Mr. Baumgartner showed the officers a letter from the City of Columbia Attorney Teresa Knox that reads in part, “The Emergency Order declaring a Stay Home Stay Safe from the City of Columbia does not restrict religious activity.” The officers ignored it. They issued Mr. Baumgartner a criminal citation and told him if he didn’t leave he would be arrested. his trial date is July 13, 2020, according to the citation. It accuses Mr. Baumgartner of a “pedestrian” violation that could cost him nine points on his driver’s license.

Letter courtesy of A Moment of Hope

In a Facebook post later in the day, Mr. Baumgarner said, “Today I was cited for exercising my first amendment right in the public right of way in Columbia, SC for sidewalk counseling, something I have done almost everyday for over 7 years, offering help and hope in the name of Christ to mothers coming for abortions. I was there legally.” His post includes the above copy of the letter from Attorney Knox.

Attorney Hank Wall who represents Mr. Baumgartner said they are determining the next step including meeting with police officials. I don’t know how many situations there are like this nationwide,” Mr. Wall said. “If this came up in normal times, the pro-life organizations win hands down.” In a national emergency, however, the police power to protect the health and safety of the community is pitted against constitutional rights, he said. “The question is, is it reasonable?”

Mr. Wall, who has a private practice in Columbia, S.C., donates his time to Alliance Defending Freedom, a pro-life public policy law firm.

Some other legal issues to explore include:

  • whether “viewpoint discrimination” exists because the police did not arrest Planned Parenthood escorts milling in the parking lot. The police prosecuted the less popular pro-life view point while protecting the pro-abortion view point. “I suspect volunteer pro-choice advocates are outside of Planned Parenthood and inside expressing their viewpoint,” Mr. Wall said. “Why are we not allowed to exercise our First Amendment rights?”
  • whether there is “selective enforcement” of Governor Henry McMaster’s directive to suspend elective medical procedures. While hospital and legitimate medical practices have postponed elective medical procedures, Planned Parenthood has increased its business. Is the Department of Health and Environmental Control checking Planned Parenthood to make sure sanitary precautions are being observed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus? “Mark is being very careful [with his volunteers] to observe social distancing,” Wall said.
  • whether Planned Parenthood is violating the Stay at Home order. Planned Parenthood “is not providing critical care.”

In a March 28, 2020, email to Marshall Taylor, acting director of DHEC which licenses the state’s three abortion businesses, Mr. Baumgartner reported, “What has concerned me is that since the Governor requested that elective surgeries be halted by medical providers in the state, Planned Parenthood has continued to perform elective procedures and by our estimation, elective abortion numbers have increased approximately 50% since March 17, 2020.” By comparison, Mr. Baumgartner noted, Prisma Health President and CEO Mark O’Halla reported their elective procedures have declined by 77% during the crisis.

“My guess is there is not a lot of case law on pandemics,” Mr. Wall said. “Different judges are going to look at it differently.” Mr. Baumgartner “is pretty worked up about this. This is his calling, this is his life’s work. If he is exercising it appropriately, is it appropriate for police power to shut him down?”, Mr. Wall said.

Categories: Pro-Lifers