NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of anti-abortion activists will continue to be barred from interfering with patients and providers at a reproductive health clinic outside Nashville, a federal judge has ruled.
In July, protesters attempted to enter the clinic run by the nonprofit carafem twice during a nationwide conference of Operation Save America – formerly Operation Rescue, according to court documents.
At the time of the event, Tennessee’s so-called “trigger law” was not yet in effect. Instead, abortion was banned at around six weeks of pregnancy due to the recent US Supreme Court decision to strike down the constitutional right to abortion.
Video footage shows the group mistakenly believed carafem violated state law because trigger laws in other states went into effect immediately when the Roe decision was released. However, Tennessee was among the small handful of states that would not be allowed to implement the trigger law until August 25.
At the July 28 event, law enforcement said they would deal with possible violations of the law. A speaker then replied, “We will obey God’s law, not man’s.” Another video shows protesters saying they had men ready to come in and stop the clinic from performing abortions.
Shortly after the interaction, the clinic filed for a temporary restraining order, saying the protesters violated federal law on free entry to the clinic’s entrances. This order has been granted and extended several times.
“Defendants have made clear their willingness to take the law into their own hands if, in their judgment, law enforcement fails to take appropriate action,” U.S. District Judge William L. Campbell wrote in his ruling. Wednesday. “Ominously, the defendants have stated that they do not consider themselves bound by the laws of man.”
During the July protest, three people entered the medical practice building and attempted to gain access to the clinic by posing as patients, according to the complaint. One, Bevelyn Williams, said on live video that the trio would “terrorize the whole building” if they weren’t allowed inside the clinic. She also said the three were going to “tear down this whole building,” according to court records. Rickey Williams and Edmee Chavannes were also with Williams.
The clinic was locked down, with patients and staff sheltering in a locked room until police brought the trio out of the building. The three then drove to Planned Parenthood in Nashville, where they were arrested for trespassing after refusing to comply with multiple warnings to leave the property, according to Metro Nashville police. Rickey Williams had a handgun in his belt, according to court records.
Operation Save America National Director Jason Storms said the three people arrested were not part of his organization, although their actions coincided with the Operation Save America protests. He did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.
The clinic stopped offering abortion services on August 25, but carafem officials maintained that they continued to offer contraception and other health services.
“The public interest is served by ensuring access to health care services provided by carafem,” Campbell wrote.