AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has filed a civil complaint against a Lisbon man for allegedly violating the Maine Civil Rights Act during a protest at Planned Parenthood’s Portland offices.
The complaint by Mills alleges that Brian Ingalls, 26, was so loud during an Oct. 23 protest that he “interfered with the delivery of health services,” even after allegedly being warned to stop by a Portland police officer.
The Maine Civil Rights Act protects the right of any person to receive any sort of medical services without disruptions caused by loud noises, according to a news release from Mills.
“All patients have the right to receive medical services free of the ‘cacophony of political protests,’ in the words of the United States Supreme Court,” said Mills. “While protesters have every right to say anything they want in a public area in the vicinity of a medical facility, they are not permitted to disrupt another citizen’s health care services.”
The suit filed in Cumberland County Superior Court alleges that Ingalls frequently is a protester at the Portland Planned Parenthood location and on Oct. 23 “was yelling up toward the second floor of the building at 443 Congress St. about murdering babies, aborted babies’ blood and Jesus.”
Erin Kuenzig is with the Thomas More Law Center, which is representing Ingalls in this suit. She said that Mills’ suit is an attempt to rehash a prior legal battle the law center fought against Portland when the city tried and ultimately failed to implement a 39-foot buffer zone for protests around Planned Parenthood’s Congress Street location.
In 2013, the Portland City Council implemented a 39-foot buffer zone around the Planned Parenthood clinic on Congress Street, but that ordinance was then challenged in U.S. District Court on the grounds that it violated protesters’ first and 14th amendment constitutional rights.
Portland rescinded its buffer zone ordinance in June 2014 after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against a similar buffer zone that had been implemented in Massachusetts.
Last month, the city of Portland was ordered to pay $56,500 to the five plaintiffs in the case against Portland to cover their legal fees.
“The complaint that was filed was completely meritless and just an attempt to circumvent the court ruling issued in October,” Kuenzig said by phone Tuesday. “This is essentially another buffer zone. … It’s clear that Planned Parenthood doesn’t like what Mr. Ingalls is saying, and he’s simply a Christian who is preaching from the Bible.”
Nicole Clegg, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the suit is the next step in the earlier legal fight. Planned Parenthood is not a party in the suit, but its complaints about Ingalls to the Portland Police Department led to it.
“The Supreme Court decision around the buffer zones made it very clear that this was the pathway that they felt was most appropriate,” said Clegg. “What the attorney general is doing is taking that decision and applying what the court recommended.”
Kuenzig said one flaw in the complaint is that there is no guideline about how loud someone can protest.
“There’s no way to judge that,” she said. “This is just another way to try to silence pro-life advocates outside the abortion clinic.”
The suit from Mills demands the following:
— A permanent injunction against Ingalls that would prevent him from coming within 50 feet of any of Planned Parenthood’s facilities or intentionally interfering with the safe and effective delivery of health services at a Planned Parenthood facility.
— A declaration that Ingalls has violated the Maine Civil Rights Act.
— An order that Ingalls pay a $5,000 civil penalty and attorney’s fees.
“The law says you can’t protest loudly enough that it’s interfering with our ability to provide health care,” said Clegg. “His loud protesting was very audible in our counseling room.”
Timothy Feeley, a spokesman for Mills, said the next step in the case will likely be a hearing, which would constitute Ingalls’ opportunity to respond to the suit or enter into a consent agreement.
Mills’ action today adds to the highly charged political and legal debate over Planned Parenthood, both in Maine and on the national stage.
After the release earlier this year of a series of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses, some Republican lawmakers in Maine attempted to introduce legislation to eliminate state funding for the organization. That proposed legislation did not win majority support from the Legislative Council required for consideration during the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.