PORTLAND, Maine — The protesters outside Portland’s Planned Parenthood clinic weren’t screaming Friday morning, but not because of a court order.
It was the first of the regularly scheduled anti-abortion demonstrations since a federal judge ruled that police may again enforce Maine’s noise ordinance against protesters outside the women’s health center. And the activists kept their admonitions to a low shout despite the decision not yet being in effect.
On Tuesday, the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court ruling, finding that police can enforce the noise section of the Maine Civil Rights Act against the protesters because, as written, the law is message neutral.
The ruling is the latest step in a legal drama that started in 2015 and could now be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Portland Police said Thursday that they were still reviewing the decision. There are several procedural steps that must take place before the ruling takes practical effect and a Planned Parenthood of Northern New England spokeswoman said Friday morning that she believed it was not yet enforceable.
On the street in front of the downtown clinic, demonstrators admonished passersby of the “murder” taking place and urged women walking into the building to consider adoption. Preacher Andrew March invoked Jesus Christ in a raised voice, but was not loud enough for a BDN reporter standing inside Planned Parenthood’s second floor clinic to hear him.
“What are we doing here? Are we attacking anyone? Are we assaulting anyone? We have had Black Lives Matter protesters, we have had environmentalists here, none of them have had to face the wrath of the court, but for some reason, we are dealing with it,” March said Friday.
Whether the protests are audible inside is relevant to the case, which March brought against the city of Portland, several police officers and Maine Attorney General Janet Mills in December 2015 after police told him he could not shout in front of Planned Parenthood.
Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robin, who worked on the case, said earlier in the week that the noise ordinance was initially enforced when the protests became so loud that they interfered with providing health care services to patients inside the clinic.
Several members of March’s Lewiston church, called Cell 53, declined to comment, referring a reporter to the Michigan lawyer who filed the lawsuit.
Attorney Kate Oliveri of the Thomas More Law Center in Michigan, said she is reviewing available legal recourse, which include motions for reconsideration, seeking a full panel review by the 1st Circuit Court, and petitioning the Supreme Court.
Protesters had mixed opinions on the court decision.
Asked about the court ruling, Tanya Turgeon, who is 32 and a member of Cell 53, said “that children are getting murdered is the real crime.” She followed people up and down the block telling them this Friday morning, and shouted warnings at a passing trolley tour.
Janet Mello, 66, of South Portland, said Friday was her second time coming to protest in front of the clinic. “I agree that people shouldn’t be too loud,” she said. “I don’t support screaming and yelling.”
BDN staff Judy Harrison and Troy R. Bennett contributed reporting.