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Hagerstown police confront Wanda King at the Hagerstown Reproductive Health abortion facility Hagerstown police confront Wanda King at the Hagerstown Reproductive Health abortion facility Thomas More Society

Maryland city backs down from restrictions on pro-life free speech

Legal non-profit successfully intervenes to protect pro-life advocacy and prayer outside of Hagerstown abortion facility

Maryland pro-life advocates can continue their witness of prayer outside a local abortion provider after the city of Hagerstown officially walked back from restricting pro-life speech on public sidewalks during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city of Hagerstown officially backed down April 22, according to a statement from the Thomas More Society (TMS), which means that Maryland citizens can perform pro-life witness during the state’s stay-home executive order prompted by the pandemic.

“The city of Hagerstown has conceded,” said TMS Counsel Michael McHale, “agreeing that our clients can engage in pro-life free speech outside the abortion facility as long as they maintain social distancing, and have no more than 10 people while Maryland is under its current state of emergency.”  

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McHale noted that it took the threat of the lawsuit to get Hagerstown officials to back off on their requirement that pro-life advocate Wanda King and others be forced to continuously walk around the city block where they were praying outside an abortion facility in order to engage in pro-life free speech. 

“The city attorney has informed us that henceforth the Hagerstown will not enforce the order against Wanda King and her fellow life advocates if they abide by the social distancing requirements and keep their gathered numbers at 10 or below as long as COVID-19 restrictions remain in place,” McHale said. “Now our clients can engage in pro-life speech and prayer outside of the abortion vendor, which continues to operate with impunity despite a state health order requiring that all health care facilities cease and desist from performing elective procedures like abortion during this state of emergency.”

The Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit national public interest law firm, intervened earlier this month after Hagerstown police had threatened King with a $5,000 fine for being present on the public sidewalk outside the local abortion facility during a stay-home executive order.

The TMS sent a letter on April 14 to the city’s mayor and police chief demanding that the city confirm immediately in writing that King and her pro-life colleagues could return to their peaceful activities outside of the Hagerstown Reproductive Health abortion facility without fear of arrest or citation. 

The city responded, stating that King and the others could return to the public sidewalk on the condition that they maintain social distancing and have no more than 10 people - and also that they continuously walk around the large city block where the abortion facility is located. 

The legal non-profit then sent a second letter to the city explaining why such a requirement is unconstitutional. 

When the city failed to respond, the TMS sent Hagerstown officials a draft lawsuit, demanding a final response. 

This prompted the city of Hagerstown to finally back down and agree that the pro-life advocates do not have to endlessly walk around the block in order to take part in pro-life free speech on the public sidewalk.

“We are pleased that Hagerstown authorities have recognized and corrected their previously erroneous view of our clients’ constitutional rights to free speech and free exercise of religion,” McHale said. 

“As long as abortion vendors continue to put women and children at risk – even during a state of emergency when all other elective procedures are banned – there will be a need for Ms. King and other life advocates to be near the abortion facility offering hope and information on life-affirming alternatives to abortion,” he said. 

Tweet This: As long as abortion vendors put women & children at risk there will be a need for life advocates to be @the abortion facility offering hope

“Even by its own terms, the Maryland Stay Home Order permits religious and spiritual gatherings of the kind our clients engage in if they have 10 or fewer people,” said McHale. “At the same time the Maryland Department of Health has demanded the cessation of all elective and non-urgent medical procedures through the duration of the catastrophic COVID-19 health emergency.”

“Almost all abortions are elective,” he pointed out, “yet the Hagerstown abortion facility continues to operate with impunity and without regard to such limitations.” 

“This selective enforcement of parts of Maryland's orders to stop the spread of COVID-19, threatening Ms. King and other pro-life advocates while turning a blind eye to the elective abortion procedures occurring just yards away, was unlawful,” McHale said.

Editor's note: The second letter sent to Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, Chief of Police Paul Kifer, City Attorney Jason Morton, and City Administrator Scott Nicewarner, all of Hagerstown, Maryland, on April 17, by the TMS is available HERE. The initial April 14, 2020, letter sent to Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, Chief of Police Paul Kifer, and City Attorney Jason Morton, all of Hagerstown, Maryland, by the TMS HERE.

Lisa Bourne

Lisa Bourne is Managing Editor of Pregnancy Help News and Content Writer for Heartbeat International. She has worked in journalism and communication for the pro-life community, the Catholic Church, other Christian denominations and secular media for several years. She is married to Chris, and is the mother of three children here on earth, along with their two siblings in heaven. Lisa writes and manages Pregnancy Help News from Central Iowa.