JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Staff members at a Jacksonville abortion clinic are asking for the FBI to investigate after an anti-abortion protest.
A Woman’s Choice of Jacksonville, located off University Boulevard on the Southside, released a statement saying that 165 anti-abortion protesters held a demonstration Monday that stopped traffic and blocked patients and staff from entering the clinic.
The clinic’s staff said it was a direct violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act or “FACE Act.”
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office responded with several officers. But, in a statement, the clinic said that police didn’t do enough.
“We are deeply disappointed that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (”JSO”) allowed the assembly and a parade to extend beyond common property into private parking lots without dispersing this protest and allowing the chaos outside our facility to continue as patients sought legally protected healthcare,” according to the statement posted on the clinic’s website. “The anti-abortion harassment and bullying that happens outside of our clinic is racist, sexist, and hateful and when it impedes patients’ access to care, it is illegal.”
Staff said they notified the FBI and asked they investigate JSO’s “continuing lack of enforcement of the FACE Act” and “their collusion with anti-abortion protesters,” as well as a history of complaints that the agency hasn’t addressed.
A woman named Dani, who wished to only be referred to by her first name, told News4JAX that she doesn’t work for the clinic but supports it and spends time keeping anti-abortion demonstrators from interfering — which she contends police haven’t been doing.
“Everyone has the right to protest. They have their opinion; I have mine. They have their right to health care,” she said. “I’m trying to stop them from physically stopping these women from getting health care.”
It was relatively quiet on Tuesday at the clinic. There were a few anti-abortion protesters who went in. But according to volunteers, it gets busy on weekends, and things get heated. That’s why the clinic recently painted the property line.
News4JAX tried to talk to a demonstrator on Tuesday, but he had no comment.
News4JAX reached out to a spokeswoman for the FBI Jacksonville field office for comment. She said she could neither confirm nor deny an investigation, but agents were aware of the situation.
According to the FBI, the FACE statute prohibits:
- The use of force or threat of force or physical obstruction, to intentionally injure, intimidate or interfere with or attempt to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person or any class of persons from obtaining or providing reproductive health services.
- The use of force or threat of force or physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate, or interfere with or attempt to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship.
- Intentionally damages or destroys the property of a facility, or attempts to do so, because such facility provides reproductive health services or intentionally damages or destroys the property of a place of religious worship. This statute does not apply to speech or expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. Nonobstructive demonstrations are legal.
Upon learning of the allegations, News4JAX reached out to JSO’s Public Information Office.
Officer Christian Hancock, a JSO spokesperson, said JSO Assistant Chief Craig Waldrup, who oversees the area, was at the location for four hours with eight officers and supervisors.
“Assistant Chief Waldrup, has been working with members of both parties over the last year to ensure they completely understand their rights and responsibilities as it relates to these events, which have been taking place for years at this location,” Hancock said. “[Waldrup] advised, as would be typical, he made contact with both parties this morning as JSO arrived - the individual responsible for the protest, as well as the office manager of the business.”
Hancock said it is JSO’s job to keep the peace and not violate rights on either side.
“With that in mind, the officers on scene assisted throughout the event with traffic direction and control, pedestrian ingress and egress, as well as escorting patients to and from the business to ensure a safe posture was maintained,” Hancock said. “There were zero incidents observed by the officers on scene, and there were none reported by protestors, business or patients.”
He added that neither party had any complaints about JSO’s response and that they thanked officers as the protest ended around noon.
“Chief Waldrup will continue to have conversations with those involved in these routine protests to ensure everyone is afforded their lawful opportunity to do so, without infringing on the rights of others,” Hancock said.
News4JAX is working to verify the group that organized the anti-abortion protest.
The U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion. In Florida, the state’s new 15-week abortion ban law went into effect July 1. The law is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit from abortion providers in Florida but remains in effect.