Washington (CNSnews.com) – The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney of the Christian Defense Council was arrested Tuesday on a charge of unlawful entry after praying inside a fence surrounding both the entry to the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., building and a public walkway.
Mahoney, director of the pro-life group and an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, said he should be allowed to pray, walk, or sit on the walkway that is directly in front of the Planned Parenthood building because it is public property – but he could not because the fence keeps out the public.
Mahoney spoke and prayed in front of the fence to a crowd of pro-life supporters, media, and four D.C. Metropolitan Police officers before entering the walkway in front of the building.
“For months, police officers have threatened people with arrests if they went beyond the fence and that is just wrong and against everyone’s rights,” Mahoney said. “It is a sad day in the history of our national capital. That is a public works (pointing to a manhole in the middle of the walkway) and it is not private. Unless Planned Parenthood wants to pay for the electricity and pipes that go there, it is public property.”
Before entering past the fence, Mahoney was stopped by D.C. police and warned to not enter. “Are you saying I can’t even go there on public property?” Mahoney asked.
Mahoney continued on, knelt on the ground, and read from a Bible before three police officers handcuffed him and walked him to a police car.
Missy Smith, founder and president of the anti-abortion group Women Against the Killing and Exploitation of Unprotected Persons (WAKE UP), told CNSNews.com that she has been praying in that area since 1991 without any disturbance, until the fence was erected earlier in the spring.
“I guess Planned Parenthood was very threatened and they got a permit to put up a fence," Smith said. "They did it to preclude us from having access to the women and to pray. We all felt very bullied by this situation of not having access, the same access we had for many, many years”
Smith said Mahoney allowed himself to get arrested after speaking with numerous attorneys on the legality of the fence, and wanted to challenge it in court.
“He bravely took a stand,” Smith said. “It makes me very proud when someone will put themselves out there when they know there is an injustice.”
Laura Meyers, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., said the organization received permission earlier this year from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to put up the fence.
“The fence serves to protect the health center and our patients from violations of D.C. trespassing laws,” Meyers said in a statement about Tuesday’s protest.
She said the fence still allows those opposed to legal abortion the ability to exercise their First Amendment rights along the sidewalk.
“Planned Parenthood patients deserve access to the medical care they are seeking without fear of violence, harassment or intimidation, and we are committed to providing that security,” Meyers said.
Mike Rupert, spokesman for the district’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, told CNSNews.com that Planned Parenthood didn’t cite a reason for its variance request.
“We don’t really ask for the reason (for a fence),” Rupert said. “Essentially, it boils down to what the building codes are. Public space could go all the way up to a front door. It is an area overseen by the city. It doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t a person’s property; just that there are certain codes for that area. Whether or not it was trespassing is something the police have to answer and it sounds like they decided it was.”
Peter Shinn, founder and president of Pro-Life Unity, said that prayer, not violence, is the only goal of those that want the public allowed on the walkway.
“What (Planned Parenthood does) for a living is kill people," he said. "As horrible as it sounds, they kill people. All we want to do is pray. We don’t want to do any kind of violence or hurt anyone. We can’t get an inch. They are trying to get us to shut up -- they don’t like us.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, Metro Police officials said Mahoney was being detained and transported to the district’s central lock-up, where he was expected to spend the night.