Abortion opponent Brian Ingalls protests outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Portland in 2015. A jury Wednesday found he violated the state’s civil rights law when he yelled loudly enough outside the clinic that patients and workers were disrupted inside. Screen image from YouTube video

A Maine street preacher and abortion protester violated the state’s civil rights law when in Oct. 2015 he yelled loudly enough outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Portland that patients and workers were disrupted inside, a jury found Wednesday.

Brian Ingalls of Lisbon was sued by the state of Maine for violating the civil rights of people inside the Planned Parenthood clinic on Oct. 23, 2015, when his street preaching was loud enough to cause a disruption inside the counseling rooms and waiting area on the second floor of 443 Congress St., the building that has housed the clinic for years and is the frequent focus of pro-life demonstrations.

In a first-of-its kind case in Maine, a jury of eight men and one woman deliberated for less than two hours before they voted 6-3, finding that Ingalls violated this provision of state civil rights law.

There is no potential financial penalty or jail time, only a court order providing injunctive relief that will limit Ingalls’s activities around the clinic. The state suggested Ingalls be prohibited from coming within 50 feet of the clinic. However Justice MaryGay Kennedy, who oversaw the trial, must first hear related challenges to the Maine law that are expected to be brought by Ingalls’s attorney on different grounds before she can make any final order regarding restrictions on Ingalls’s conduct.

Ingalls was represented by Portland attorney Stephen Whiting, and by Brandon Bolling, a lawyer from the Thomas More Law Center, a Chicago-based law firm that defends pro-life activists, abortion clinic protesters and other conservative and religious causes aligned with traditional family values. The group has brought lawsuits and other court actions in more than two dozen states, according to its website.

The statute at issue in Maine prohibits someone from continuing to make noise that can be heard within a building after being warned to stop by a police officer, and they continue to make the noise with the intent of interfering with the safe and effective administration of healthcare services inside.

Ingalls’ case is the latest, local example of continuing battles in which judges have been asked to balance the privacy rights of patients and reproductive health clinic workers against the First Amendment rights of protesters to speak and assemble. The case has taken so long to prosecute, in part, because of the series of challenges brought against the law by Ingalls’ attorneys and by other protesters, including a decision and subsequent reversal on appeal of whether the enforcement of the Maine civil rights statute was constitutional.

Abortion protester Brian Ingalls of Lisbon appears at the Cumberland County Courthouse in Portland on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

That question was finally put to rest in 2018 when the U.S. Supreme Court chose not to hear the challenge brought by Andrew March, a pastor at the Lewiston church Cell 53, where Ingalls was also a member.

In 2013, Portland enacted a 39-foot buffer zone around the Planned Parenthood entrance on Congress Street that excluded protesters, but the law was repealed in 2014 following a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar law in Massachusetts.

Whiting, during his closing arguments, said the whole case was a bogus attempt by Planned Parenthood to silence Ingalls because they disagreed with the content of his message, and as punishment for an earlier incident in August 2015 when Ingalls was recorded on video apparently communicating with someone through a window at the clinic in an attempt to get them to leave the facility.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin and Chris Taub, and it was the first time the state brought a civil action to enforce this part of Maine law.

In an interview following the verdict, Robbin said the legal saga that preceded Wednesday’s verdict is still not over, as Ingalls’ attorneys plan to continue to advocate for Ingalls and challenge the Maine law from a different angle.

Whiting and Bolling did not return email requests for an interview following the verdict, but Robbin said the record established in the trial will likely form the basis for a separate action brought by Ingalls’ attorneys that will question whether the Maine statute is too vague and was, therefore, improperly applied by Portland police. The so-called “as-applied” challenge is expected to continue into 2020, she said.

Robbin said the prosecution of Ingalls’ case goes to the underlying safety of workers and patients at Planned Parenthood or any other medical clinic whose services are controversial or attract protests. Robbin said this particular statute was enacted in 1995 following the murder of two people and the wounding of five others by a gun-wielding anti-abortion activist who stormed two clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1994.

It was also proceeded by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1994 in favor of a women’s health clinic in a Florida case that found protesters exceeded their constitutional rights by using excessive noise, thereby infringing on the clinic’s rights.

“We want to protect the Planned Parenthood staff and the clients going in there,” Robbin said. “(Ingalls) knows he can be heard within the office, and his goal is to stop women from getting care. The civil rights action is important to protect people’s right to receive medical services without the disruption of people like Brian Ingalls.”

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