FOR THE FIRST TIME, a large group of anti-abortion protesters has been found guilty of trespass for blocking the doors of a Buffalo medical clinic in demonstrations last October.
In convicting and sentencing the 65 defendants, Buffalo City Judge Anthony P. LoRusso stressed that he had no doubt that they are "good and decent people."
But as he also stressed, there was no doubt either that they had "trampled" on "other people's rights." He said the demonstrators had blocked the clinic "despite the clear warning of the police."
LoRusso's verdict in the non-jury trial underlined the fact that while anti-abortion demonstrators have every right to protest and picket, they have no legal right to deny other people access to lawfully operating clinics.
LoRusso pointed out that his duty is to enforce the law, not pass judgment on its wisdom.
A woman's right to an abortion in the earlier trimesters is constitutionally protected, according to the nation's highest court. As long as abortion remains legal, there is no right to blockade abortion clinics, no matter how strong and sincere a protester's objections to abortion may be.
In some earlier City Court proceedings, questions were raised about whether individual defendants were properly identified
as required by law. In this case, LoRusso held that "there can be no reasonable doubt" of the protesters' guilt, based on videotapes, pictures and direct testimony. That finding speaks well for the performance of the Buffalo Police Department and the Erie County district attorney's office in making the arrests and preparing the prosecution.
LoRusso did dismiss more serious counts of obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest that had been brought against four of the defendants.
The sentence the court imposed on the protesters seems fair and humane. Each defendant was ordered either to pay a $125 fine or to perform community service work on four consecutive Saturdays. The defendants were also directed to stay away from medical offices of any kind for one year, unless they have appointments there.
Until this trial, with some exceptions, attempts to prosecute anti-abortion protesters who sought to block entry to local abortion clinics had, for one reason or another, proved unsuccessful.
An attorney for the 65 defendants plans to appeal their conviction and sentence in Erie County Court, as is their right. But meanwhile, this case stands as a reminder that those who take part in illegal demonstrations, whatever their intentions, must face the consequences in a court of law.