Two Convicted of Denying Access to Abortion Clinic

For the first time in New York City, federal prosecutors have used the Freedom of Access to Clinics Entrances Act to secure a conviction in a case where access was blocked to a clinic that provides abortions.

The prosecutors used the statute, signed into law in 1994, to charge two men who stood in front of an entrance at the Margaret Sanger Center, a clinic operated by Planned Parenthood at the corner of Bleecker and Mott Streets.

The men, Richard R. Dugan and Theodore A. Puckett, were each convicted on Monday of a single count of violating the act after a one-day bench trial conducted in Manhattan by Judge Robert W. Sweet of United States District Court. Each man faces a maximum six-month sentence and a fine of $10,000. Sentencing was scheduled for June 10.

Although the statute had never been used in a criminal prosecution in New York City, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan said prosecutors there had used the measure in 1996 in a civil case.

According to a criminal complaint, Mr. Dugan, 48, of Breaux Bridge, La., and Mr. Puckett, 58, of Normandy, Tenn., blocked staff and patients from using two entrances to the clinic on Dec. 12, 2009, and refused to leave.

During the proceeding on Monday morning, Mr. Dugan, who represented himself, told Judge Sweet: “They were going in there to kill babies, and we were stopping that. So I think the whole case should just be dismissed right now.”

Mr. Puckett told Judge Sweet that he did not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, adding, “I can’t participate in this farce.”

An official in the United States attorney’s office said that the two men obstructed the driveway of a clinic in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., in 1995, and that a judge later issued an injunction barring them from blocking that building.

Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that since 1994 the agency had filed 58 criminal cases across the country related to the FACE act, resulting in 80 convictions. In addition, he said, the department had filed 19 civil suits using the act.

Over the last year or so, groups of several dozen protesters had been showing up on the first Saturday of each month at the clinic on Bleecker Street, said Joan Malin, the president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood in New York City. Members of the crowd have displayed pictures of aborted fetuses, passed out pamphlets and sometimes attempted to dissuade women from entering the premises.

Those protests have generally been peaceful, Ms. Malin said, but Mr. Puckett and Mr. Dugan emerged from such a gathering to block the clinic doors.

Ms. Malin said she hoped the convictions on Monday would send a message.

“I am concerned when people blockade and make it difficult for clients and staff to get in,” she said. “We provide health care services, and for people to obstruct that is wrong.”

Courtesy of the New York Times

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