Pro-life activists are accusing New York Attorney General Letitia James of intimidation and suppressing free speech after the attorney general sued a pro-life group and asked the court to bar members from going within 30 feet of an abortion clinic.

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court of the Southern District of New York on June 8, targets the activist group Red Rose Rescue. The group’s members sometimes enter abortion clinics to discourage women from obtaining an abortion and provide them with resources that could help them through their pregnancy.

James is asking the court to ban any member, including five who are named as defendants, from coming within 30 feet of any abortion clinic or reproductive health care facility in New York.

The five defendants named are Father Fidelis Moscinski, Matthew Connolly, William Goodman, Laura Gies, and John Hinshaw. The lawsuit also lists “John Does” and “Jane Does” who are members of Red Rose Rescue or act in concert with the named individuals or who will engage in the conduct listed in the complaint, but whose names are not known to the attorney general’s office.

Seen as an effort to intimidate activists

“This lawsuit is a politically motivated attack on free speech, freedom of religion, and natural law,” Bernadette Patel, who is mentioned in the lawsuit but not named as a defendant, told CNA.

Hinshaw, one of the activists named as a defendant, told CNA that he believes the lawsuit is intended to intimidate pro-life activists and suppress their activities but that it will fail. 

“New York has a pro-life movement that isn’t going to be intimidated and hasn’t been yet,” Hinshaw said.

The attorney general alleged that group members repeatedly trespass at abortion clinics and physically block access to those services, preventing them from operating. 

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Citing three instances of activism in New York, she accused them of interfering with abortion access in violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE Act), which is a federal law that imposes harsh penalties for interfering with access to abortion clinics and reproductive health care facilities.

“Red Rose Rescue has made it their mission to terrorize reproductive health care providers and the patients they serve,” James said in a statement. 

“Only we have the right to make decisions about our own bodies — not anti-choice legislators, and not bigoted zealots. We will not allow Red Rose Rescue to harass and harangue New Yorkers with their outrageous militant tactics. Make no mistake: Abortion is health care, and as New York’s attorney general, I will continue to protect and defend everyone’s legal right to safely access health care.”

No access was blocked’ 

The lawsuit cites one rescue that Hinshaw took part in at All Women’s Care in Manhasset on April 24, 2021. It alleges that one Red Rose Rescue member pretended to be a patient and then let other members of the group into the abortion clinic.

According to the lawsuit, the activists “occupied the waiting room, rendering it unusable by patients” at which point “the staff had to instruct patients to leave the clinic and wait in their cars.” The staff called the police, who ultimately arrested three members who refused to leave, including Hinshaw. 

Hinshaw was charged with trespassing and obstruction. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and is currently serving three years of probation. Although three people were charged with crimes, none of them were charged with FACE Act violations for this event.

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Hinshaw criticized the attorney general’s characterization of the group’s activism, stating that members did not block access to the clinic in the event he attended. 

“[The attorney general] said I blocked access,” Hinshaw said. “... No access was blocked, so unsurprisingly another New York politician has no trouble lying.”

Hinshaw added that this is the only Red Rose Rescue he attended in New York and criticized the attorney general for saying the defendants were repeatedly engaged in these activities, stating: “I did it once.” He said the lawsuit is “ridiculous,” but “it’s typical of what you get from New York.” 

“They don’t want us anywhere near the abortion mills because … there’s the chance that women will change their minds and not follow through with an abortion,” Hinshaw said. 

Hinshaw was later charged with violating the FACE Act for activism in Washington, D.C. He told CNA that this event was not affiliated with Red Rose Rescue. 

A priest and witness for life

Father Moscinski, a priest of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, who is named as a defendant and is involved with Red Rose Rescue, is the only person named in the suit who has been charged with violating the FACE Act in New York. 

The charges stem from a July 7, 2022, rescue in which Moscinski, acting on his own and not with Red Rose Rescue, placed industrial locks and chains on the front gate of a Planned Parenthood clinic to halt operations.

Patel accused the attorney general of targeting pro-life activists and not holding pro-abortion groups accountable. 

“There [have] been 15-plus arrests over the course of two years at our monthly Witness for Life where pro-abortion members terrorize the elderly, the disabled, and religious during our prayer vigils yet she has never once pursued any investigation into this violent and extremist group,” Patel said.

“Letitia James is following the same script that dictatorships of [the] past have followed: Silence those that disagree with you by unjustly imprisoning them,” Patel added. “May God have mercy on her soul and on the State of New York.”