The Sexist

Anti-Abortion Activist Gets Arrested, Attention

Protesting Planned Parenthoods Fence

It's 11 a.m. on Tuesday, and anti-abortion activist Reverend Pat Mahoney has arrived at Washington, D.C.'s downtown Planned Parenthood health center with the intention of getting arrested. But first, he has to warm up the crowd.

"For the first time in the history of Washington, D.C., they have banned and prohibited prayer on a public sidewalk,” Mahoney announces to the crowd of television cameras, microphones, and note-pads jockeying for position around him. "Men and women who have prayed here for years have been threatened with arrest. . . We're going to pray here today! And if it means going to jail, then we're going to file a federal civil rights lawsuit against D.C. in order to keep praying!"

Commander Hilton Burton, of the D.C. police's Special Operations Division, has been dispatched to handle Mahoney's public display—and if necessary, arrest him. Mahoney agrees to give Burton ten minutes to confer with his supervisors before the Reverend attempts to perform the stunt that will likely get him handcuffed. Mahoney is happy to claim some extra time to play to his audience.

"As I just informed the Commander, this is just as much a disgrace as the 'White-Only' signs put up during the civil rights movement," Mahoney announces. As he stalls for the cops, additional press file in to jot down his statements and assemble more video recording equipment. Local anti-abortion activists file in with cameras of their own. Several more police officers report to the scene. A reporter fits a microphone into the pocket of  Mahoney's brown jacket. He grins. "If you speak to me,” he informs the crowd, “Just remember, I’m miked!”

Protesting Planned Parenthoods Fence

The spectacle was two months in the making. It started with a fence. On April 2, the Planned Parenthood Association of D.C. was granted a fence permit to build a "42'' wrought iron steel fence" in front of its clinic at 1108 16th Street NW. Once Mahoney got wind of the construction, he sensed an opportunity to make himself heard.

Mahoney, who heads up the Christian Defense Coalition, doesn't take issue with the fence itself. He's more concerned with what lies beyond the gates: A 40-foot-long grassy entranceway with a paved center walkway that women must traverse in order to receive Planned Parenthood's reproductive health services, which include abortions. For years, anti-abortion activists have come to the turf to pray, confront patients, and attempt to convince pregnant women not to abort. The fence, equipped with signs reading “Private Property. No Trespassing. Violators Will be Prosecuted,” threatens to keep the activists at a distance. And D.C. police officers threaten to arrest anyone who dares protest inside the gates.

Mahoney contends that the space is public property, and he's had James Henderson, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, investigate the issue with the Office of Tax and Revenue,  the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, and the District Department of Transportation in order to prove it. Planned Parenthood reps maintain that the property is theirs to police. At the 16th Street health center, where Planned Parenthood also provides abortion care, our patients are typically met with and often harassed by people opposed to legal abortion," Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington CEO Laura Meyers said in a statement. "The fence serves to protect the health center and our patients from violations of DC trespassing laws while still allowing those who are opposed to legal abortion to exercise their First Amendment rights and express their views along the sidewalk." (The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs did not return calls for comment).

Protesting Planned Parenthoods Fence

So, why not just pray on the sidewalk outside the fence? "It’s better access,"explains  Erik Whittington of Rock for Life, an anti-abortion initiative targeted at teens. Whittington says he's prayed outside the clinic “at least once a year" since 1995. “I’ve been up there next to the door, I've been up on the grass leading prayer circles," he reminisces. "For women who are coming here to have an abortion, they're walking up on that public property for about 15 seconds. . . Forty feet is a long way.”

Now, D.C.'s anti-abortion activists are forced to set up shop on the main 16th Street sidewalk, where it's difficult to even identify women seeking clinic services until they're already out of earshot. "You don’t really have enough time to talk to them that way," says Dick Retta, an anti-abortion activist who is familiar with the disputed terrain. "Outside the fence, you've only got maybe three to four seconds."

The fence may have been a bust for local sidewalk counselors. But as Mahoney knows, having your speech rights curbed in even a tiny section of the District can get a lot of people to pay attention to what you have to say.

  • kza

    It must be nice to have time on your hands to pull stunts like these.

  • Jenny

    Who wants to go "lead a prayer circle" on Reverend Pat Mahoney's front lawn?

  • Jessica

    What a bunch of whiny jerks.

  • Phira

    Oh noes, I'm SO SORRY that it's now harder for you to harass women. BOO HOO.


  • Native JD in DC

    Club them, don't arrest them. You teach conservatives to respect Constitutional rights through corporal punishment. It's their favorite.

  • Elise

    My thoughts exactly. Also, his elaborate prayers remind me of those of the pharisees Jesus condemned. Sounds like showboating his "faith" to get media attention, popularity, and to oppress his fellow humans. Yep. Sounds like a good, loving christian to me.

  • squirrely girl

    Seriously already. When will these loonies realize that the women seeking reproductive care have a few rights too. I deserve to get my birth control pills without being called a murderer.

  • Katie

    @squirrely girl: birth control is just a mini-abortion, didn't you know that?

    I escort at a PP clinic and it's the same load of shit here. The public sidewalk is literally 5 feet from our private entrance and so the protestors unfortunately have free access to harrass the patients. Showboat faith is a HUGE part of their shtick as well. It's one thing to stand out on the curb and pray silently. It's another to show up in monk regalia carrying a four-foot statue of Mary, throwing flowers on the ground and putting up a huge-ass cross in a baby crib on the street divider. Yeah...that happens.

  • MissaA

    “As I just informed the Commander, this is just as much a disgrace as the ‘White-Only’ signs put up during the civil rights movement,”

    No, no, no. No. It's really not.


  • Katie

    OH and I forgot about the delicious combination of faux-Christianity and personal insults we so often experience at the the time a male protestor waddled over to my fellow escort and whispered "you look like crap today." my favorite of the ten commandments, personally: "thou shalt insult thine brothers and sisters, and tell them when thou thinks they look particularly crappy."

  • Wagatwe

    Yeah...I love when White Christian men compare harassing women with racism and legal segregation. I mean, of all people to understand... he totally knows what he's talking about.

  • Jess

    Everybody knows the Constitution guarantees your right to do whatever you want, wherever you want, even on other people's property, and nobody can stop you! Right? That's in the Constitution, right?

  • Katie

    @Jess: well, sort of. Unless you're Muslim or Mexican, obvs

  • LeftSidePositive

    Have I missed the section of the first amendment where you get to trespass on private property and harass people?

    And no, hypocritical insufferable "Christian" grandstander, being arrested and/or kicked out of a place of business for your thuggish, revolting behavior that is threatening other customers and directly attempting to prevent the business from providing its services IS NOT THE SAME as potential paying customers peacefully seeking to patronize a business being turned away for who they ARE, not what they DO.

  • LeftSidePositive

    Jess, this is required reading:

    "Area Man Passionate Defender of What He Imagines Constitution to Be",2849/

  • Katie

    @LSP: Yes! I loved that article! Good fit here.

  • SJL

    This has to be my favorite quote:

    “You don’t really have enough time to talk to them that way,” says Dick Retta, an anti-abortion activist who is familiar with the disputed terrain. “Outside the fence, you’ve only got maybe three to four seconds.”

    As if these protesters have a right to the PP clients' attention. There's nothing in the Bible or the Constitution that says anyone has to give a random stranger their attention for any length of time.

  • KiaJD

    This is so ridic. They're not complaining that it's illegal, really. They're just looking for ANY legal justification because they're pissed they can't pray right next to the door! They say so plain as day. SOOOOO RIDIC!

  • Melissa

    Seriously? He's gonna go with "having to pray outside of a fence instead of right on someone else' property is as bad as Jim Crow?" Really?

  • Amadi

    So this guy trespassed on clinic property. Unless I'm illiterate, which I'm pretty sure I'm not, that could get him dinged on federal charges of violating the FACE act. Where are the federal prosecutions of these self-righteous, misogynistic, pharisaical moonbats? Our justice department is no longer filled with graduates of that fifth tier "law" school Pat Robertson runs, so why isn't action being taken?

  • Em

    I love this conversation. The fundamentalist christians I know (a lot, I used to be one, please don't judge) feel exactly the way that's been discussed: THEY have rights and priviledges, and because they have the "greater good" (i.e. God) on their side, their rights and privileges are more important than some woman trying to get an abortion, obviously. It's that kind of self-importance that made me laugh throughout this article even though it's infuriating because it is sooooo ridiculous.

    The part of me that still believes in God feels like he turns off his ears for those kind of sick, showboating prayers. Prayer is never meant to be used as a weapon or good PR, biblically. It's an intimate moment of faith, that God will take the correct action. But self-righteousness makes everything warped, so they'll probably never understand that. They justify it by making everyone that doesn't fit their particular faith justifications less than human, and subject to whatever grief they want to give.

    And yes, you have a right to pray. But your right to pray doesn't trump trespassing laws, idiot. Ick.

  • Danielle

    Thanks for the coverage Amanda. Abortion rights supporters were there too.

  • Janis

    Who is that guard? I want him to arrest me... like later tonight at HIS place.

  • @ClinicEscort

    Thanks so much for this. Almost as good as being there and watching Mahoney get cuffed in person.

    This self-same jackass was one of the ones who thought he had a right to "pray" on private property at Dr. Tiller's clinic less than three weeks after the doctor was murdered last year, too. Then as now, apparently it is a requirement for effective prayer that you be on someone else's land with the media alerted ahead of time so they can show up with their cameras? It really didn't work out for him that way last June, sadly, so I hope he savored his 40 minutes of glory yesterday.

    And I hope the handcuffs pinched.

  • The Evil One

    I used to escort women at a DC clinic for a short time.

    Every time we'd get a woman safely in, I'd turn to those imbeciles and say, "See, the devil is stronger than your 'god', we just killed another baby."

    They would go apoplectic, telling me how I'll burn in hell, etc. To which I would respond, "Oh, I think I'll be just fine. He promised me that after I die he'll make me young all over again so I can have his baby."

    You see, the funny thing about those fundies is that they have no sense of humor whatsoever. It's just too easy to irk them.

  • MissaA


    Where are the federal prosecutions of these self-righteous, misogynistic, pharisaical moonbats?

    There's always the danger of turning them into martyrs. This guy planned to be arrested for just that reason. Reading the article, I kept hoping that someone would find an ingenious way of denying him his arrest without undermining enforcement of trespassing laws.

  • Joey Pants

    Religion SUCKS. Made up by primitive people thousands of years ago. It's a way of controlling the masses, and a way for the sheeple to deal with life. Wake up, life is scary- try and handle it without believing in ghosts and spirits....

  • anon

    I know, it's shocking that others do not share our similar worldviews. Mental diversity is indeed disturbing. Perhaps they'll devise a drug that will enable us all to think as one and get on the same page?

  • kza

    What a brave new world that would be.

  • Jeannette

    god, this makes me feel ill. especially the part where the "protesters" (aka terrorists?) focus on the fact that the fence will prevent them from being able to effectively proselytize and/or shame the clients of the clinic. do they not know that planned parenthood provides MORE than just abortion services?? do they not understand that they have NO RIGHT WHATSOEVER to harass people who aren't even breaking any laws?? ugh, and comparing their assholery to the Civil Rights sit-ins?? *puke*

  • Kristina

    Actually, religion can be very useful to people psychologically, socially, and in various other ways. People who use their "religious beliefs" to persecute others in a terrorizing manner suck, not the religion they are touting as backing their beliefs. Let's not group all of Christianity in with this ass hat.

    That said, he is, indeed, an ass hat. Saying that a god is supportive of these vindictive and terrible acts when that same god is, by the majority of the Christian faiths, believed to be forgiving and righteous is just foolish.

  • Erik Whittington

    I love these comments! Great stuff. But again, lets get right back on point. Is the property inside the fence public or private. It was discovered I believe in the year 2000 that it was public, not private. That is why myself and many others have stood on the public property INSIDE the current fence since then praying, counseling, holding signs, etc., etc. There has been no transfer of land from Washington, DC to Planned Parenthood. Just because someone puts up a fence and a sign that reads, "Private Property" doesn't make it so. So what is it, private or public? If it is public then wouldn't you support my free speech rights to be there? There is a few feet of public property in front of my house that I would fight for YOUR free speech rights to stand there and voice your opinion about me. Would you do the same for me? Prob not but maybe you'll surprise me :)

  • Katie

    @Erik: Planned Parenthood obtained the right from the city to build the fence, correct? So, actually, having a sign that says "private property" DOES make it so. And in any case, let's not pretend this is a free speech issue. This is about seeing that you get as close as possible as you can to PP's patients to intimidate and harrass them because you KNOW you can do more damage (and I don't mean change their minds, I mean make them scared/embarrassed/nervous/angry) when you are in their faces. Counseling is asked for. What you people do is not counseling.

  • Amadi

    Erik Whittington asks "If it is public then wouldn’t you support my free speech rights to be there?"

    Because your "free speech" is harassing, dishonest and insulting, and whatever right you have to make it doesn't obligate anyone else to have to listen to it.

    If you want to pray, you can be heard by God from anywhere, you don't need to be on that sidewalk. An omnipotent and omniscient God is perfectly capable of understanding who you're praying for even if you aren't.

    Moreover, as a Christian, you should know that Jesus had some fairly pointed words about people who pray loudly out on the streets in order to make a public show of their righteousness. He wasn't in favor. Why do you disregard the words of Christ this way?

    Also what you do isn't counseling. You yell emotionally-loaded barbs at women when they walk past you. Often those things are demonstrably false, or false enough to be meaningless. That isn't counseling, and you know it. If you have such a strong regard for the mental health of women, you'd go to school, get your credentials and hang out a shingle as a licensed counselor. You'd know that generally speaking, women are not aided, emotionally or otherwise, by men yelling at them as they walk down the streets, whether they're yelling about how good we look or how wrong we are to "kill" our "babies." Your alleged concern about the wellbeing of women is a lie, and as a Christian, I'd refer you to Rev. 21:8 and advise that you get that dishonesty problem of yours under control.

  • Kristina

    To add to what Amadi and Katie said, one of the biggest rules of counseling is nonjudgement. As a counselor, one is not there to judge but to listen and empathize and guide. This version of "counseling" judges, speaks over the "client", and does nothing close to empathizing.

  • Brennan

    Prayer should not be a stunt. It should not require reporters nor cameras nor coordination between police and media. If it requires any of those things, you are doing it wrong.

    That is all.

    (except for the undying RAGE)

  • Keith B

    Is this the same guy who is sometimes waving a bible around in front of the SCOTUS with a pack of taped-mouth cronies? I thought he was annoying there, this is just awful.

  • squirrely girl

    So are there degrees or licensing processes for "sidewalk counseling?" No? Then they're just a bunch of protesters.

    Also, counselors are bound by ethics that include confidentiality. I can't imagine how one establishes or maintains confidentiality in front of a bunch of protesters outside of a building.

  • Tim

    This is not public space the same way that a public park or other public land is. The city retains the right of imminent domain for the easement, but the public doesn't have right of standing. This is the same as the city having right of imminent domain over the front of your yard (for sidewalk, for sewers, etc.) but you don't have the right to camp permanently on your neighbor's front lawn.

    The school next to the clinic is on the same property line and also has a fence. Can opponents of charter schools camp right outside the door to tell the teachers and students they should be going to public schools? Several of the buildings on 16th have roundabouts for drop-offs or deliveries. Can I claim this as 'public space' and park my car there? Of course not. PPMW has the right to determine who enters this easement; Rev Mahoney doesn't.

    In less-than-startling-news, Pat Mahoney prayed in front of TV cameras