Prompted by the tactics of protesters at recently opened reproductive health clinics, the Carbondale City Council has unanimously passed an amended disorderly conduct ordinance that bars the protesters from coming within 100 feet of the clinic properties.
Following a prayer ceremony and praise singing in front of the metal detector outside city council chambers, around three or four dozen of the pro-life activists packed into the Jan. 10 meeting to voice opposition to the amended ordinance.
Among them was Brian Westbrook of Coalition Life, who said his organization was concerned that First Amendment rights would be violated by the amendment, and that pro-life activists were concerned they could no longer make contact with patients entering the clinic. He said his organization would sue the city and fight the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.
City officials and supporters of the amended ordinance cited police calls to clinics and instances of the protesters posing as clinic greeters to gain access to the patients, using ladders to peer over a privacy fence, shouting at patients and blocking driveway access.
Nearly daily protests had been taking place at Choices on Giant City Road and Alamo Womens Clinic on West Main Street since they opened this past year. A third clinic is planned, city officials say.
Following around 30 minutes of public comment, mostly by opponents of the amendment, Mayor Pro Tem Carolin Harvey called for council comments.
Council members said they were disappointed by the threat of the lawsuit from the pro-life groups.
"Police yourselves," council member Adam Loos said in response to the protesters. He called their protest tactics "creepy."
"I don't agree with anything you are doing. Stop it," he said. However, he also said he respected their right to protest non-violently.
Council member Ginger Rye-Sanders said that while she also respected the protesters' position, it was important to protect the safety of patients seeking reproductive health and gender-affirming care.
Council member Jeff Doherty said he didn't appreciate being threatened with lawsuits. "We have a right to protect those seeking assistance," he said.
The amendment was approved in a 6-0 vote by Harvey, Loos, Rye-Sanders, Doherty and council members Tom Grant and Lee Fronabarger.