Omaha, NE - Omaha, Nebraska, has become a First Amendment battleground in the abortion wars as multiple legal dramas simultaneously play out that could impact the ability of pro-lifers to share information with pregnant women and pray for clinic workers.
A decision is due at any day from Judge Robert Wester on a trial involving seven abortion protesters who held signs and prayed for abortion worker Karen Pender last April near her home. Pender is an employee of Bellevue abortionist LeRoy Carhart.
The group, holding signs bearing Pender's name, was arrested for violating an ordinance that prohibits targeted residential picketing. This trial is significant because it could determine if charges are pursued against additional pro-life supporters who were arrested at subsequent protests in Pender's neighborhood.
During a protest three days after the initial arrests, a smaller group was arrested for disorderly conduct for quietly holding signs bearing the images of aborted babies. At a third protest, held last September, three pro-lifers were arrested for disturbing the peace, even though they held no signs at all while they peacefully prayed.
The trials of the subsequent protesters have been continued pending the outcome of the first trial. Larry Donlan of Rescue the Heartland told Operation Rescue that if the group of seven is exonerated, then the charges against the rest will likely be dismissed. However, if the seven are convicted, the other groups will face trials of their own.
Donlan hopes for a favorable decision before Monday's scheduled hearing in another court where Pender is asking a judge for a protection order from the peaceful protesters.
Meanwhile, in Federal Court, Fr. Norman Weslin's F.A.C.E. trial began on Tuesday. Fr. Weslin was arrested last year when he entered the vestibule of Carhart's Belleview abortion mill. Since the inner door was locked, the priest spoke into the office through a mail slot, urging women to come out and save their babies from abortion. He remained inside the vestibule praying until the police arrived and arrested him.
"We are optimistic. They have a weak case," said Donlan. "With F.A.C.E. they must prove that he denied access."
However, clinic worker Hannah Burns testified Tuesday that all women entered the clinic without any problem. While on the stand, she reportedly mocked the priest for praying at the clinic and showed contempt for his religious beliefs.
F.A.C.E is the Federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, passed in 1994, which mandates prison time for those who block access of anyone entering an abortion mill. If convicted Fr. Weslin faces 18 months in a federal prison. The trial is expected to wrap up on Thursday.
A final Omaha case that remains in limbo is that of Joe McDaniel, who was struck by Carhart's car as the abortionist jumped the curb and ran up onto the public sidewalk. A police officer that responded to the scene refused to take McDaniel's complaint, telling him to get out of the way, even though he was legally standing on a public sidewalk McDaniel had filed a complaint against Carhart. He has since been informed that an internal affairs investigation is currently proceeding against the officer, and an investigation in underway regarding Carhart's attack on McDaniel.
"It is obvious that law enforcement in the Omaha area are woefully undertrained in knowing how to properly deal with First Amendment activity," said Operation Rescue President Troy Newman. "There is obvious discrimination occurring there. Just because someone doesn't agree with the message, or is annoyed by the protester's presence, that does not give the officers license to arrest the people. That is just bullying, not law enforcement."
"We thank God for the courage of these brave pro-lifers who are risking jail time to save babies, offer help to pregnant women, and reach out with the Gospel to needy clinic workers," said Newman. "They are modern-day heroes."