December 11, 2015 — Leaders at a charter school in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against antiabortion-rights protestors who allegedly have been harassing students as part of a campaign to halt construction on a nearby Planned Parenthood facility, the Washington Post reports.
Planned Parenthood began construction this summer on an abandoned warehouse next door to Two Rivers Public Charter School. Planned Parenthood is converting the warehouse into a full-service clinic that will provide preventive and abortion care. The clinic is set to open in the spring.
Two Rivers Public Charter School filed a complaint with the D.C. Superior Court alleging that abortion-rights opponents over the last few months have engaged in "extreme and outrageous conduct" by targeting their students with graphic antiabortion-rights messages and imagery. The complaint alleges that the protestors are a private nuisance and that they are intentionally causing emotional distress. According to the complaint, the protests have resulted in parents and students feeling fearful and spurred teachers to keep the children indoors during recess.
In addition, the lawsuit said the school was considering closing on the day of another scheduled protest on Jan. 21, the day before the annual antiabortion-rights March for Life, to avoid harassment. According to the lawsuit, continued protests could damage the school's reputation and its ability to attract and retain students.
The complaint names five defendants identified as protesters, including Maryland resident Robert Weiler Jr., who was previously imprisoned for planning to bomb an abortion clinic.
Two Rivers is requesting a court order prohibiting the protestors from speaking with the students or engaging them outside the school when students are arriving or leaving the premises. It also requests that protesters stop using graphic images and language.
District Attorney General Karl Racine (D) said his office will investigate the claim. "Protecting children is one of our highest priorities at the office of the attorney general, and we are very concerned about the allegations set forth in the complaint," Racine said, adding, "We are committed to ensuring that students, teachers and parents are not harassed or otherwise intimidated by aggressive and unnecessarily inflammatory protests that go beyond the protections afforded by the First Amendment."
Jessica Wodatch, executive director at Two Rivers, said in a letter announcing the lawsuit to families at the school, "Our top priority is to provide a high-quality, joyful educational environment for our children, and we cannot do this if they do not feel safe" (Alison Chandler, Washington Post, 12/9).