WILMINGTON — Those who have been quietly protesting abortion outside Planned Parenthood in Wilmington during the latest 40 Days for Life campaign do not need a permit to be on the sidewalk, the city acknowledged last week.
The city was responding to a letter from the Thomas More Society, a national law firm contacted by 40 Days organizers after protesters were approached early in the campaign by Wilmington police and a “business compliance/license inspection” officer. The law and licensing enforcement occurred on the first day of the 40 Days for Life, Sept. 24. The protesters pray and sing on the sidewalk outside Planned Parenthood at Seventh and Shipley streets.
According to the Thomas More Society, which has no connection to the diocesan St. Thomas More Society, the police officer first said the music was too loud, then that city ordinance had changed since the last vigil and the protesters could not have music at all.
A short while later, the licensing officer appeared and “informed the group that they could not be there as they were blocking the sidewalk and needed a permit,” the Thomas More Society said.
“They came the first day,” said Julie Easter, the campaign director for the Wilmington 40 Days for Life. “Somebody called, they don’t like the music, they don’t want to hear the name of Jesus. They come out and say that. It’s bad for business to have people in there (Planned Parenthood) hearing the name of Jesus out here.”
Campaign organizers, who noted that they had contacted the Wilmington police before the 40 Days started and that they had done this for several years, got in touch with the Thomas More Society, which could find no such ordinance in Wilmington city code. Nor did they need a permit, it added.
“Our research indicates no requirements under Wilmington ordinances that require a permit for a peaceful gathering of a small group of people engaging in core political speech, such as 40 Days for Life Wilmington,” the society wrote to the city.
Easter said the first day was the only one when police or a city employee engaged her group. They are used to seeing the police drive by or stop to observe the proceedings, however.
“Two Saturdays ago they came again. This time, they brought a paddy wagon, two squad cars and a motorcycle, which was kind of extreme. I called Thomas More again after that,” she said.
Rosamaria Tassone-DiNardo, the first assistant city solicitor, responded in a letter to Thomas More on Oct. 9 after that incident. She acknowledged that a permit is not necessary and that those out with 40 Days for Life have left room for pedestrians to walk on the sidewalk.
Easter said her group just wants its First Amendment rights to be respected. “We don’t want to have to sue the city for something so ridiculous.”
There is a residence across the street from Planned Parenthood, so Easter said they do not have any music before 11 a.m. They are at the site every day from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
As for the campaign itself, Easter said they were pleased with the results as of the midway point.
“We’ve had three saves, which we’re very pleased about, and we also have many turn aways. Those are people who come and don’t really know what Planned Parenthood is all about,” she said.
“We’ve let them know that they do have alternatives in the city. There are many places that want to help them to choose life. A lot of times they don’t know they have those options. We also talk to them about post-abortive healing. There is a lot of free counseling available to them.”
At a Mass at St. Peter Cathedral on Oct. 13 to mark 20 days, Bishop Malooly said Pope Francis has said all of us are “masterpieces of God’s creation” and deserving of reverence and respect.
“Masterpieces of God’s creation, that has been our theme in this October month for life, as a reminder for us to look at every individual as God’s unique creation,” the bishop said in his homily. “That’s why it’s so important what we do for life in trying to preserve all the unborn.
“Jesus challenges us to continue, to forge ahead, to not lose courage, be strengthened by his presence, and let him work through each of us.”