626 So.2d 664 (Fla. 1993), 81905, Operation Rescue v. Women's Health Center, Inc.

Docket Nº:81905.
Citation:626 So.2d 664, 18 Fla. L. Weekly S 559
Party Name:OPERATION RESCUE, et al., Appellant, v. WOMEN'S HEALTH CENTER, INC., et al., Appellees.
Case Date:October 28, 1993
Court:Supreme Court of Florida

Page 664

626 So.2d 664 (Fla. 1993)

18 Fla. L. Weekly S 559

OPERATION RESCUE, et al., Appellant,


WOMEN'S HEALTH CENTER, INC., et al., Appellees.

No. 81905.

Supreme Court of Florida.

October 28, 1993

Mathew D. Staver and Jeffery T. Kipi, Orlando, and John Tanner, Daytona Beach, for appellants.

Talbot D'Alemberte, Tallahassee, and Susan A. England, Fern Park, for appellees.

Talbot D'Alemberte, Tallahassee, amici curiae for Planned Parenthood Federation, joined by The Florida Abortion Council, The Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, The Feminist Majority Foundation, The Nat. Coalition of Abortion Providers, The Nat. Abortion Federation, and The Florida Ass'n of Women Lawyers.

Nikolas T. Nikas and Benjamin W. Bull, Tupelo, MS, amicus curiae for American Family Ass'n, Inc.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen. and Gerald B. Curington, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, amicus curiae for Office of the Atty. Gen.


We have for review a trial court order imposing an amended permanent injunction. The order has been certified by the district court as passing on an issue of great public importance requiring immediate resolution by this Court. We have jurisdiction. Art. V, Sec. 3(b)(5), Fla. Const. We approve the order.

  1. FACTS

    Women's Health Center (Health Center) filed suit against Operation Rescue and others (Operation Rescue) seeking an injunction prohibiting that organization from engaging in certain activities against the Aware Woman Center for Choice (Clinic) in Melbourne, its patients, and staff. The court entered an order on October 25, 1991, granting a temporary injunction that imposed a number of restrictions. 1 Pursuant to the Health Center's request for permanent relief, the court directed the parties to submit a stipulation of issues and facts, which the parties did. 2 The court subsequently granted long-term relief, entering a permanent injunction nearly a year later, on September 30, 1992, based on a number of findings of fact 3 and imposing several general restrictions. 4

    Nearly six months later, after taking evidence and listening to extensive live testimony in a three-day evidentiary hearing, the trial court determined its prior restrictions had proved insufficient "to protect the health, safety and rights of women in Brevard and Seminole County, Florida, and surrounding counties seeking access to [medical and counseling] services." Accordingly, the court on April 8, 1993, amended its prior order, concluding that Operation Rescue was engaging in actions that "impede and obstruct both staff and patients from entering the clinic" based on the following findings of fact:

    A. That despite the injunction of September 30, 1992, there has been interference with ingress to the petitioners' facility known as the Aware Woman Clinic located on the northwest corner of U.S. Highway One and Dixie Way in the City of Melbourne, Brevard County, Florida. The interference to ingress has taken the form of persons on the paved portions of Dixie Way, some standing without any obvious relationship to others; some moving about, again without any obvious relationship to others; some holding signs, some not; some approaching, apparently trying to communicate with the occupants of motor vehicles moving on the paved surface; some marching in a circular picket line that traversed the entrance driveways to the two parking lots of the petitioners and the short section of sidewalk joining the two parking lots and then entering the paved portion of the north lane of Dixie Way and returning in the opposite direction. Other persons would be standing, kneeling and sitting on the unpaved shoulders of the public right-of-way. As vehicular traffic approached the area it would, in response to the congestion, slow down. If the destination of such traffic was either of the two parking lots of the petitioners, such traffic slowed even more, sometimes having to momentarily hesitate or stop until persons in the driveway moved out of the way.

    B. The number of people on any one day would vary from a handful to a crowd of four hundred.... The frequency with which persons would appear at this location would range from once a week to three times a week with the largest gatherings usually on Saturdays.

    C. Associated with such gatherings would be noise emanating from singing, chanting, whistling, loudspeakers ... and occasional bullhorns....


    E. As traffic slowed on Dixie Way and began its turn into the clinic's driveway, the vehicle would be approached by persons designated by the respondents as sidewalk counselors attempting to get the attention of the vehicles' occupants to give them anti-abortion literature and to urge them not to use the clinic's services. Such so-called sidewalk counselors were assisted in accomplishing their approach to the vehicle by the hesitation or momentary stopping caused by the time needed for the picket line to open up before the vehicle could enter the parking lot.

    The court noted that in addition to activities outside the Clinic, Operation Rescue had implemented a "blockade" of the Clinic's telephone system, jamming its lines with multiple simultaneous calls and making it impossible for Clinic staff to summon emergency medical aid:

    2. ... [R]epeated, nearly simultaneous, multiple telephone calls are made to the clinic, jamming its telephone lines. The jamming of the clinic's telephone system, makes it impossible for clinic staff to summon an ambulance to transfer any patient to the hospital should an emergency arise.

    Further, Operation Rescue had approached the private residences of Clinic patients, employees, and staff, at times confronting employees' young children home alone while their parents worked:

    G. On other occasions since the entry of the injunction on September 30, 1992, the respondent, Cadle, and others in concert with him approached the private residences or temporary lodging places of clinic employees. These approaches included not only direct communication with the occupants (sometimes the "home alone," minor children of the occupants), but also carrying signs, walking up and down on the sidewalk or street in front of the residence, shouting at passers-by, contacting (ringing doorbells of) neighbors, and providing literature identifying the clinic employee as a "baby killer."

    H. On one occasion the respondent, Cadle, with others went to the vicinity of the motel where a staff physician was temporarily staying and demonstrated. While respondent, Cadle, remained outside just off the premises of the motel, others went upon the premises of the motel, some entering the motel lobby, yelling "child murderer" and "baby killer"....


    1. That license tag numbers of the clinic's patients are recorded by the respondents or persons in concert with them and then are traced through state records to obtain the home address of such persons who are subsequently contacted by the respondents.

    And finally, Operation Rescue had threatened violence against Clinic patients, employees, and staff:

    F. ... On one occasion the communication to a clinic staff person took the form of an attempt to invoke the wrath of God by shouting, "I pray that God strikes you dead now!"


    J. On another occasion the doctor was followed as he left the clinic by a person associated with the respondents who communicated his anger to the doctor by pretending to shoot him from the adjoining vehicle. As a result of the foregoing demonstrations and activities, and after a physician similarly employed was killed by an antiabortionist at a clinic in North Florida, this doctor terminated his employment with the clinic.


    3. That patients and staff are sometimes followed in a stalking manner when they leave the clinic, giving such persons a feeling of great apprehension.

    The doctor who ultimately terminated his employment with the Clinic as the result of Operation Rescue's tactics testified at the evidentiary hearing concerning the adverse medical impact of those tactics on Clinic patients:

    I. ... As a result of patients having to run such a gauntlet, the patients manifested a higher level of anxiety and hypertension causing those patients to need a higher level of sedation to undergo the surgical procedures, thereby increasing the risk associated with such procedures. The doctor also testified that the noise of singing, chanting, shouting and yelling could be heard through the walls of the clinic and caused stress in the patients during surgical procedures and while recuperating in the recovery rooms. The doctor also testified that he observed some patients turn away from the crowd in the driveway to return at a later date. He testified that such delay in undergoing the procedures also increased the risk associated therewith.

    Based on Operation Rescue's continued "interference with ingress to the [Clinic]," the trial court amended the general prohibitions of the permanent injunction to prohibit Operation Rescue from engaging in the following specific acts:

    (1) At all times on all days, from entering the premises and property of the Aware Woman Center for Choice ...

    (2) At all times on all days, from blocking, impeding, inhibiting, or in any other manner obstructing or interfering with access to, ingress into and egress from any building or parking lot of the Clinic.

    (3) At all times on all days, from congregating, picketing, patrolling, demonstrating or entering that portion of public right-of-way or private property within thirty-six (36) feet of the property line of the Clinic.... An exception to the 36 foot buffer zone is the area immediately adjacent to the Clinic on the east.... The respondents must remain at least five (5) feet from the Clinic's east...

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