Attorney General James Files Lawsuit to End Harassment of Women Entering Manhattan Planned Parenthood Health Center
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today filed a federal lawsuit against two anti-choice protesters who repeatedly violated federal, state, and local clinic access laws through obstructive and violent actions against the patients, escorts, and health center staff at a Planned Parenthood location in New York City. Attorney General James charges Bevelyn Beatty and Edmee Chavannes with blocking access to Planned Parenthood of Greater New York’s (PPGNY) Manhattan Health Center and threatening those entering with violence and other intimidating and disruptive behavior that intentionally presented a direct risk to the health and safety of patients and staff. This is the latest legal action that Attorney General James has taken in her continued national fight to ensure women’s reproductive health care is not stifled or infringed upon in any way.
“For almost 50 years, Roe v. Wade has made clear the right of women to control their own bodies,” said Attorney General James. “Despite the clear protections under the law, these individuals used violent and illegal tactics to harass, threaten, and block women from entering Planned Parenthood. Let me be very clear: no person, no business, and no government body has the right to deny or limit a woman’s access to an abortion, and I will continue to do everything within my legal power to support the reproductive rights of women.”
The lawsuit — filed today in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, along with a motion for a preliminary injunction that seeks to immediately halt the two defendants’ behavior — alleges that, on numerous occasions throughout 2020, Beatty and Chavannes attempted to impede access to reproductive health care services by subjecting incoming patients and escorts to a barrage of unwanted physical contact, verbal abuse, and threats of harm. The suit maintains that during the first peak of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic in New York City, these individuals weaponized the threat of the virus to further intimidate and interfere with the local Planned Parenthood’s operations. Beatty and Chavannes purposely put patients, staff, and escorts at risk by refusing to comply with local and state distance and mask mandates related to COVID-19, and continued to accost people entering the health center at close range, while mocking staff and escorts’ mask usage and desire to avoid close contact with them. Ultimately, these individuals forced patients and staff to choose between obtaining and providing reproductive health care, or protecting themselves from exposure to the virus. Beatty and Chavannes have repeated these actions outside Planned Parenthood as recently as this past weekend.
In a further display of their illegal harassment and violent actions, in June 2020, Beatty and Chavannes organized an anti-abortion protest outside PPGNY's Manhattan Health Center, where they physically and verbally assaulted multiple volunteers and members of health center staff. Beatty was captured on video slamming a health center staff member’s hand in a door, causing her to need x-rays; repeatedly shoving a volunteer patient escort attempting to enter the facility; slapping a different volunteer in the face; and threatening to knock an escort unconscious. Chavannes screamed threats in a staff member’s face while maskless, and both individuals physically blocked the main and side entrances of the health center to prevent patients and staff from entering.
Today’s lawsuit and motion for a preliminary injunction seeks to prohibit Beatty and Chavannes, as well as anyone acting in concert with them, from participating in protest activity within an 18 foot by 30 foot area of PPGNY’s Manhattan Health Center’s premises, as well as seeks to immediately halt the using of threats, intimidation, or physical tactics to interfere with individuals seeking reproductive health services from the health center.
Attorney General James brings these claims under the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the New York state Clinic Access Act, and the New York City Access to Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act, all of which prohibit obstructing access to reproductive health clinics.
“Today, Attorney General Letitia James took necessary and appropriate actions to protect the safety and dignity of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York’s patients, staff, and volunteers,” said Joy D. Calloway, interim CEO, Planned Parenthood of Greater New York. “Over the years, we have witnessed these anti-abortion extremists spew lies and use physical force to threaten our staff, bully our volunteers, and demoralize our patients. The vitriol of hate outside our Manhattan Health Center is a clear and present threat to reproductive rights. This lawsuit sends a loud and clear message: Planned Parenthood patients deserve to access sexual and reproductive health care free of fear and intimidation. Despite continuous threats from protesters, our clinical team remains committed to delivering care with compassion — including life-saving cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, birth control, HIV testing and prevention, wellness exams, and safe, legal abortion. We are proud to have a team of volunteer escorts who, even in the face of a pandemic, stand on the front lines of our health centers to safely usher patients through the doors. Their devotion to our mission clearly reaffirms the need to protect access to sexual and reproductive health care at every turn. We are incredibly grateful to have champions like Attorney General James defend reproductive rights in New York state and across the country. Together, we are creating a future that ensures reproductive freedom for all.”
In separate but similar cases involving “buffer zones” outside abortion clinics, Attorney General James successfully argued, in January 2020, that women in Rochester seeking to have an abortion should be able to do so without being harassed, threatened, or blocked before entering a clinic when a district court judge dismissed a lawsuit by anti-abortion activists seeking to bypass a 15-foot “buffer zone” outside a local Planned Parenthood facility. Additionally, Attorney General James is litigating the appeal in People ex rel. James v. Griepp to ensure that women who enter the Choices Women’s Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens are not harassed, obstructed, or threatened by protesters.
This case was led by Senior Counsel Sandra Pullman of the Civil Rights Bureau and Assistant Attorney General Heather McKay of the Rochester Regional Office, with assistance from Investigators Michelle Ortiz and Emily Kokotos, and Intern Kevin Yang — all under the supervision of Civil Rights Bureau Chief Jessica Clarke. The Civil Rights Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice, led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux, and under the oversight of First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.