Pro-life leader considering legal action against San Francisco after crackdown on sidewalk counseling

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A leading pro-life activist is considering suing the city of San Francisco after police admonished her and her activists for attempting to counsel women outside an abortion clinic, Fox News has learned.

The police infringed on their constitutional rights, Terrisa Bukovinac, of Pro-Life San Francisco, and her lawyers contend. "This is an ongoing restriction of a fundamental civil right," attorney Harmeet Dhillon told Fox News on Friday. She added that the city's actions were "overbroad and unlawful."

"Where the government applies any limitation to a protected civil right ... they generally have to satisfy a strict scrutiny standard, which is not that they cannot regulate it, but that they must show that the regulation is the least restrictive means possible to achieve a compelling government interest. And the government isn't even attempting to make that showing," she said.

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While it's unclear how they will proceed, Bukovinac said she's considering a temporary restraining order against the city.

Bukovinac took issue with a particular incident on April 2, in which police purportedly issued a verbal warning to her and a citation to 86-year-old activist Ron Konopaski. The citation was the first in San Francisco related to the pandemic and fueled Bukovinac's contention that the city discriminated against her group because of its pro-life views.

Bukovinac says the city's attorney's office assured her she wouldn't face arrest or reprimand for future sidewalk counseling. But she and her attorneys allege that the city failed to offer a public or written assurance of this. The city's attorney office did not respond to Fox News' request for comment.

Both Dhillon and Bukovinac argue that law enforcement was having a "chilling effect" on their activism. That included Pro-Life San Francisco member Jazzi Milton, 28, who told Fox News she decided against sidewalk counseling, which she has done many times in the past, because of law enforcement's actions.

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"I wanted to go do sidewalk counseling while I'm working from home because I have more flexibility with my schedule now," she said. "But once I found out that there was a citation given, I didn't go because I just started a brand new job and [it's] a job I love ... and I didn't know if anything like that could possibly ... be a reason for them to let me go."

The San Francisco Police Department did not respond to Fox News' request for comment.

A video of the incident shows one of the police officers ("Officer 2") telling Bukovinac: "The constitutional right to protest, and so on and so forth, has to take a backseat to the health order."

Another officer ("Officer 1") told Bukovinac that she wouldn't cite her. She added that Bukovinac needed to "be either doing the work that is considered pertinent to this time."

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"Is this not health care?" Bukovinac responded.

"This is health care," the second officer said, apparently pointing to the abortion clinic. "This is not," she added, pointing back to Bukovinac. "Officer 1" added that San Francisco's order only contained exceptions for health care workers, police officers and others.

When Bukovinac asked if she could read the order's language, "Officer 2" stopped her, she said. The order specifically includes an exception for groups like her's, Bukovinac told Fox News.

She indicated that her organization was protected under a section of the order that exempted nonprofits if they "provide food, shelter, and social services and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals."

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Bukovinac echoed others in arguing that abortion clinics were, in fact, violating the city's pandemic-related restrictions by continuing to perform elective abortions.

In Texas, the state was able to ban most abortions, along with other elective procedures, despite a legal challenge from Planned Parenthood. Abortion advocates have argued that the procedure is "essential" while pro-lifers argue that their activism offers life-saving alternatives for mothers and their preborn children.

Pro-life activists have been accused of "harassment" during the pandemic. For example, in North Carolina, a pro-choice group of clinics claimed that pro-lifers disregarded social distancing guidelines while demonstrating.

“The protesters completely disregarded social distancing recommendations and were negligent in actively working to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Amber Gavin, an executive with A Woman’s Choice, told Ms. Magazine. Her comments were referencing activities she said took place at a clinic in Greensboro.

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Describing pro-life actions as "monstrous," she added: “As recently as March 21, there were about 50 protesters at our Greensboro clinic and some tried to flag down cars and push pamphlets into the windows of patients.”

The April 2 incident was just the latest in a nationwide trend of law enforcement suppressing pro-life activism near abortion clinics.

The Thomas More Society, a legal nonprofit representing Bukovinac, is also defending a woman who was allegedly threatened with fines while she prayed outside of an abortion clinic. It also filed a federal suit after police arrested pro-lifers in Greensboro, N.C.

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In a letter to North Carolina's governor, Live Action President Lila Rose suggested governments applied a double standard to pro-life activists. “It is unconstitutional and absurd that sidewalk counselors and those peacefully praying would be threatened, cited, or even arrested for standing outside of an abortion business while those inside of the facility engage freely in the brutal destruction of innocent children," she said.

"Concerned pro-life Americans go to the sidewalks to offer help to mothers in need and try to save lives, while the abortion industry continues its horrific business of dismembering children in our communities."