Officers Violate First and Fourth Amendment Rights of Anti-Abortion Protestor and Are Not Entitled to Qualified Immunity

Jonathan Davidson stood in a green space between the parking lot of a commercial strip center which included a Planned Parenthood clinic and U.S. Highway 59 in Stafford, Texas and held a sign that said “Pray to End Abortion”. Employees of the Planned Parenthood clinic called the Stafford Police Department who dispatched officers to the scene. Mr. Davidson was initially arrested for “failing to identify” under Tex. Penal Code § 38.02(a), but the Court noted that this statute applies only when the officer “has lawfully arrested the person and requested the information”.

The Court then turned to whether there was probable cause to arrest Davidson for reasons other than failing to identify. The Court considered Tex. Penal Code § 42.03 which makes it unlawful to obstruct the entrance to an abortion clinic. Specifically, the statute makes it unlawful to “render impassable or…render passage unreasonably inconvenient or hazardous” for clinic patients. The Court found that Davidson’s actions could in no way be construed as fitting within this statute. An employee of the clinic admitted that Davidson was not stopping or preventing entry of anyone into the clinic. The Court said that, “…while these actions could be considered inconvenient…they cannot be construed, by an objectively reasonable officer…as rendering entry to the clinic impassable or unreasonably inconvenient as required under § 42.03”.

As such, the Court found that there was no probable cause for the arrest and that it violated both the First and Fourth Amendments and that every reasonable officer would have understood that they were violating Davidson’s Constitutional rights. The officers were thus denied qualified immunity.

Davidson v. City of Stafford, Texas

Mark E. Hanna