A peaceful pro-life advocate from Missoula, Montana, was vindicated last week when charges against her were dropped after a nonprofit conservative law firm stepped in to advocate for her.
The charges against Marilyn Hatch, who was charged with “Obstructing Health Care Facility Access,” were dismissed after attorneys for the Thomas More Society sent a demand letter to the senior deputy city attorney of Missoula explaining that the ordinance the charges were based on is unconstitutional.
“All people have the right to peacefully give their opinions about the dignity of unborn human life outside abortion facilities. The City of Missoula’s decision to criminally charge Mrs. Hatch for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment was itself unconstitutional,” Thomas More Society Senior Counsel Matt Heffron said in a statement provided to The Daily Wire.
“We have to be vigilant in fighting for these rights, each and every time they are violated,” he continued. “That’s what the Thomas More Society is here for.”
In the letter to the senior deputy city attorney, Heffron explained the situation:
Hatch regularly participated in prayer and peaceful counseling outside of the Blue Mountain abortion clinic in Missoula, offering information about life-affirming alternatives to abortion bound women. A City of Missoula police officer cited her for obstructing access to the clinic, but the Thomas More Society intervened on her behalf, insisting that the city dismiss the charges or face a lawsuit. In response, the city moved to dismiss the charges on May 26, 2021.
“My client from time to time conducts peaceful, prayerful sidewalk counseling at the Blue Mountain abortion clinic [in] Missoula. Mrs. Hatch is well-aware of her responsibilities in her activities at the abortion clinic. She has counseled and prayed peacefully on those same sidewalks for approximately two decades. Until now, neither Mrs. Hatch nor anyone she knows ever has been cited for violating the statute involved, which was enacted 16 years ago.
The letter went on to explain how the police officer cited Hatch for obstruction even though she was outside Missoula’s stated boundaries. The letter also detailed the unconstitutionality of the city ordinance under which Hatch was charged, citing U.S. Supreme Court decisions in McCullen v. Coakley and Hill v. Colorado, which dealt with the particulars of “buffer zones” and content-based speech outside of abortion businesses. The high court ruled neither is an acceptable excuse to violate the First Amendment.
“This was a bad idea by the City of Missoula from the start,” said Heffron. “It was a wise decision on their part to dismiss this case. If they had persisted in the charges against Mrs. Hatch, they would have lost.”
“The government didn’t even apply the cited statute correctly, according to the plain words of the statute,” Heffron added. “They also applied the statute as if it created a buffer zone, which would be unconstitutional. And the statute itself, as written, is unconstitutional. The statute simply has never been constitutionally challenged…yet. When it is finally challenged, it will be stricken down. This would have been a mess of a case for the City of Missoula. I am glad the city did the right thing.”