WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice today settled a civil complaint against Richard A. Retta, of Rockville, Md, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, for violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. The settlement permanently enjoins Retta from going inside the gated area in front of the entrance to the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington facility (PPMW) in Washington, D.C., and, during certain hours, from going within an additional 18.5 feet by six feet “buffer zone” directly outside the PPMW gate. Retta is further enjoined from violating, or directing or instructing others to violate, the FACE Act.
The complaint filed by the United States alleged that, on Jan. 8, 2011, inside the gated area in front of PPMW, Retta physically obstructed a patient attempting to enter PPMW and interfered with the rights of two volunteer escorts who were assisting the patient. The FACE Act prohibits the physical obstruction of any person providing or obtaining reproductive health services with the intent to intimidate or interfere with that person.
Early in the case, the court rejected the defendant’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and held that, under FACE, the complaint need only allege that the defendant believed the individuals to be obtaining or providing reproductive health services, not that they were actually seeking or providing such services. This important ruling protects patient privacy, patients’ companions and volunteer escorts.
“While people have a First Amendment right to communicate their views and offer information, they do not have the right to prevent access to health care facilities,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Individuals who seek to obtain or provide reproductive health services should be able to do so without physical interference by those who disagree with them.”
This civil action was filed by the Civil Rights Division Special Litigation Section Deputy Chief Julie Abbate and Trial Attorneys Aaron Zisser and Michelle Leung.