In May 2013, Jonathan Davidson was falsely arrested while peacefully praying and sidewalk counseling outside a Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Stafford, Texas. Last week, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals granted victory to Jonathan and the Pro-Life movement, ruling that two Stafford police officers had wrongfully arrested Jonathan. This is an important ruling, because the Court’s decision makes clear to the abortion industry and to law enforcement that Pro-Lifers have the right to communicate with—and distribute information to—individuals entering and leaving abortion facilities without fear of being arrested based on false or misleading accusations.
Jonathan’s story is shocking. In a press release, Jonathan’s attorney, Jerad Najvar, stated:
In response to a call about a “protester … flagging down our patients before they come in the clinic,” two Stafford PD officers arrived. After one officer’s lengthy conversation with Planned Parenthood, they approached Davidson aggressively and asked if he was talking to Planned Parenthood’s customers. He answered “yes” and was then informed that, if he continued, he would be taken to jail. Sensing unreasonable hostility from the officers, Davidson attempted to formally introduce himself, giving his name, and explaining that he was also offering coupons for free ultrasounds and free pregnancy tests.
Even though Jonathan had not committed a crime, and there was no probable cause for arrest, the officers arrested him for “failure to identify.” Under Texas law, you are not required to identify yourself unless you are under arrest for a crime. Nonetheless, Jonathan was strip-searched and spent about eight hours in jail before being released on bond. The city chose not to prosecute him for the May 2013 arrest, but he and his attorney were offered no assurance that his constitutional right to protest outside Planned Parenthood would be respected in the future. Therefore, Jonathan chose to file suit against the arresting officers, the chief of police, and the city of Stafford.
Following his victory, Jonathan told Texas Right to Life that his message to Pro-Lifers is, “Have courage!” He said he hopes his story inspires other people to join the fight to bring a complete end to abortion. He encourages people to go to their local abortion facility to provide a life-affirming witness to those who might be in crisis. Jonathan says that he hopes that his legal victory will help Pro-Lifers who are on the fence about praying outside abortion facilities to “overcome some of the fears they might have.”
Jonathan has been peacefully protesting for many years. He stands on public property; he prays for an end to abortion; he witnesses to abortion workers and volunteers, and he offers immediate life-affirming solutions to anyone who might be seeking to end a preborn child’s life. He has witnessed many of the devious tactics used by abortion workers to intimidate and to silence Pro-Lifers, and he has even known them to do petty things like aiming lawn sprinklers at the praying protesters hoping to discourage them. Despite all he has seen and experienced, Jonathan will not be deterred.
To people considering witnessing outside abortion facilities, Jonathan urges them: “Stand up! Know your rights! Know your purpose: You are defending the lives of innocent human beings, and you are standing for mothers who will never be able to escape the consequences of abortion. You might be the only person standing up for an innocent child that day. Half of the battle is just showing up!”
Najvar said in an interview with Texas Right to Life that the legal impact of the Court’s opinion is that “cops have to ask the right questions.” The officers in this case clearly sided with Planned Parenthood employees who were apparently aggravated by Jonathan’s opposition and wanted him to leave. The Court affirmed that police officers cannot arrest people without probable cause. Najvar added that the Court’s ruling also affirmed that “a person has a right to talk to someone who stops,” a point that is particularly important for Pro-Life sidewalk counselors. Abortion facility workers often accuse Pro-Lifers of “obstructing” their driveways, simply as a means of intimidation and fabricating a reason to call the police. The defendants attempted to make this argument in Jonathan’s case, but last week’s ruling defends the rights of Pro-Lifers to converse with people going in and out of an abortion facility. Najvar explained, “You have a right to stand next to a driveway and provide information. That is not obstruction.”
In many ways, this is a David and Goliath story. Jonathan was a single witness, peacefully protesting in the face of an abortion giant. Despite having done nothing wrong, he was aggressively approached by Planned Parenthood and law enforcement; he was bullied; he was arrested, strip-searched, and jailed. He said, “Being a Christian means you should expect to be persecuted. Jesus said, ‘If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first’ and ‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’” He tells other Pro-Lifers, “Have courage, even when you’re standing directly in the face of evil. While you may face harassment and bullying, the Court has ruled in defense of our constitutional right to peacefully and prayerfully protest.” Sidewalk counselors are often thought of as the front lines of the Pro-Life movement, and Jonathan’s victory is a victory for all Pro-Lifers.