CV NEWS FEED // A recent analysis by The Daily Signal examined how law enforcement in Washington D.C. treat peaceful pro-life activists much differently than they treat activists for leftist causes.
“Police say they are still investigating a violent assault on pro-life activists that took place outside a D.C. Planned Parenthood clinic in late July,” wrote the Signal’s Mary Margaret Olohan and Elise McCue:
But a closer look at the manner in which D.C. authorities handle attacks on pro-lifers raises questions about the lack of consequences for the attackers—and how safe it is for those engaged in pro-life work in the nation’s capital.
The incident the authors referred to took place on July 22. Two longtime D.C.-based pro-life activists, Terrisa Bukovinac and Mike Gribbin, were sidewalk counseling outside of a Planned Parenthood on 4th Street Northeast, walking-distance from Capitol Hill.
As the Catholic News Agency (CNA) described, Bukovinac and Gribbin were simply “there to encourage women to choose life for their preborn babies rather than obtain an abortion.”
“A verbal altercation between pro-abortion passersby and [Bukovinac] ensued around 11:40 a.m. and quickly turned violent,” CNA reported, citing the public incident report:
two suspects approached the pro-life activists and engaged in a verbal confrontation, which led to one of the suspects throwing coffee at [Bukovinac]. When one [Gribbin] tried to stop the altercation, one of the suspects “assaults [Gribbin] by slamming [him] to the ground and then punches [him] several times,” according to the report.
Another sidewalk counselor caught much of the violent encounter on video. Just hours later, Bukovinac posted the footage on X (then known as Twitter).
“Two proaborts decided to assault me and another pro-life defender outside Planned Parenthood in Washington DC this morning simply for standing on the sidewalk offering resources to families in crisis,” she wrote. “The police refused to press charges.”
As Olohan and McCue noted nearly a month later, the police said they are still “investigating the incident” and declined to answer whether they had identified the two suspects.
Gribbin later told the Signal that he “tried to fend” off his attacker, “but then he held on to me. That’s where the viral video that people are seeing online starts up.”
Again from Olohan and McCue:
The video shows Bukovinac recording the fight and the female assailant trying to slap Bukovinac’s phone out of her hand. Then, the woman swings at Bukovinac and pushes her on the sidewalk toward the street.
Meanwhile, the male assailant repeatedly yells “stay down” at Gribbin as the pro-life activist struggles to stand up and fight back. The male assailant then turns to an unknown person filming the entire incident and attempts to also strike that person.
Bukovinac and the couple argue as the man and woman walk away. It appears that they were from the neighborhood, as they were walking a small dog. The couple also appear to be pro-abortion, since the female assailant can be heard accusing the pro-life activists of hurting women.
Toward the end of the video, Bukovinac can be heard responding to the perpetrators: “These children are being murdered every day here, and you have the [expletive] audacity to come over here and assault us?”
Bukovinac is a self-described “progressive, pro-life atheist” and feminist who is the founder of Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU) and Pro-Life San Francisco. She also previously served as the president of Democrats for Life of America.
As CatholicVote previously reported, Santangelo “was nicknamed ‘The Butcher of D.C.’ after his practice was found to have killed five viable unborn children” and “has been accused of selling the remains of aborted babies to an energy company.”
Olohan and McCue continued, pointing out a previous attack on Gribbin which the D.C. police also failed to prosecute:
This is not the first time that pro-life activists have faced violent treatment for advocating for the unborn. In 2019, Gribbin was assaulted, allegedly by former Google employee Quinn Chasan, while Gribbin was chalking pro-life messages on the sidewalk near the same D.C. Planned Parenthood clinic.
Though D.C. police said in 2019 that the case remained under investigation, the MPD told the Daily Caller News Foundation in 2020 that the “United States Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute in this case.”
According to the Signal, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) confirmed earlier this month – three years after their initial comment – that the case was closed.
In addition to these examples of the D.C. police failing to prosecute violent attacks on pro-lifers, Olohan and McCue also noted that the same law enforcement officials treated other cases with much more urgency.
During the height of the protests following the death of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, pro-life students Warner DePriest and Erica Caporaletti were arrested for writing “Black preborn lives matter” in chalk on the sidewalk outside the 4th Street Northeast Planned Parenthood.
The Signal authors pointed out that at the time of these arrests, leftist protesters were regularly engaging in essentially identical behavior without suffering consequences:
DePriest’s arrest followed D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s commissioning of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan on the streets of the city. Though anti-police activists chalked “defund the police” next to Bowser’s street mural, no arrests were made.
Following his arrest, DePriest told The Daily Caller: “My niece and nephew sidewalk-chalk their arts and crafts hour in the District of Columbia every single day. This was viewpoint discrimination.”
He added that he was “outraged” and believed his “first amendment rights were violated.”
Later that year, two pro-life groups sued the District of Columbia claiming unfair treatment. Their case was dismissed by a lower court.
However, this week a federal appeals court overturned the dismissal.
A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. on Tuesday allowed a case to move forward that alleges the city violated the U.S. Constitution in the summer of 2020 when police arrested two anti-abortion activists for chalking pro-life messages on the sidewalk in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic. The anti-abortion activists allege that they were arrested while racial justice protesters who wrote “Black Lives Matter” on public spaces elsewhere faced no such consequences.
In the unanimous decision, the three judges — Trump appointee Neomi Rao, Obama appointee Robert Wilkins, and Biden appointee Michelle Childs — reversed a decision by a lower court to dismiss a lawsuit that was brought by pro-life protesters in late 2020.
Writing for the unanimous panel, Rao said the unequal treatment of the two groups of protesters violated the First Amendment:
The District permitted individuals expressing the ‘Black Lives Matter’ message to violate the defacement ordinance, as evidenced by the widespread painting, graffiti, and other defacement on public sidewalks, streets, and buildings, and on private property. By making no arrests, the police effectively exempted advocates of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ message from the requirements of the ordinance.
In contrast, the police showed up in force to the [pro-life] rally and arrested individuals who chalked ‘Black Pro-Born Lives Matter’ on the sidewalk.
The government may not play favorites in a public forum — permitting some messages and prohibiting others.
The District may open up its streets for painting messages to all viewpoints; and the District may later decide to enforce its defacement ordinance against all viewpoints. What the District cannot do consistent with the First Amendment is open its streets for the painting of some messages and not others.