A Franciscan friar and religious activist was arrested Thursday and charged over a July incident in which he allegedly blocked access to a Planned Parenthood clinic in New York by chaining the gates together and lying down at the entrance.
Christopher "Fidelis" Moscinski, 52, was set to face federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday afternoon, accused of violating a 1994 law that guarantees freedom of access to clinic entrances.
“The defendant attempted to prevent women from accessing their legal right to vital reproductive and pregnancy services,” US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement. “This Office will enforce federal law to protect clinics and staff that provide reproductive health services while safeguarding the rights of their patients."
According to the criminal complaint, on the morning of July 7, Moscinski was captured in surveillance footage using two chains with padlocks and three bicycle locks to secure the gates surrounding the Planned Parenthood Health Center in Hempstead on Long Island. Witnesses said some of the locks also had glue poured into them.
When an employee arrived and discovered the scene, they called authorities, who swiftly arrived to remove the locks.
When he was approached by a police officer, Moscinski then lay down in front of the clinic and physically blocked access. He was subsequently arrested for disorderly conduct.
The incident came almost two weeks after the Supreme Court handed anti–abortion rights advocates a massive win by overturning Roe v. Wade, the federal case that had guaranteed Americans' reproductive rights.
In their complaint, prosecutors cited a subsequent media interview Moscinski conducted with an anti-abortion group in which he said his "main motivation was to try to keep that Planned Parenthood closed for as long as possible."
He had also said in a statement to another religious outlet on the day of his arrest that he was trying to prevent what he called "willful murder" and wanted abortion outlawed nationwide.
Moscinski has an extensive history of anti-abortion protest and is affiliated with the group Red Rose Rescue, whose members walk into clinics and hand out roses to try to convince pregnant people not to undergo abortion procedures.
Moscinski is currently serving a three-month prison sentence after being found guilty by a New York jury in March of trespassing at another abortion clinic. The friar and two others had entered the clinic in White Plains in November and refused to leave.
Moscinski also regularly leads churchgoers to stand outside New York clinics with signs and attempt to coerce those seeking an abortion to change their minds.
A first-time conviction of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison.
An attorney who was previously reported to be representing Moscinski did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Following the July incident in Hempstead, almost 50 pro–abortion rights supporters rallied outside the clinic, according to Newsday.
“I don’t know what people are thinking,” Susan Bruno told the outlet, expressing concern for anyone who had arrived to seek an abortion and discovered the friar's spectacle. “It’s traumatic for those people who showed up."
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