Six out-of-state anti-abortion protesters will stand trial before a Pulaski County jury on Nov. 2 on misdemeanor trespassing charges at Little Rock's abortion clinic, a circuit judge ordered Thursday.
Chester Gallagher, 75, of Lebanon, Tenn.; Dennis Green, 56, of Cumberland, Va.; Heather Iddoni, 55, of Fenton, Mich.; Emily Nurnberg, 47, of Hutchinson, Kan.; Eva Tiesler Edl, 88, of Aiken, S.C., and Calvin Zastrow, 61, of Kawkawlin, Mich., were arrested Jan. 15, 2021, at Little Rock Family Planning Services, 4 Office Park, off Hermitage Road in west Little Rock.
Police say the six refused orders to stop blocking the entrance to the clinic during a Jan. 15, 2021, protest.
The clinic, which had been Arkansas' only abortion provider, states on its website that it will close Sept. 1. Arkansas outlawed abortion in June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, overturning its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.
According to an arrest report, clinic workers had called police to report that protesters were being hostile to patients and blocking the drive-in entrance to clinic property.
Police arrived to find a group on clinic grounds and told them they had to move off the private property or face arrest. The six who refused to move from the clinic doorway were arrested, as was a 14-year-old Virginia girl.
The trespass charge is a Class C misdemeanor, roughly the equivalent of a speeding ticket.
At trial in February before Little Rock District Judge Melanie Martin, the six defendants, none of whom attended the proceeding, were found guilty. Each was fined $350 and sentenced to one day in jail with 29 days suspended. They appealed their convictions to circuit court, which entitles them to a full jury trial.
"The state says they were trespassing, but I think they were saving babies' lives," the group's lawyer Clinton Lancaster of Benton told special Circuit Judge Chris Piazza during Thursday's scheduling hearing.
A survey of police activity at the clinic shows officers were called to the property 50 times over the past five years as of June 14, most of the calls involving protests, with complaints ranging from how staff treated protesters to demonstrators reporting mistreatment or harassment by staff. The January 2021 protesters were the first police arrests on the grounds in years, reports show.
Earlier this month, the clinic's owner, Natalie Burwell Tvedten, 58, was cleared at trial by Martin, the district judge, of two counts of misdemeanor assault brought by police. Tvedten, of Quitman, faced up to a year in jail on the allegations by demonstrator Denise Shewmake, 62, of Paron, and another woman.
Shewmake told police Tvedten had tried to run over her as she and a fellow demonstrator, 60-year-old Kimberly Puska of Benton, prayed by the entranceway on July 13, 2021. Shewmake claimed Tvedten drove up on the curb to get at them, forcing the women to dodge Tvedten's car to avoid being struck.
Tvedten told police the women had been standing in the driveway and she almost didn't see them in time to avoid them, stating that protesters have been warned before not to stand in the driveway. The encounter was recorded on a city camera. Tvedten was arrested in January.