New York AG Quits Spy Campaign Against Pro-Life Activists

AGs spent taxpayer money on hidden cams, undercover officers

New York attorney general Letitia James (D.) (Getty Images)
November 18, 2021

New York's attorney general on Wednesday dropped a case against pro-life activists after four years of legal battles and clandestine surveillance.

Attorney General Letitia James (D.) abandoned the suit, which alleged that Brooklyn pastor Kenneth Griepp and members of the Church @ the Rock harassed women who entered an abortion clinic. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August ruled unanimously to uphold a district court ruling against the state's case. James chose to dismiss the case rather than petition the Supreme Court.

The decision comes amid a year of legal wins for religious liberty advocates. The Supreme Court in November ordered a lower court to reconsider its decision to uphold a New York mandate that forced religious organizations to cover abortion in their insurance plans. The ruling followed a June Supreme Court decision in favor of a Catholic adoption agency in Philadelphia that does not work with same-sex couples. And the Court in April struck down pandemic restrictions on religious services enforced by then-New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.).

Griepp says he is glad that after years of state pressure his church will be able to continue their efforts without interference. "The least among us—these unborn children—must have a voice," he told the Washington Free Beacon.

Disgraced former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman (D.) in 2016 began surveilling protesters outside the Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens. Private investigators would pose as abortion clinic clients and pass through protesters while wearing hidden cameras. A district judge found the resulting evidence unconvincing and said testimonies from clinic escorts were exaggerated and omitted relevant context.

Stephen Crampton, senior counsel for the Thomas More Society, the nonprofit religious liberty firm that represented Griepp, said he hopes these series of decisions will send a message to Democrats.

"It's a tremendous waste of taxpayer finances and resources to conduct not a neutral, objective prosecution of the law, but a persecution of one particular disfavored group, namely Christians who dare to stand up for the rights of the unborn on public sidewalks," Crampton told the Free Beacon.

Merle Hoffman, the CEO of Choices Women's Medical Center clinic and a leading pro-choice activist, told the Free Beacon that James's decision to drop the case is the latest defeat for her cause at the hands of pro-life "stormtroopers."

"This is just one battle in an extremely long war," Hoffman said. "Abortion will be done away with in a large swath of the country. Even if Roe stands, it will be on crutches."

James is pursuing a similar lawsuit against pro-life organizers who protested at Planned Parenthood Empire State, which endorsed her campaign. The case is pending in a federal district court.

The New York attorney general's office did not respond to a request for comment.