For WVa. abortion protester, charges dropped with conditions
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A protester forcibly removed from a chamber gallery at the West Virginia Capitol and later arrested for disrupting lawmakers as they moved to ban abortion last year will see all charges dropped against her, if she stays out of trouble for the next six months.
Lindsey Jacobs, a 38-year-old lawyer with no criminal history, was ordered to perform 25 hours of community service under an agreement made Wednesday at a hearing in Kanawha County Magistrate Court. Charleston-based Magistrate Pete Lopez dismissed two misdemeanor charges for obstructing an officer and willful disruption of governmental processes.
Those offenses could have come with maximum penalties of up to either six months or a year in jail each, and hundreds of dollars in fines.
Lopez agreed to dismiss a third misdemeanor for disorderly conduct if Jacobs doesn't get convicted for breaking any laws in the next six months. The arrest will be on her record. She'll also have to pay around $175 in court fees.
Jacobs called the magistrate's decision “the best outcome under the circumstances."
“I mean, the reason that we’re here sucks — there's not really any way to spin that," she said outside court afterward. "The state should have better things to do than prosecuting women who shouted too loudly for their comfort because their constitutional right was taken away."
Jacobs said she has no regrets about her actions that day: “I’d do that protest every day, all day, for the rest of my life."
Jacobs, who runs advocacy programs for a nonprofit legal services organization, was removed from the House gallery last Sept. 13 while lawmakers discussed banning abortions at all stages of pregnancy with few exceptions. The bill was signed into law three days later by Republican Gov. Jim Justice, the same day a warrant was issued for Jacob’s arrest.
In February, West Virginia's only abortion clinic — which had to shutter abortion services following the law's passage — filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the ban. It has asked the court to issue an injunction blocking it while providers make their case in court.
During the debate, Republican Del. Margitta Mazzocchi said anyone wanting to protect against pregnancy can buy emergency contraceptives — known as “Plan B” pills — over the counter at pharmacies.
“Not if you’re poor,” Jacobs shouted down at lawmakers, followed by shouts from others in the gallery.
Jacobs said she became frustrated, believing Mazzocchi was overlooking the fact that the pills cost between $40 and $50, an amount she called “cost prohibitive for a lot of people.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, who was presiding over the floor session, asked people in the gallery to remain quiet. As shouting continued, he asked security to remove Jacobs. She was dragged out by her arms by Capitol police.
“Don’t just sit there while they take away your rights,” she shouted while being led away.
Capitol police did not arrest her then, leaving her to walk downstairs where she rejoined protesters rallying outside the chamber for at least an hour — until the bill passed.
In the days after the bill's passage, a video of Jacobs being dragged out of the gallery began circulating on social media. Jacobs said she was tuning into a morning work call more than a week later at her home in Morgantown — some 125 miles (200 kilometers) from Charleston — when she heard banging on her door. It was state police, with a warrant for her arrest.
Taken to the state police barracks for processing, she was subsequently arraigned by a county magistrate on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond.
Another female protester who spoke out while lawmakers were in session was arrested and charged on the spot and escorted out. Rose Winland, a 52-year-old development manager for the ACLU of West Virginia, was handed a $100 fine in January for one misdemeanor willful disruption of governmental processes charge by Lopez, the same magistrate handling Jacobs’ case. Winland also faced a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct, but that was dropped.
Jacobs said before the day of protest that she and other demonstrators felt mounting frustration the public wasn’t given enough of an opportunity to voice their opinions about the looming ban. At the only public hearing on the bill, people were given just 45 seconds each to speak. Those who refused to comply where escorted out by security.
“Ultimately, this is all about bully tactics to intimidate protesters so that they won’t speak,” she said Wednesday. “We need to get really comfortable with civil disobedience because clearly, showing up and protesting isn’t making folks uncomfortable enough to keep them from doing these really horrible things to women, to trans people, to poor people.”
Jacobs said she plans to fulfill her mandated community service hours working for the Morgantown Public Library and Charleston-based Solutions Oriented Addiction Response, an organization that works to support people living with substance use disorder.
Leah Willingham, The Associated Press