If he had to do it again, Robert Weiler Jr. wouldn’t have told his friend about his plan to blow up the Maryland abortion clinic. That was how he got caught 10 years ago. His friend told Weiler’s parents. His parents told the police. And Weiler, then 25, wound up spending almost five years in federal prison and three more on supervised release.
His regret, he says, is not that he was caught. It is that he didn’t achieve what he set out to do.
“I don’t object to the use of force to stop abortion at all,” Weiler says. “I believe it’s completely justified. If it weren’t for the fact that I’d probably go back to prison, I’d do it myself.”
Now the fervent activist is at the center of a different abortion battle one that is playing out in the District just as the U.S. Supreme Court considers its most important abortion case in decades.
Weiler and four other abortion opponents are the targets of a closely watched lawsuit filed in December by Two Rivers Public Charter School. The high-performing school in Northeast Washington is seeking to restrict protests by anti-abortion activists of a Planned Parenthood clinic that is being built next door. The lawsuit filed in D.C. Superior Court charges that beginning last summer, Weiler and the other defendants have harassed students, some as young as 3, and their parents in an effort to halt construction of the clinic, which is scheduled to open its doors this spring.
The suit alleges that the defendants displayed gruesome images of aborted fetuses, held up signs declaring that a “murder facility” was being built next door and yelled at children such things as, “They are going to murder kids right next door if your parents don’t do something about it.”
Tony Goodman, an ANC commissioner and a parent of a 5-year-old kindergartner at the school, says that there was chaos when the protesters began targeting students last fall.
“It was disruptive and terrifying at times,” he said, “to have people yelling at kids right in front of us.” Although his own child was too young to fully understand why the protesters were there, Goodman said that many parents had to have difficult conversations with their children about the abortion issue.
Several of the defendants, including Weiler, have filed motions to have the suit dismissed, arguing that the school is trying to prevent them from exercising their First Amendment right to speak out on a matter of public concern.
An initial hearing has been pushed back until April 29, but the case is already being monitored by abortion providers, pro-life activists, civil libertarians and constitutional lawyers because it raises questions about what restrictions, if any, can be placed on protesters based on the nature of their message and intended audience.
Can activists be told they must limit the content of their protests? Is the nature of the protests causing the children emotional distress and irreparable harm? Can the school keep protesters a certain distance from school grounds? Can a school sue on behalf of its students?
All of these questions are before D.C. Superior Court Judge Jeanette J. Clark. In the meantime, the protesters are allowed to continue their activities at the school and the clinic that is under construction.
For his part, Weiler says that his appearances outside the clinic have been few. In November, he held up a large banner that read “They kill babies nearby! Tell your parents to stop them.” But when he was served with the lawsuit, he took it personally. He returned to the school to protest holding another sign that said “Two Rivers attacks free speech.”
Planned Parenthood protestors are seen outside the Two Rivers Public Charter School. (Two Rivers Public Charter School)
On the issue of abortion, Robert Weiler does not want to be told to be quiet.