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86-year-old pro-life activist, gets citation for ‘shelter-in-place’ violation, argues it’s an ‘essential service’

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An 86-year-old anti-abortion activist became the first person in San Francisco to be issued a citation for violating a shelter-in-place order.

Ronald Konopaski was cited for a misdemeanor last week as he exercised his First Amendment right by protesting outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic, becoming the first and only person, so far, to be issued a citation by the San Francisco Police Department amid the coronavirus pandemic.

(Image: Twitter screenshot)

Police spokesman Sgt. Michael Andraychak confirmed that Konopaski was warned by police one day before the citation, after he was seen allegedly dropping leaflets outside of the Planned Parenthood near Bernal Heights, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

SFPD officers had been directed to focus on educating the public to stay home in compliance with the shelter-in-place order issued last month, according to Police Chief Bill Scott. But at a news conference on Friday, Scott announced that individuals and businesses that did not comply with the order would begin to be cited by officers.

“I’ll make this very clear, particularly for the business owners in our city,” he said. “If we have to go back, we are not going to ask twice.”

Konopaski, who is due in court later this month, has reportedly been engaged in anti-abortion protests for years. He told the Examiner that the order was a violation of his constitutional right to free speech and religion, noting that he was walking back and forth in prayer in front of the clinic when police stopped him.

“The people who are opposing my being there are just using this order as a tool to engage the police to do their dirty work to get rid of me,” Konopaski said.

Engaged in a “40 Days for Life” campaign to end abortion, the activist said he has been at the location almost every day since late February, contending that his activity is an “essential service” which should be allowed.

“I’m 86 years old and I know how to take care of my health,” he said. “I’m following the order of this health thing even though I think that is a gross overkill or overreach.”

Some, like neighbor Bryan Spearry, disagree with Konopaski.

“What they are doing right now is NOT essential,” Spearry wrote in an email, according to the Examiner. “That they are standing so close to everyone walking down that sidewalk, especially right next to a hospital and next to a [Burger King] that accepts EBT, I was concerned.”

But another anti-abortion activist who was at the location when police confronted Konopaski felt the 86-year-old was targeted, noting how other violators of stay-at-home orders have not been cited.

“They said that being on the sidewalk would be an issue if anybody else passed because they would have to come within six feet of us,” Matthew Prewett said. “I see people violating the stay away order all the time in the Panhandle park and I have never seen police respond to that.”

The enforcement of stay-at-home orders has raised plenty of questions and complaints as more states have issued the orders and have taken on new ways to deal with non-compliant citizens, including using drones to get the message across.

California police issued citations to nearly two dozen people who were “watching the sunset, having picnics near the beach,” the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office said over the weekend. And in Colorado, a man was arrested in front of his 6-year-old daughter for allegedly violating a social distancing order by playing ball with her in an open park.

 

Frieda Powers

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