Judge acquits New Bloomfield woman of trespassing at Columbia clinic

Kathy Forck was not guilty of trespassing on Planned Parenthood’s Columbia clinic property, Boone County Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler ruled Thursday.

“I am just thrilled,” the New Bloomfield woman told the News Tribune on Thursday afternoon. “I am just very happy that I was vindicated.”

But Ron Ellifrits, the interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which operates the Columbia clinic, said in a statement the organization “is disappointed in (the) decision to acquit Kathy Forck of trespassing charges related to protests outside our Columbia Health Center. We will continue our efforts to ensure that our patients have the right to access our services without the constant harassment of Forck and her group.”

Forck and her husband, Mike, are the campaign directors for the Columbia-based chapter of 40 Days for Life, a group whose work includes daily prayer vigils outside the Planned Parenthood clinic on Providence Road, north of Columbia’s downtown business district.

She called the accusations of harassment “lies.”

Columbia Police cited Forck for trespassing nearly two years ago, on July 24, 2012.

“I did not trespass,” Forck said Thursday. “I observed the rules up there — and I’m only there to offer help to the women.”

She’s told supporters she was accused of trespassing after giving water to a truck driver on a day the heat exceeded 90 degrees.

She was found guilty in a Columbia Municipal Court trial, but appealed that ruling to the circuit court.

She originally asked for a jury trial, but Oxenhandler heard the case Thursday as a bench trial, where only the judge hears the evidence and makes the ruling.

Columbia’s city prosecutor’s office handled the case, and did not respond to a request Thursday for a comment.

Forck’s attorney was Daniel Baker of Sedalia, a special counsel for the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a not-for-profit, national public interest law firm with a mission “to restore respect in law for life, marriage, and religious liberty.”

The society said it would issue a statement about the case this morning.

Ellifrits said: “Planned Parenthood Columbia continues to meet the reproductive health care needs of its Mid-Missouri clients by maintaining regular access to our high-quality, affordable reproductive health care services.”

But, Forck said, those services are available from other places, including the area’s federally funded health care facilities.

She said the 40 Days for Life campaign plans to “continue to pray there until the clinic closes,” because of Planned Parenthood’s continuing connection with abortion services — even though the Columbia clinic no longer does abortions.

Forck understands Planned Parenthood’s employees and volunteers also are committed to a cause.

“I believe that they feel that they are helping women; I know that they feel they are doing the right thing,” she said. “They are on one side of the fence, and we are on the other.”

Abortion rights supporters have argued for years — ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s May 1973 ruling in the Roe v. Wade case — that getting an abortion is a legal procedure.

“I’m not saying that it isn’t legal,” Forck said. “I don’t know of any time when abortion is the best choice.”

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