A heated dispute between a pro-life protester and parishioners of First Presbyterian Church in San Luis Obispo ended with police involvement and multiple citations issued on Dec. 14.
However, after initially citing protester and Paso Robles resident Danny Ehinger for two municipal code violations on Dec. 14 and sticking by the decision in a conversation with New Times on Dec. 15, SLOPD Capt. Chris Staley said on Dec. 17 that the department has decided to dismiss both citations.
“We reviewed the case with [SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick], and we decided to dismiss both of the citations,” Staley said. “She didn’t think the spirit of the code sections that were used were applicable statutes for what was going on, and we didn’t want to quash anyone’s First Amendment rights.”
Ehinger was initially cited for violating one municipal code section forbidding signs that are attention-getting devices, and another that bans signs attached to a vehicle that are distracting to other drivers. In an unrelated matter, he was also cited for having an expired vehicle registration.
Ehinger told New Times that he’s been protesting abortion at various locales in SLO County since 2011 or 2012. He said he’s had conversations with law enforcement before, but this is the first time he’s been cited for any kind of violation.
“I think that SLOPD is doing their job, but they’ve been out before, and I’ve always been able to keep protesting,” Ehinger said. “On [Dec. 14], they said they’re going to cite me and told me that I should figure it out with the judge.”
Ehinger is the main force behind the Abolitionist Society of SLO, an aggressive pro-life group that regularly protests at the Planned Parenthood office in SLO, local high schools, and churches in the area.
As seen in guerilla-style videos posted to his YouTube page, Ehinger was confronting churchgoers outside of First Presbyterian on Dec. 7 and Dec. 14, asking them if they’re aware their church supports abortion and the “murder of innocent children.”
Several people filmed in the videos angrily object to Ehinger’s large, graphic signs featuring pictures of dead fetuses displayed on the sidewalk and his car, particularly because they are visible to children at the church.
Staley said that SLOPD has received several calls from churchgoers over the past few weeks regarding Ehinger’s protests, including one caller who claimed their child was having nightmares after seeing the fetus images.
“It’s difficult when you have to balance First Amendment rights and members of the public who are concerned about such graphic images,” Staley added.
“Typically, people get the anger and the guilt from participating in or condoning abortion, which scars women and men,” Ehinger told New Times. “Their anger is misdirected at me, because I don’t think these images should exist, but as long as babies are being murdered, they absolutely have to.
“I mean, they’re killing my neighbors at Planned Parenthood like it’s the Holocaust, so I try to help women not have abortions and also help my neighbors so they’re not murdered,” Ehinger concluded, adding that he plans to return to First Presbyterian Church on Dec. 21.
As of press time on Dec. 17, First Presbyterian Church had not responded to a request for comment from New Times.