Judges differ on buffer zones at abortion clinics


December 6, 2017

Two district court judges have taken different stances on whether or not abortion clinics should have a buffer zone keeping pro-life activists away from their doors.

In mid-November, District Court Judge Susan D. Wigenton struck down a city ordinance in Englewood, New Jersey, that kept pro-life advocates from being closer than eight feet from the entrance of abortion clinics, according to The Christian Post.

‘Burdens free speech’

She ruled that the ordinance “violated the First Amendment” and “burdens the free speech of individuals, not just in front of the clinic, but at health care and transitional facilities citywide.”

The buffer zone affected all health care facilities in Englewood, though “evidence shows that the ordinance was adopted in response to protestors outside of one specific health care facility — the [abortion] clinic,” Wigenton wrote.

The ordinance was adopted in 2014 in response to reported tension at a local medical clinic called Metropolitan Medical Associates, the Post reported. Protesters who violated the ordinance could receive citations or sentenced to 90 days in jail.

The American Center for Law and Justice said the ruling was a “big pro-life free speech victory” and gave “breathing space for pro-life free speech.”

But in Pittsburgh, where an ordinance creates a 15-foot buffer, pro-life advocates weren’t granted the same breathing space.

District Court Judge Cathy Bissom upheld the ordinance in mid-November, saying that it “imposes only a minimal burden on Plaintiffs’ speech.”

‘Sidewalk counseling’

“[T]here is undisputed evidence in this case that Plaintiffs are able to communicate their anti-abortion message using their preferred form of expression — i.e., sidewalk counseling,” Bissom wrote in her decision for Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh.

She also wrote that “Plaintiffs’ own records reflect not only that they are able to communicate with patients, but, in some instances, have accomplished their intended goal of persuading women not to have abortions.”

Pro-life activists expect to appeal the ruling. (TAB)

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