(LifeSiteNews) — A Kentucky court ruled Wednesday that an ordinance requiring a 10-foot “buffer zone” in front of an abortion clinic was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment.
The ordinance, which prevented pro-lifers from sidewalk counseling in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville, was challenged in court by multiple organizations, including Sisters of Life and Kentucky Right to Life.
“Sisters of Life, several individuals, and another pro-life organization wish to offer leaflets and compassionate, if sometimes unwelcome, speech to women entering abortion clinics in Louisville, Kentucky,” the Sixth Circuit Court ruling states. “But Louisville-Jefferson County limited their speaking and pamphleteering in buffer zones near the entrance of each clinic. Because these limits likely violate the First Amendment … we preliminarily enjoin them.”
The ordinance that sparked the lawsuit “first says that no one shall ‘knowingly obstruct, detain, hinder, impede, or block another person’s entry to or exit from a healthcare [sic] facility.’” According to the ruling, “no objects to this prohibition on conduct.”
Additionally, the ordinance “imposes a prophylactic 10-foot ‘buffer zone’ around the entrance of any ‘healthcare facility’ in the County and forbids any nonexempt individual from ‘knowingly enter[ing]’ or ‘remaining … within’ it.”
The so-called “buffer zones” run “from the entrance of a healthcare [sic] facility to the closest adjacent sidewalk curb and 10 feet from side to side.” Exempt groups and individuals include those entering or exiting the building, those walking on the sidewalk with no purpose related to the abortion clinic, employees whose work requires them to be within the “buffer zone,” as well as abortion facility employees.
The pro-lifers “sued the County and various county officials,” arguing that “this restriction on sidewalk speech violated its rights under the First (and Fourteenth) Amendment’s Free Speech Clause, and it sought to enjoin enforcement of the ordinance.” It was agreed that “the ordinance restricts sidewalk expression, namely speech within the buffer zone.” Additionally, the ruling decided that “if the ordinance instead restricts expression based on its ideas or content, it must run the gauntlet of strict scrutiny” and “that the ordinance would not survive strict scrutiny.”
The court concluded with the declaration, “we reverse and remand with instructions for the district court to preliminarily enjoin defendants from enforcing” the county ordinance.
In the aftermath of the historic Dobbs ruling, “buffer zones” have been a battle continually fought by pro-lifers across the globe who seek to counsel women considering abortion. England voted in October to continue criminalizing witnesses outside abortion clinics by approving a “buffer zone” system throughout the country, as previously reported by LifeSiteNews.
Similarly, the U.K. Supreme Court favored a bill to outlaw pro-life sidewalk counseling outside Northern Ireland abortion clinics. Earlier this month, 40 Days for Life filed a federal lawsuit against “buffer zones” in Westchester County, New York, that hinders a pro-life campaign of spending 40 consecutive days in prayer and sidewalk counseling outside abortion facilities across the country.
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