Five pro-life activists are suing the city of Pittsburgh, claiming a buffer zone enacted nearly a decade ago is unconstitutional.
Pittsburgh attorney Lawrence Paladin, who is working with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on the case, told LifeSiteNews that the lawsuit “springs from the recent Supreme Court case, McCullen v. Coakley.”
“In 2005 or 2006, the city of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance that we fought at the time. It had a buffer zone and a floating bubble zone around people who walk into the clinic. The lawsuit, Brown v. City of Pittsburgh, was ruled in favor of us. The city was told it could keep one or the other, and it kept the buffer zone,” said Paladin.
The buffer zone is 15 feet wide. The floating bubble zone was eight feet wide.
Paladin said that the law was designed so that there would “be no pro-or-con speech within that zone. The Supreme Court case from this summer changed the legal analysis, so we are now challenging the buffer zone. This case is about the right to speak within the buffer zone. This is an anti-free speech buffer zone.”
The Supreme Court's decision in McCullen ruled that a 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts was unconstitutional. However, the decision also left smaller buffer zones in place, and — as reported by LifeSiteNews at the time — “endorsed the right of states to create buffer zones around abortion facilities as long as they are more narrowly tailored, especially if the state establishes a legal history of intimidation.”
According to Paladin, the decision was enough for the five plaintiffs — pro-life activists and sidewalk counselors Nikki Bruni, Julie Cosentino, Cynthia Rinaldi, Kathleen Laslow, and Patrick Malley — to decide to press their case in court.
However, the lawsuit may run afoul of the 2000 Supreme Court case, Hill v. Colorado, which allowed buffer zones. ADF Litigation Counsel Elissa Graves told LifeSiteNews the lawsuit is designed to test the limits of McCullen in light of what she called “contradictions” between McCullen and Hill.
“McCullen did not overturn Hill, directly, but it provided information that contradicted Hill,” explained Graves. “That's why we are bringing this case, to test the boundaries of those contradictions. We want to make those boundaries better defined. We believe those buffers are unconstitutional under McCullen, which in some ways does contradict Hill.”
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“McCullen said if you make a law targeting speech that makes a listener feel uncomfortable, that's an inappropriate restriction. Hill seemed to reject that notion. It's very difficult to reconcile those two cases, which is why Justice Scalia — in his concurring opinion in McCullen – criticized the Court for not considering overturning Hill.”
Newly-elected Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto's office did not respond to a request for comment, with spokesperson Timothy McNulty saying that the city is reviewing the lawsuit. The lawsuit has been filed against Peduto and the City Council.
The Pittsburgh Tribune reported that a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman said that the buffer zone has worked as intended. “Since the buffer zone was enacted, we've had to call local authorities much less,” said Aleigha Cavalier. “Women should be able to make their own … private medical decisions without judgments from strangers and abusive and sometimes physically aggressive protesters.” The number of pro-life activists and counselors typically ranges from fewer than 10 to nearly 100.
According to Peduto's office, he will be on NBC's “Meet the Press” on Sunday with two other mayors to discussion “leading changes in American governance.” The segment will be part of MSNBC's Chuck Todd's inaugural show as host. Todd did not respond to LifeSiteNews' inquiry as to whether he would ask the mayor about the lawsuit.