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Pro-life Way of the Cross in Ithaca, New York

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, March 31, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Prolifers are challenging an “anti-free speech” city ordinance creating an invisible “buffer zone” of 20 feet from any abortuary, even on public sidewalks.

Colleen Reilly of Lebanon, Becky Biter of Fayetteville, and Rosalie Gross of Lancaster prove their case against the city ordinance by citing the U.S. Supreme Court's 2014 ruling which said a similar “anti-free speech buffer zone” in Massachusetts was unconstitutional.

The three prolife champions explain that they should be allowed by law to exercise their First Amendment rights by participating in “peaceful, pro-life sidewalk counseling” and distribute “life-affirming literature” to women considering aborting their babies.

“The presence of pro-life sidewalk counselors is a matter of life and death for the children and their mothers.”

Furthermore, they point out that the anti-free speech city ordinance is discriminatory, because the city allows pro-abortion speech; it's only pro-life speech that has been declared illegal.

The pro-lifers have petitioned U.S. Middle District Senior Judge Sylvia H. Rambo for a preliminary injunction stopping enforcement of the ordinance while their court case proceeds.

The Harrisburg city council passed the ordinance unanimously at the behest of Planned Parenthood, and tacked on fines of up to $300 and jail time up to 30 days.

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, told LifeSiteNews, “These sidewalk counselors pray and provide hope to the women and families. Many of these women seeking an abortion change their minds when they meet a caring person who provides information about their preborn child and available alternatives to abortion.”  He added, “The presence of pro-life sidewalk counselors is a matter of life and death for the children and their mothers.”

In contrast, Staver, whose organization is representing the pro-lifers, says that “the abortion clinics and proponents want to keep the women in the dark, and are adamantly opposed to allowing anyone to provide information because they know that many women will change their minds and choose life.”

Staver, who argued the very first “buffer zone” case before the U.S. Supreme Court (Madsen v Women's Health Center), says artificial, anti-free speech “buffer zones” are unconstitutional.  “Buffer zones violate free speech and prevent normal communication on public sidewalks.  You cannot hand a person a pamphlet or speak in a normal tone when a buffer zone forces you to be a significant distance from the person with whom you seek to communicate.”

The pro-life legal defender says Planned Parenthood's claim before city council which got them the buffer zone is false. The abortion provider maintained that pro-lifers were harrassing patients with threatening language and following them to their cars. But Staver said, “No. There are laws against stalking. The sidewalk counselor engage in peaceful communication with people seeking access to the abortion clinic.”

Staver concluded, “Buffer zones are discriminatory because people with a pro-abortion message can enter these zones and speak their message, but pro-lifers cannot.  They violate free speech protections under the First Amendment.”

In June 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a Massachusetts buffer zone law around abortion facilities.  The majority opinion determined that forbidding prolifers from engaging in free speech on “a public way or sidewalk adjacent to” an abortuary was unconstitutional.

Jill Stanek noted the ruling was very significant because it was a unanimous decision, including the most pro-abortion justices; it favorably described pro-life sidewalk counselors; it proclaimed free speech rights on public sidewalks; it pushed back against writing and passing more “speech-free zones”; and the ruling may limit the scope of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

The buffer zone law represents an “extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers,” the justices ruled. “The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.”

And yet, there are still “floating bubble zone” laws, such as in Chicago, where pro-life advocates are restricted from entering an eight-foot imaginary bubble around a pregnant mother who is within 50 feet of an abortion clinic.

And there are court actions, such as was taken in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013, when a pro-life and pro-family group was banned from protesting along a public road in front of a church where there are no sidewalks.