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Abortion Clinic Noise Law Survives Challenge

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - Anti-abortion protesters cannot enjoin a law in Florida that regulates noise around health care facilities, a federal judge ruled.

In response to public comments regarding the effects of amplified sounds on patients, West Palm Beach has a law that creates a quiet zone around health care facilities.

The ordinance bans shouting and use of a loud speaker among other loud noises within 100 feet of the property line, including private property within that distance.

Mary Susan Pine and Marilyn Blackburn are a part of group that assembles outside the Presidential Women's Center in West Palm Beach to protest against abortions and educate women about other alternatives.

Under an older version of the ordinance, Pine was fined $250 for using a bull horn in the quiet zone.

They sought an injunction, but U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks shot them down Tuesday.

"The purpose of the ordinance is to protect patients seeking health care services," Middlebrooks wrote. "The facts on the record do not indicate that the city enacted and sought to limit plaintiffs' speech based on their content. Furthermore, for the purposes of the instant Motion only, Plaintiffs concede that the Ordinance is content-neutral. Therefore, I find that the ordinance is content-neutral."

The 15-page opinion notes that the city gave protesters acceptable alternatives.

"Furthermore, plaintiffs may still use amplified sound anywhere outside the quiet zone," Middlebrooks wrote. "That patients entering to the clinic chose to ignore them does not mean that plaintiffs' right to communicate effectively is infringed or that the instant ordinance is unconstitutional. I find that the city has enacted an ordinance that leaves alternate avenues available to plaintiffs right to communicate with patients entering said health care facilities."

West Palm Beach also has a legitimate interest in seeking to protect the area surrounding health care facilities. In crafting its law, the city considered the findings of medical experts that amplified noise caused increased health risks such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate.

Dr. Jay Trabin testified during the city's Feb. 2, 2011, meeting that stressful noise pollution increases patient healing time and their need for anesthesia and sedation.

The protesters argued that the ordinance is not time specific, but Middlebrooks found time limits neither warranted nor feasible because some health facilities are open 24 hours.

In arguing that the ordinance is too broad, Pine and Blackburn said it could be interpreted against individuals with headphones or those listening to the radio inside the quiet zone.

Middlebrooks disagreed and said the protesters did not review the whole ordinance but focused only on one part to make that argument.

The ordinance does state that listening to a radio at a noise level louder than necessary for convenient hearing would represent a violation, according to the ruling.

Though Pine and Blackburn said the city discriminated against them because of their position against abortion, the city said it simply is not aware of any other individuals who violated the rule.

A two-week trial period on the ordinance will begin Feb. 10, 2014.

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