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Pittsburgh Can’t Layer Abortion Protest Zones

(CN) - The 3rd Circuit struck down a Pittsburgh ordinance establishing a "bubble zone" and a "buffer zone" around abortion clinics. "[T]he combination of the two zones burdens substantially more speech than appears necessary ... to achieve the government's interests," Chief Judge Scirica wrote.

In December 2005, Pittsburgh passed an ordinance creating a 100-foot "bubble zone" aimed at stopping protesters from "following and dogging" women seeking abortions.

The ordinance also included a 15-foot "buffer zone" around clinic entrances, within which protesters couldn't "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate."

Mary Kathryn Brown, a registered nurse, said the ordinance unconstitutionally blocked her from handing out leaflets and counseling women not to go through with the procedure.

She said the combination of the two zones effectively prevented her from delivering her message. The buffer zone stopped her from handing out leaflets near entrances, while the bubble zone forced her to either yell at people or try to speak to them as they hurried by, she said. The ordinance barred her from approaching patients without their permission or walking next to them.

The Philadelphia-based appeals court cited Supreme Court rulings in which the high court upheld either buffer or bubble zones.

But the Pittsburgh ordinance went too far by combining the two, the three-judge panel ruled.

"[T]he buffer zone, taken alone, promises to accomplish the City's objectives of protecting patient access and preventing harassment," Scirica wrote. "On the other hand, the addition of the bubble zone imposes significant burdens on protected speech."

The court remanded, saying the city could pick one type of zone, and the district would have to enjoin enforcement of the other.

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