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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Protestor and City Settle Over Activism-Zone Laws

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - An anti-abortion activist settled her civil rights claim against the city of Pittsburgh this week after nearly five years of litigation. Mary K. Brown filed suit against the city and its officials in 2005, claiming that a local law that created a "buffer zone" and a "bubble zone" around health care facilities violated her constitutional rights.

The buffer zone blocked any person from congregating, patrolling, picketing or demonstrating within 15 feet of a health care facility, and the bubble zone encompassed sidewalks or other public areas within a radius of 100 feet from any facility entrances. Persons within the bubble could not knowingly solicit others with leaflets about their cause, nor could they display signs, demonstrate, educate or counsel in any way.

Brown originally moved for an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance, which she said created a barrier to her anti-abortion message. She claimed that the 15-foot buffer zone in combination with a 100-foot bubble zone restricted her ability educate and counsel health care facility visitors, and police selectively enforced the ordinance.

In defending the ordinance, the city argued that the guidelines were necessary amid increasingly aggressive protests and confrontations at facilities where abortions are provided.

After the 3rd Circuit ruled in late 2009 that city could not use both zones in combination, Pittsburgh chose to keep the buffer-zone restriction while dropping the bubble zone. U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer then permanently enjoined the city from using the bubble zone and awarded Brown more than $200,000 in attorneys' fees and other costs. The Pittsburgh-Tribune reports that the figure is actually closer to $330,000 and that negotiations have continued between the parties as to new police training and regulation enforcement procedures.

On Tuesday, Judge Fischer signed a two-page approving the settlement, which does not disclose the terms.

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