Third Circuit OKs Buffer Zones for Anti-Abortion Protesters

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The Third Circuit ruled unanimously Friday that a Pittsburgh buffer-zone ordinance that puts space between clinics and anti-abortion activists does not violate the protesters’ rights.

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

U.S. Circuit Judge Cheryl Ann Krause penned a 38-page opinion affirming a district court decision that found it was constitutional for the city to establish a 15-foot stretch of space outside the entrance of any hospital or health care facility where demonstrations may not take place.

“As plaintiffs acknowledge, the interests that the city seeks to protect – unimpeded access to pregnancy-related services, ensuring public safety, and eliminating ‘neglect’ of law enforcement needs – are legitimate,” wrote Krause, a Barack Obama appointee.

The case was brought by Nikki Bruni, a local leader of Forty Days for Life, a religious anti-abortion campaign. The group participates in “sidewalk counseling” – conversational attempts to persuade clinic patients not to have abortions – outside of a Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood location.

Bruni claimed the ordinance violated her and her fellow demonstrators’ First Amendment rights and appealed the district court’s decision, arguing the ordinance is facially unconstitutional.

However, Krause found the buffer zone does not infringe on protesters’ free-speech rights.

“The relatively small buffer zone imposed by the ordinance…does not prevent groups like Forty Days for Life from congregating within sight and earshot of the clinic,” she wrote. “Nor does it prevent protestors, demonstrators, or picketers from being seen and heard, or any of these persons from speaking outside the zone with willing listeners who are entering or exiting.”

U.S. Circuit Judges Thomas Hardiman, a George W. Bush appointee, and Morton Greenberg, appointed by Ronald Reagan, rounded out the panel.

Pittsburgh city attorney Julie Koren did not immediately respond Friday to a phone call requesting comment. The protesters’ attorney, Kenneth J. Connelly with Alliance Defending Freedom, did not immediately return an email.

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