Court Rules Against PA Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zones'

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A distrit court ruled, Monday, that a Pennsylvania law restricting protestors from gathering and passing out information outside abortion clinics is unconstitutional.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a 2005 Pittsburgh ordinance violated free speech rights by creating two buffer zones around medical facilities that perform abortions. One restricted protestors from standing within 15 feet of entrances, and the other requiried they stand 8 feet from clients in a 100-foot buffer around entrances.

Either buffer zone by itself would have been permitted, the court ruled. Together, however, the buffer zones made it too difficult for protestors to demonstrate or pass out information to women entering the facilities.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal group, challenged the law on behalf of a pro-life nurse Mary Kathryn Brown who often protests abortion.

"Pro-life advocates shouldn't be prohibited from expressing their beliefs," David Cortman, the ADF attorney who challenged the ordinance, said in a statement Monday.

City attorneys argued that the two zones were necessary. The 15-foot buffer zone prevents protesters from blocking entrances, while the 100-foot zone keeps protesters from following or harassing those going into the clinics, they said.

Brown also said that police unfairly enforced the ordinance against her, but that claim was denied by the court.

A separate case on whether Brown's rights were violated under the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act has yet to be heard by a district court.

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