Pennsylvania Town Targets Pro-Life Sidewalk Counselors

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 5, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pennsylvania Town Targets Pro-Life Sidewalk Counselors

by Maria Gallagher Staff Writer
January 5, 2004

Allentown, PA ( — Sidewalk counselors in Allentown, Pennsylvania are being threatened with prosecution for offering women alternatives to abortion outside a recently-relocated abortion facility.

City officials in Allentown claim the pro-life activists need a permit to stand on a public sidewalk outside the Allentown Women’s Center abortion business — a clear violation of the counselors’ first amendment rights to free speech.

According to the Morning Call newspaper, an official with the police department says a permit would not be needed if the pro-lifers stand on private property.

”The clinic has the right to operate, and they have the right to demonstrate,” Assistant Chief Ronald Manescu told the newspaper.

Pro-life attorneys say sidewalk counseling is a legally protected right under the U.S. Constitution. In recent years, however, a number of municipalities across the nation have attempted to make the practice more difficult by requiring that counselors stand a certain number of feet away from women entering abortion facilities.

Pro-life leaders maintain that sidewalk counseling is absolutely critical, since abortion centers routinely mislead women about the development of the unborn child and about the medical risks associated with abortion. Women across the nation have credited sidewalk counselors for helping them to have the courage to resist abortion as a response to an unexpected pregnancy.

The Morning Call newspaper noted that one couple who visited the Allentown center decided against going through with an abortion — a turnaround credited to the sidewalk counselors.

The abortion center’s executive director, Jennifer Boulanger, told the newspaper that an organization called the pro-abortion Women’s Law Project and has been talking with city officials in an effort to establish guidelines for dealing with the counselors.

The center moved into the area after operating for 25 years in Hanover Township, Lehigh County. In November, the center’s new neighbors complained that they had not been notified that the facility, which performed 2,700 abortions last year, was moving into their neighborhood.

But by then, it was already too late for a zoning challenge. The center began taking clients at its Union Boulevard location in early December. The rear entrance to the center is located in a residential area.

The city’s solicitor, Robert W. Brown, told the Morning Call, “They are a legitimate business, and they have the right to operate.”

But while the center may have a right to operate under Roe v. Wade, pro-life leaders note abortion is hardly a legitimate business. Women across the nation have been maimed or killed after obtaining abortions at legally-recognized abortion centers.

The Allentown abortion center’s director accuses the counselors of “screaming” at clients and workers. The charge is a familiar one to sidewalk counselors, who are often kept so far away from clients that they must project their voices in order to be heard.

The center has reportedly signed a 10-year lease at its new location.

Interestingly, health department officials in Pennsylvania report that the abortion rate has actually declined in the Commonwealth.

In 2002, the latest year for which statistics are available, the number of abortions in the Keystone State dropped 4.5 percent. Pro-life leaders credit the decrease in the abortion rate to a decline in the number of abortion facilities registered in the state and to abortion alternatives programs.