by Maria Vitale
March 29, 2006
Pittsburgh, PA (LifeNews.com) — Lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh, its city council, and its mayor because of an ordinance that bans free speech outside abortion facilities and other local businesses.
ADF attorney Elizabeth Murray said, “The First Amendment shouldn’t be applied differently based on a person’s beliefs. Our client is a compassionate, professional nurse who has devoted much of her life to kindly and gently counsel women during a difficult time in life."
"The ordinance violates her constitutional rights because it prohibits her from engaging in peaceful free speech as she has done for over 15 years on public property outside abortion clinics," Murray added.
The Pittsburgh ordinance, passed by city council in December, bars an individual from engaging in speech in the public way or sidewalk area with 15 feet from an abortion center entrance and within eight feet of any person within a 100-feet radius from the entrance to the abortion facility without first obtaining the person’s consent.
Under the ordinance, individuals are also not permitted to distribute leaflets, display a sign, or engage in protest, education, or counseling in the restricted area.
Attorneys say nurse Mary Kathryn Brown, the sidewalk counselor represented in the case, has never trespassed or blocked people from entering or leaving abortion centers.
“All Ms. Brown has done is compassionately offer assistance and information to women in need. Such concern should be applauded, not prohibited. ADF intends to demonstrate that Pittsburgh’s ordinance violates the First Amendment, and the city certainly has no interest in squelching free speech,” Murray said.
In January, Brown tried to approach within eight feet of someone entering the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center and was threatened with arrest by a police officer. At the time, she was also distributing anti-pornography literature in the same area. The police officer permitted that leafleting.
“The ordinance was enforced so as to allow (Ms. Brown to distribute) information concerning pornography, but to prohibit pro-life speech, so that is viewpoint discrimination,” Murray said in the Pittsburgh newspaper article.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor was not in office when the ordinance was passed, but he said in published reports that his administration “will certainly support the law…It’s the law, and that’s what we will adhere to.”
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Hardiman, an appointee of President George W. Bush.
In the Pittsburgh article, Joseph Parente of Operation Rescue Pittsburgh, a pro-life group, was quoted as saying that the ordinance “has caused us to have to post our counselors so much further down the street. In the name of public safety, we’ve actually been pushed off the sidewalk.”
Susan Frietsche, an attorney with the Women’s Law Project, helped draft the ordinance. She told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she believes the suit is “an attempt by outsiders to attack a law that is really working well for the citizens of Pittsburgh.”
However, pro-life advocates note that the law may prevent women from getting vital information they need about abortion and its alternatives.
The Alliance Defense Fund has recently promoted pro-life license plates and prayer groups in college dormitories.
Text of ADF complaint: https://www.telladf.org/UserDocs/BrownComplaint.pdf