by Steven Ertelt
April 17, 2006
West Palm Beach, FL (LifeNews.com) — A Florida judge has overturned an abortion protest law put in place by West Palm Beach officials that creates a buffer zone between pro-life protesters and the local abortion business. The judge said the law violates free speech rights and he ordered the city not to enforce it.
City officials put the law in place, which creates a 20 foot zone around the abortion center, after someone set fire to the Presidential Women’s Center abortion facility last October. There was no connection between the arson and local pro-life groups, who condemned the crime.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks ruled that the city did not prove any problems existed that warranted the buffer zone. West Palm Beach officials claimed pro-life people were threatening public safety and restricting access to the abortion facility.
"Freedom of speech is rarely an issue when everyone agrees," Middlebrooks wrote, according to a Palm Beach Post report. "Perhaps more than at any other place and any other time, in cases such as this, speech guaranteed by the First Amendment must be protected."
The judge issued a preliminary ruling and indicated the city would lose in a trial. So he suspended the law until the trial takes place.
Middlebrooks also said a law that prohibits "unnecessary noise" and "amplified sound" within 100 feet of an abortion center can be enforced, though the Post said he found it flawed as well.
Michael DePrimo, an attorney for three pro-life women who frequently protest outside the abortion center said the judge ruled correctly.
"It appears in this case you had Mayor Lois Frankel working hand-in-hand with abortion clinic director Mona Reis," DePrimo told the Post. "And the ordinance was designed to suppress the speech of pro-life demonstrations."
Frankel; indicated the city would not give up unless attorneys said there was no possibility of winning the case.
The city could eventually appeal the decision or pass a less restrictive law hoping it will stand court scrutiny. City officials may also be obligated to pay attorney fees to DePrimo.
Buffer zones have reached the Supreme Court in the past and it overturned a "floating" 15 foot zone in New York but let a fixed zone stand.