Pittsburgh’s Limits on Pro-Life Free Speech Get Federal Appeals Court Hearing

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 28, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Pittsburgh’s Limits on Pro-Life Free Speech Get Federal Appeals Court Hearing

by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
January 28
, 2009

Pittsburgh, PA (LifeNews.com) — A federal appeals court held a hearing today on a local ordinance in Pittsburgh that limits abortion protests there and that pro-life attorney says that unfairly hinders free speech rights. The debate revolves around a 2005 law that restricted access to public areas surrounding abortion businesses.

The measure prohibits pro-life advocates from coming within 15 feet of the door of any health care facility, which would include abortion centers.

Within 100 feet of the entrance, pro-life advocates must stay a distance of eight feet away from anyone heading to the abortion facility.

Mary Kathryn Brown, a resident of Pittsburgh who is pro-life, has filed suit against the law with the help of the Alliance Defense Fund. She regularly counsels women against having abortions.

Brown, a nurse from Indiana Township, says the law infringes on her constitutional rights, including her right to free speech. Brown has never trespassed or blocked individuals from entering or leaving abortion facilities.

In March 2006, ADF filed a lawsuit on her behalf seeking to overturn the measure.

During a hearing, ADF senior legal counsel David Cortman asked U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer to allow an injunction solely for Brown while the case proceeds to overturn the law. He said the law is vague and has been applied unfairly.

“The First Amendment shouldn’t be applied differently based on a person’s beliefs,” Cortman told LifeNews.com before the hearing. “Clearly this ordinance is intended to silence pro-life speech, and the First Amendment applies to everyone, including people who believe abortion is wrong.”

City attorney Yvonne Schlosberg Hilton claimed the ordinance is very clear and says Brown has failed to show that it limits her rights. She claimed the injunction is in the public’s best interest.

Judge Fischer denied the injunction two years later, and ADF appealed her case to the 3rd Circuit on her request that the ordinance be halted while her case is being litigated.

Cortman told LifeNews.com on Wednesday that the ordinance is nothing short of discrimination.

"Pro-life advocates shouldn’t be discriminated against for their beliefs," said Cortman. "The government can’t constitutionally use a highly restrictive ordinance like this to arbitrarily restrict pro-life speech in public areas."

Under the ordinance, individuals are prohibited from speaking (or even locating) in the sidewalk area within 15 feet from any entrance to abortion facilities. Moreover, within 100 feet of clinics, individuals must first obtain consent to approach a person closer than 8 feet away before they are permitted to distribute leaflets or handbills; display a sign; or engage in oral protest, education or counseling.

In January 2006, Brown tried to approach within eight feet of someone entering the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center and was threatened with arrest by a police officer.

Related web sites:
Alliance Defense Fund – https://www.telladf.org

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