Court Rules Against Abortion Law Silencing Free Speech of Pro-Lifers Outside Abortion Clinics

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jun 29, 2017   |   11:26AM   |   Harrisburg, PA

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied the City of Harrisburg’s request to rehear the case brought by Liberty Counsel’s pro-life clients, Colleen Reilly and Becky Biter, in their lawsuit against a Harrisburg ordinance which created unconstitutional “buffer zones” that silence pro-life speech on public sidewalks around abortion clinics.

The court also amended its original opinion to clarify that the Liberty Counsel plaintiffs need only show they are being harmed by restrictions on their protected free speech, and then the burden shifts to the City to justify its law. If the City cannot meet the Constitution’s high bar by proving that restricting the peaceful speech of Liberty Counsel’s clients is actually necessary, then the plaintiffs are entitled to an injunction blocking the buffer zone law. This clarification is also a setback for the City of Harrisburg’s abortion buffer zone law.

Reilly and Biter regularly engage in peaceful counseling on public sidewalks around Harrisburg’s two abortion clinics. They have been harassed and intimated by clinic staff and the local police since the City enacted the ordinance, which was drafted and pushed by Planned Parenthood. This unconstitutional ordinance purports to expel pro-life speakers from public property and pushes pro-life counselors sometimes 50 feet to more than 70 feet away from the women they are attempting to help.

On May 25, 2017, a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion overturning the decision by the trial court denying Reilly and Biter’s request for a preliminary injunction blocking the buffer zone ordinance. The City had requested that either the same three judges who originally heard the case would rehear it, or that the entire Third Circuit rehear the case. The Court of Appeals denied both requests.

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“We are delighted that the Court of Appeals has chosen not to rehear this case against our clients, Colleen Reilly and Becky Biter,” said Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s Founder and Chairman. “The City of Harrisburg cannot close its public sidewalks to pro-life citizens in order to protect Planned Parenthood. This is obvious to everyone except the City of Harrisburg. This case will set a precedent for other sidewalk counselors who are peacefully helping women to save the lives of their unborn babies,” said Staver.