Pro-life advocates in St. Louis, Missouri soon could lose their free speech rights outside of city abortion facilities.
Facing pressure from abortion activists, the St. Louis Board of Alderman public safety committee voted Wednesday to approve a buffer zone around the city Planned Parenthood, St. Louis Public Radio reports.
The ordinance would put an 8-foot buffer zone around the facility driveway to prevent sidewalk counselors from approaching people with life-affirming information and support.
Brian Westbrook, executive director of the Coalition for Life in St. Louis, said that 8-foot zone really is more like 20 feet.
“The 8 feet starts at the edge of the driveway. And then you add the size of the driveway, that’s another 12 feet to the middle. So you’re at least 20 feet away,” Westbrook told the radio station. “I cannot properly hand them a piece of information that offers free services to them from 20 feet away.”
He said pro-lifers in the city are contacting the aldermen to voice their opposition to the ordinance. Westbrook said the proposal clearly violates the First Amendment, and they will consider a legal challenge if it passes.
Here’s more from the St. Louis Review:
The proposed ordinance would not apply to people who are entering or leaving the health care facility, law enforcement or other first responders and people using the sidewalk or right of way to pass through. Health care facilities will clearly mark the zone.
Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia (D-6th Ward), who sponsored the bill, said there has been an increase in calls to police at Planned Parenthood in the past several years, many of which were for “impeding the flow of traffic and peace disturbances.”
The radical pro-abortion groups NARAL and Planned Parenthood have been lobbying for the legislation.
The full city council is expected to vote on the measure Friday.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese in St. Louis said they will not let the ordinance deter their outreach to women and babies.
“Our work of prayer and presence will continue, whether or not this bill becomes law,” said Karen Nolkemper, executive director of the archdiocese’s Respect Life Apostolate.
Various courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have struck down abortion clinic buffer zones in the past, deeming them violations of freedom of speech.
Late last year, a federal court in New Jersey struck down an 8-foot buffer zone enacted by the City of Englewood. The court referred to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling about a Massachusetts buffer zone in its decision.
In McCullen v. Coakley in 2014, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts violated the First Amendment by restricting free speech rights.