The West Virginia state capital has a new ordinance that makes it harder for pro-lifers to counsel women going into abortion facilities.
On Monday, the Charleston City Council voted 21-5 in favor of the ordinance, despite concerns about it violating pro-life advocates’ freedom of speech, the AP reports.
City council members defended the move by pointing to recent incidents outside the Women’s Health Center abortion clinic. WV Metro News reports council member Caitlin Cook said police were called to the abortion facility “multiple times where patients have been blocked from entering the facility.”
The new ordinance creates a “buffer zone” around abortion facilities by requiring that people stay at least 8 feet away from anyone else within 100 feet of the entrance. It prohibits anyone from “knowingly approach[ing]” another person “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling” unless they have permission.
Anyone who violates the ordinance could face a $500 fine or up to 30 days in jail.
Local pro-life advocates said they will sue to challenge the ordinance on free speech grounds.
Wanda Franz, president of West Virginia for Life, said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline” the ordinance is unconstitutional, and they would challenge the ordinance in court.
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey described the ordinance as too broad with constitutional concerns.
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“Unfortunately, the Charleston City Council passed an ordinance tonight which — if upheld — would unduly restrict the rights of citizens to peacefully protest at an abortion facility. We urge the City to revisit its decision and better accommodate citizens’ free speech rights,” he later tweeted.
City attorney Kevin Baker said he is confident the ordinance will be upheld, because they modeled it after similar legislation in other parts of the country, according to the report.
But even the ACLU, an abortion advocacy group, released a statement saying the ordinance may be too broad.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down an important free speech victory for pro-lifers when it struck down a 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts.
Cities and states already have anti-harassment laws to prosecute protesters who engage in illegal activity. The extra laws and ordinances that pro-abortion politicians try to add around abortion facilities merely target pro-life free speech and the valuable information sidewalk counselors provide to patients.
Most pro-life sidewalk counselors are peaceful. They stand outside abortion facilities to pray and offer women information about alternatives to abortion. Pro-life groups like Sidewalk Counselors for Life and 40 Days for Life teach peaceful, compassionate, law-abiding outreach through their programs.