Pro-life advocates are challenging a new Jackson, Mississippi buffer zone ordinance that restricts them from prayer and peaceful sidewalk outreach outside the last abortion facility in the state.
Sidewalk Advocates for Life filed the lawsuit Friday, challenging the ordinance as a violation of their constitutional right to free speech, the Clarion Ledger reports.
“Regardless of how you may feel about abortion, they have the right to express themselves. They have the right to try to convince others to adoption. That is the essence of a free society,” said Aaron Rice of the Mississippi Justice Institute, who is representing the pro-life advocates.
The ordinance, which passed earlier this fall, prohibits pro-lifers from standing within 15 feet of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion facility in Mississippi. Additionally, it creates an 8-foot personal bubble zone for patients to prevent interactions with pro-life sidewalk counselors. The ordinance also restricts noise levels by banning shouting and the amplification of sound within 100 feet of the abortion facility.
The measure applies to all health care facilities in Jackson, but it came about because of contentions surrounding the abortion issue. Now, peaceful pro-life advocates could be punished for praying outside the abortion facility or handing a woman information about pregnancy resources in the city.
The measure is slated to go into effect Oct. 31.
Rice said the ordinance unfairly targets pro-life advocates, and does not restrict abortion clinic staff in the same way, according to the report.
Steven Griffen, an attorney with Daniel Coker Horton & Bell, said they are seeking an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the measure.
“These ladies and other sidewalk counselors engage in peaceful conversations about alternatives to abortions, give out literature about the hope that is available. We believe the city’s ordinance violates their rights under the Mississippi Constitution,” Griffen said.
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Jackson sidewalk counselors Barbara Beavers and Monica Cable said their desire is to help women make good decisions for themselves and their babies.
“Many come to the sidewalk undecided and we need to be there to provide resources available to them and try to convince them that they can be a parent. We need to be on that sidewalk,” Beavers said.
“We just want to provide that information. We want to educate, empower and equip women to make a better decision,” Cable added.
Their lawyers said they will fight the unconstitutional ordinance all the way to the Mississippi Supreme Court if they have to.
A number of cities restrict pro-life advocates’ free speech through buffer zone ordinances. The city of Charleston, West Virginia, approved a similar ordinance in June. Some ordinances are facing legal challenges and others have been struck down in court, but abortion activists persist in lobbying for cities to pass them.
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.