Kentucky pro-life advocates won a legal victory this week against a Louisville buffer zone that restricts pro-life sidewalk counselors from reaching out to women outside the city’s only abortion facility.
The Louisville Metro Council narrowly passed the 10-foot buffer zone outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center in May. On Sunday, however, Sisters for Life and the Kentucky Right to Life Association sued the city, arguing that the ordinance unconstitutionally “squelch[es] dissenting speech,” WDRB reports.
Barely two days later, Kentucky Right to Life announced that the city agreed not to enforce the ordinance while the lawsuit moves forward.
“This is a new and good wrinkle in the usual sequence, when a pro-life law is passed and immediately enjoined by the ACLU and the abortion clinics. THIS time, a law esteemed by abortion advocates has passed, and pro-lifers sought and WON a temporary injunction,” said Addia Wuchner, executive director of the organization.
The lawsuit accuses the city of a “not-so-clever gerrymander to restrict an entire city block from being accessed” by pro-life advocates, according to the report. They said the ordinance “is an insidious content and viewpoint-based speech gerrymander, designed to squelch dissenting speech, and the practice of sincerely held religious beliefs, in the vicinity of EMW.”
Ernest Marshall, an abortionist and founder of the EMW facility, accused pro-lifers of “psychologically damaging” patients by blocking the entrance to the facility, harassing, taunting and stalking them.
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But Sisters for Life president Angela Minter said pro-lifers reach out with compassion to women in need, and the ordinance makes it more difficult to do that, according to the local news.
“Sidewalk ministry is not loud, obnoxious or confrontational,” the lawsuit states. Pro-life sidewalk advocates approach women offering information and support, a “much more effective means of dissuading women from having abortions than confrontational methods such as shouting, brandishing signs, blocking access, loud speakers, or other methods which, in Plaintiffs’ view, tend only to alienate their intended audience.”
Wuchner at Kentucky Right to Life expressed hope that their lawsuit will succeed in federal court.
“As a pro-life, pro-women organization, we believe that sidewalk ministry plays an important role in a woman’s right to have fully informed consent,” she said.
Though the ordinance technically applies to all health care facilities in the city, it specifically mentions the EMW abortion facility; and it was apparent from abortion activists’ and council members’ statements that restricting pro-life advocacy is the goal.
The new ordinance prohibits protesters from coming within 10 feet of the abortion facility. It orders the city Public Works to mark the zone with lines on the sidewalk outside EMW. Anyone who violates the ordinance may be punished with fines up to $500.
Abortion activists have been pressuring the Louisville Metro Council to pass a buffer zone for years.
Pro-life sidewalk counselors do save lives. In 2020, Sidewalk Advocates for Life celebrated helping 10,000 mothers choose life for their unborn babies in its six years of ministry. They encourage mothers to give their babies a chance at life and connect them with community resources, including pregnancy resource centers, that provide financial and material help.
Buffer zones across the country are being challenged in court as a violation of free speech. In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 35-foot Massachusetts buffer zone law. However, other smaller buffer zones still are in place across the U.S.