Kentucky pro-life advocates are fighting back against a Louisville ordinance that hinders their outreach to mothers and unborn babies outside abortion facilities in the city.
In May, the Louisville Metro Council passed a 10-foot buffer zone ordinance that includes the public sidewalk outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center, an abortion facility. However, Sisters for Life and the Kentucky Right to Life sued the city, arguing that the ordinance unconstitutionally “squelch[es] dissenting speech,” WDRB reports.
“We’re defending the right for sidewalk counselors, which is a ministry, to meet women going in, to present them with alternatives,” Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, told the Catholic News Agency.
Earlier this month, in a temporary victory for life, the city agreed not to enforce the ordinance while the pro-life groups’ lawsuit moves forward.
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Wuchner told CNA that she believes the courts will uphold their First Amendment rights and overturn the Louisville ordinance just like the U.S. Supreme Court did a Massachusetts buffer zone law in 2014.
“I feel it’s unconstitutional,” she said. “You’re in effect giving a private business the right to that sidewalk, which is a public entity paid for by taxpayers.”
The unconstitutional Massachusetts law created a 35-foot buffer zone that restricted pro-lifers’ free speech outside abortion facilities. However, more recently, the Supreme Court refused to hear challenges to smaller buffer zones in Chicago and Pennsylvania.
In Louisville, city leaders argued that the buffer zone is necessary because protesters “harass, stalk, intimidate and assault patients entering and exiting the clinic,” according to Kentucky Today.
But Wuchner said pro-lifers just want to provide mothers with information and support to help them choose life for their babies.
“There have been children saved because of that intimate conversation with a sidewalk counselor as women were walking in to have an abortion,” she told CNA.
Sisters for Life and Kentucky Right to Life also emphasized their peaceful pro-life outreach in the lawsuit.
“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.”
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.”
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.