Catholic World Report

Pro-life groups challenge Louisville buffer-zone ordinance

Kate Scanlon   By Kate Scanlon for CNA

Sign at 2021 March for Life/ Claudette Jerez/CNA

Pro-life groups this week challenged a “buffer zone” ordinance approved by the city of Louisville, Kentucky.

Kentucky Today reported that the counsel representing the pro-life group Kentucky Right to Life and the Louisville nonprofit Sisters for Life filed a brief on Monday for a temporary injunction on the 10-foot “buffer zone” ordinance approved by the Louisville Metro Council in May. The ordinance prevents sidewalk counseling within 10 feet of health care facilities, including the state’s only licensed surgical abortion facility.

Addia Wuchner, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life, told CNA in a phone interview that her organization is defending pro-life sidewalk counseling, an attempt to provide women seeking abortions with alternatives like parenting and adoption resources.

“We’re defending the right for sidewalk counselors, which is a ministry, to meet women going in, to present them with alternatives,” she said.

Wuchner said she is optimistic about ending the buffer zone, arguing that sidewalk counselors have a First Amendment right to their ministry, and that the Supreme Court found a comparable law in violation of the First Amendment. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against a 35-foot buffer zone ordinance in Massachusetts, which restricted access to sidewalks and other public spaces.

However, in 2020, the high court turned away challenges to eight-foot and 20-foot buffer zones in Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

“I feel it’s unconstitutional,” Wuchner said of the Louisville ordinance. “You’re in effect giving a private business the right to that sidewalk, which is a public entity paid for by taxpayers.”

Kentucky Today reported that Jefferson County Attorney Michael O’Connell, who represents the city’s Metro Council, argued the buffer zone is needed because protesters “harass, stalk, intimidate and assault patients entering and exiting the clinic.”

Wuchner said the buffer zone prevents those in pro-life ministries from genuine efforts to provide women with information about alternatives to abortion.

“There have been children saved because of that intimate conversation with a sidewalk counselor as women were walking in to have an abortion,” Wuchner said.

The city in 2017 set up a temporary buffer zone around the abortion facility which local Catholics opposed.

While she was on the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett ruled in favor of Supreme Court precedent, on a case where Chicago’s eight-foot abortion facility buffer zone was challenged.

Barrett joined the Seventh Circuit court majority in upholding the city’s rule. The majority opinion, which Barrett signed on to, stated that “[w]hile the Supreme Court has deeply unsettled” the ruling in Hill v. Colorado, a 2000 ruling that upheld Colorado’s eight-foot buffer zone, the court “has not overruled the decision. So it remains binding on us.”

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