The fate of a 15-foot buffer zone in Pittsburgh could be determined by a federal judge if city lawyers and anti-abortion protesters don’t come to an agreement first.

Earlier this month, US District Judge Cathy Bissoon heard oral arguments from attorneys representing the city of Pittsburgh and attorneys representing five anti-abortion protesters who demanded an injunction against a city ordinance that they say is selectively enforced and meant to censor them.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious advocacy group representing the anti-abortion protesters, argued that their clients’ ability to offer, self-described “sidewalk counseling” as women enter the local Planned Parenthood is inhibited by the 2005 ordinance. However, the city contends that the zone is “content neutral,” applying not only to abortion clinics, but all “hospital or health care [facilities].”

Michael Kennedy, assistant city solicitor, said the ordinance was specifically enacted to prevent confrontations from flaring up between anti-abortion protesters and clinic employees and patients.

Judge Bissoon asked the parties to attempt to reach an agreement on their own. Friday, lawyers for both sides said they will continue negotiations, but will also file a final set of legal arguments before the judge rules on  a motion seeking to bar the city from enforcing the buffer zone.

This summer, the US Supreme Court sided with anti-abortion demonstrators in McCullen v. Coakley, ruling that a 35-foot buffer zone law in Massachusetts was unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds.

Following the decision, Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal said, “The Court’s decision failed to acknowledge that the Massachusetts law was enacted after the murder of two clinic receptionists, Shannon Lowney, 25, and Lee Ann Nichols, 38, by anti-abortion extremist John Salvi at two separate clinics in Brookline.” Five other people were wounded in the Massachusetts attacks in December 1994.

A final decision in the Pittsburgh buffer zone case is expected next year.

Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 6/26/14, 8/6/14; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/3/14; Columbus Ledger Enquirer 12/21/14; WPXI-TV 12/21/14

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