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PA Court Rejects Combination of Buffer and Bubble Zones

A federal appeals court struck down a 2005 Pittsburgh ordinance that created two types of zones intended to prevent protestors from harassing patients at area abortion clinics Friday. The 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ordinance is too restrictive of protestors’ free speech because it impedes their ability to talk to patients and pass out leaflets, reports the Associated Press. The ordinance combined a buffer zone that keeps protestors 15 feet away from clinic entrances with a bubble zone mandating that protestors within 100 feet of the clinic must remain 8 feet away from patients approaching or leaving the clinic.

The court ruling instructs the city to choose either the buffer or bubble zone to uphold. William Peduto, a councilman who helped draft the 2005 ordinance, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the city would decide this week whether it will appeal the ruling or alter the ordinance. “In my opinion, it’s essential that people have the right to obtain legal health care without being subjected to intimidation. We can do that while protecting individual rights of freedom of speech and expression,” he said. Susan Frietsche, a Pittsburgh attorney with the Women’s Law Project, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that her group will discuss potential next steps with area abortion clinics.

The ordinance was challenged in 2006 by the Alliance Defense Fund on behalf of Mary Kathryn Brown, a longtime Pittsburgh clinic protestor. The court rejected Brown’s claim that police enforced the ordinance unfairly, but did not address her claim that her activities were protected under the Pennsylvania Religious Freedom Protection Act, according to the Associated Press. Further litigation could reintroduce that claim in court.

Sources:

Associated Press 11/3/09; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 11/3/09; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 11/3/09

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