The city of Louisville, Kentucky rejected an ordinance late last week that would have banned pro-lifers from sidewalk counseling or even praying within 12 feet of an abortion facility.
In a victory for free speech and advocacy for unborn babies, the Louisville Metro Council voted 12-13 Thursday against the ordinance, the Courier Journal reports.
All 12 council members who supported the ordinance were Democrats, while the 13 who opposed it were Democrats and Republicans, according to the report. Many expressed concerns about First Amendment rights and the targeting of pro-lifers, including councilwoman Marilyn Parker, a Republican representing the 18th District.
“I just don’t think this is a very good look for the council, with the protests, the destruction and the disorder that’s been allowed to happen in the city,” Parker said. “We need to think about this. Why does this group get special privileges for safety?”
If the ordinance had passed, pro-lifers would have been prohibited from coming within 12 feet of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, which aborts unborn babies up to 22 weeks of pregnancy, and the city Planned Parenthood. Though the ordinance would have applied to all protesters outside all city health care clinics, the ordinance targeted pro-lifers who stand outside abortion facilities.
Councilman Anthony Piagentini, a Republican from the 19th District, slammed the ordinance as a violation of free speech, according to the report. He also shared how much, as an adoptive father, the “life-giving and lifesaving support” of pro-lifers means to him and his family.
Abortion activists urged the council to adopt the ordinance, claiming there is a special urgency because of the coronavirus. However, some council members questioned their reasoning, noting that the ordinance would be permanent, the report states.
Republican Councilman Robin Engel of the 21st District also criticized the proposed ordinance as a violation of free speech.
“You’re telling me I can’t go down and peacefully assemble in front of EMW with my mouth shut and say the rosary or read the Bible? You’re telling me you’re going to kick me off my public sidewalk? You ought to be ashamed of yourself, folks,” Engel said.
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The city council heard from local pro-life advocates and Catholic leaders as well, including Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville.
In a letter to the council, Kurtz emphasized the life-saving impact of “courageous, compassionate and civil” pro-life sidewalk counselors as they reach out to mothers and babies.
“Over the years, hundreds of women have accepted the help of sidewalk counselors and have expressed gratitude for the chance to benefit from resources and assistance to help them keep their babies,” the archbishop wrote. “The proposed buffer zone ordinance would harm vulnerable women who need our help, and it would restrict the first amendment rights of sidewalk counselors offering a life-saving alternative to abortion.”
Two pro-abortion groups, the Kentucky Health Justice Network and Planned Parenthood, lobbied for the buffer zone, and they promised not to give up the fight. They blamed the city council for failing to “prioritize patient safety.”
According to the report, the ordinance would have banned people “from entering, remaining on or creating obstructions in the buffer zone during the facility’s business hours, with a few exceptions for licensees, invitees, people using the sidewalk ‘solely for the purpose of reaching a destination other than such a facility,’ law enforcement, emergency services and other city employees or facility employees on work business.”
Violators would have been given a warning for their first offense. A second offense would have been punishable by citation and a fine of up to $500.
Pro-life sidewalk counselors do save lives. Earlier this month, Sidewalk Counselors 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. While the U.S. Supreme Court did grant a victory to pro-lifers in a 2014 buffer zone case, this summer it refused to hear two other cases involving pro-life advocates’ freedom to speak on public sidewalks outside abortion facilities in Pennsylvania and Chicago.
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.