In the Courts

Federal Court Strikes Down ‘Buffer Zones’ Outside Kentucky Abortion Clinics

A federal appeals court ruled in favor of two pro-life groups in Louisville, Kentucky, who filed a lawsuit after the city erected “buffer zones” to prevent pro-life groups from praying or demonstrating near abortion clinics.

In May 2021, the Louisville City Council passed an ordinance that created 10-foot-wide “buffer zones” outside of healthcare facilities, with abortion clinics also falling under this ordinance, according to the Courier Journal. The judges agreed with the Kentucky Right to Life (KRL) and Sisters for Life (SL) organizations who argued that their First Amendment rights were being stripped as a result of the city’s buffer zones prohibiting them from even praying outside the EMW Abortion clinic in Louisville.

The majority opinion, written by Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings, argued that KRL and SL faced “irreparable Harm” from the ordinance and stated their case was likely to succeed on the merits in other courts.

“For starters, Sisters for Life faces irreparable harm. ‘The loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time,’ amounts to irreparable injury,” the judges stated. “Because the ordinance likely violates the First Amendment, applying it to Sisters for Life would irreparably injure them.”

The court found that while the county’s ordinance restricts speech in a content neutral manner in line with the Constitution, the ordinance could be applied in a biased manner. EMW’s escorts discuss abortion-related topics within the buffer zone and have told patients that “pro-life protestors” are “liars” and that patients should not “talk” or “listen to them,” according to the lawsuit.

The judges also found that the “buffer zones” created around all medical facilities unnecessarily restrict speech and did not fit the county’s argument that the ordinance was necessary due to the circumstances of EMW’s clinic as “unique.” The court also determined that the county’s claim that it was unable to use “less intrusive tools” to handle protestors was untrue.

“The County does not explain why it cannot use EMW’s footage and, in connection with law enforcement, identify and cite harassing or obstructing protestors,” the court stated. “The County’s only response is to say that this approach would be more ‘difficult.’ More than some difficulty, however, is required to uphold regulations that suppress speech.”

Chris Wiest, attorney for KRL and SL, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that he was “thrilled” by the win.

“We are thrilled to ultimately prevail, and to vindicate the interests of our client Sisters for Life and Kentucky Right to Life’s ministries,” Wiest said. “The ordinance was unconstitutional all along, just as we repeatedly asserted.”

EMW Abortion Clinic and the ACLU did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request to comment.

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Kate Anderson

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Kate Anderson

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