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Federal Judge Delays Final Ruling in Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Lawsuit

Federal Judge Delays Final Ruling in Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Lawsuit

December 5, 2014 — A U.S. District Court judge earlier this week gave attorneys until Dec. 19 to reach an agreement on a lawsuit challenging a Pittsburgh ordinance that created a 15-foot "buffer zone" around abortion clinics, the AP/WTAE News reports.

According to the AP/WTAE, the attorneys will have 30 days to file legal arguments if they cannot reach an agreement by the deadline. U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Bissoon said she would then decide whether to issue an injunction barring the city police from enforcing the buffer zone.

Buffer Zone Requirements

The buffer zone is a modified version of a 2005 ordinance that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down in 2009. In that ruling, the appeals court said the ordinance was illegal because it barred protesters from leafleting and other forms of free speech within a 15-foot zone around any "hospital or health care facility" and also barred protesters from coming within an eight-foot "bubble zone" of women who were within 100 feet of a clinic.

According to the AP/WTAE News, the city decided to drop the bubble zone provision. Further, another federal judge ruled that protesters could distribute leaflets and converse with women on a one-on-one basis as long as they did not "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate" in the buffer zone (Mandak, AP/WTAE News, 12/3).

Lawsuit Details

The Alliance Defending Freedom filed the lawsuit in September on behalf of five abortion-rights opponents (Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/3). The plaintiffs contend that the ordinance has been selectively enforced and used to prevent them from protesting.

ADF lawyers Matthew Bowman and Elissa Graves on Wednesday said city law enforcement has wrongly enforced the ordinance by using it to prevent sidewalk counseling and the distribution of leaflets (AP/WTAE News, 12/3).

Meanwhile, attorneys for the city argued that the law is "content neutral" because it applies to all health care facilities in the city (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/3). Further, Assistant City Solicitor Michael Kennedy contended that tactics such as sidewalk counseling and leafleting amount to "demonstrating" (AP/WTAE News, 12/3).