National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

Woman Files Lawsuit Against N.J. City 'Buffer Zone' Ordinance

Woman Files Lawsuit Against N.J. City 'Buffer Zone' Ordinance

May 18, 2015 — A New Jersey woman has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against an Englewood, N.J., "buffer zone" ordinance prohibiting protests within eight feet of abortion clinics, the North Jersey Record reports (Lueddeke, North Jersey Record, 5/16).

Background

The Englewood, N.J., City Council in March 2014 unanimously approved the ordinance, under which individuals cannot "knowingly" enter or remain on a public walkway or sidewalk that falls within eight feet of the entry, exit or driveway of a health care facility or transitional facility, such as a shelter for domestic violence survivors or facility housing people with mental illnesses. Individuals also cannot restrict access to those entries, exits or driveways by standing in front of the point of access.

The regulations are in effect only during a facility's business hours and only if the zone is clearly marked. Bypassers, police, facility employees, people entering or exiting the facility, emergency personnel, utility workers and municipal agents are exempt from the rules.

The rules were developed largely in response to increasingly volatile demonstrations outside the Metropolitan Medical Associates abortion clinic in Englewood. Police Chief Lawrence Suffern said that police have received reports of shoving and other harassing behavior (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/20/14).

Details of Lawsuit

The American Center for Law and Justice filed the lawsuit on behalf of Wayne, N.J., resident Jeryl Turco, who said she previously protested weekly at Metropolitan Medical Associates for seven-and-a-half years (North Jersey Record, 5/16). The lawsuit is asking the court to find the law unconstitutional and to issue an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the legislation.

In the lawsuit, Turco claims that the law violates her free speech rights by preventing her from using the sidewalk outside the clinic to protest (Zambito, New Jersey Advance, 4/30). Specifically, Turco states that the ordinance harms her ability to start "close, personal conversations" with individuals entering the clinic. By contrast, the lawsuit argues that volunteer escorts for patients are allowed to enter the buffer zone and tell patients that they support abortion rights.

According to the Record, the lawsuit also states that the ordinance is "strikingly similar" to a Massachusetts measure struck down last year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, William Bailey, city attorney for Englewood, previously has said the city ordinance would be able to withstand a lawsuit (North Jersey Record, 5/16).