New 'Buffer Zone' in Madison, Wis., Quickly Draws Lawsuit

March 3, 2014 — A coalition of antiabortion-rights groups has filed a federal lawsuit against a new "buffer zone" ordinance in Madison, Wis., arguing that it violates First Amendment rights, the Wisconsin State Journal reports.

The Madison City Council on Tuesday approved the ordinance, which creates a 160-foot zone around health care facilities to protect patients and physicians entering or exiting the buildings. The ordinance prohibits anyone in the buffer zone from approaching another person within eight feet for the purpose of protest, education, counseling, distribution of literature, or displaying signs, unless granted consent. Violators can face fines of $300 to $750.

Lawsuit Details

The Madison Vigil for Life and several other antiabortion-rights organizations in their suit claim that the ordinance violates their First Amendment rights because it is "practically impossible" to pass out literature or hold a conversation from an eight-foot distance. In addition, the groups argue that the ordinance's definition of "health care facility" includes office spaces used by physicians and common-use areas in larger buildings, which would extend the buffer zone into prominent locations.

City attorney Michael May said that while his office has not yet reviewed the legal challenge, the ordinance likely would be upheld based on a Supreme Court ruling that upheld a similar law in Colorado (Glaze, Wisconsin State Journal, 2/26).