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Plaintiffs Drop Some Claims To Appeal Pittsburgh 'Buffer Zone' Ruling

March 20, 2015 — Five abortion-rights opponents have dropped allegations that city officials selectively enforced a Pittsburgh "buffer zone" ordinance in order to facilitate an appeal of a federal ruling that found the ordinance is constitutional, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/17).

Background

The ordinance establishes a 15-foot buffer zone around hospitals and health care facilities. However, under a federal court ruling, protesters are permitted to distribute leaflets and converse with women on a one-on-one basis as long as they do not "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate" in the buffer zone.

The abortion-rights opponents, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, claim that the law violates a unanimous Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Massachusetts law barring protesters from entering a 35-foot buffer around abortion clinics. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh city attorneys have said the city's ordinance does not raise the First Amendment issues the high court noted in the Massachusetts case.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon denied the plaintiffs' request for an injunction to block enforcement of the ordinance. However, Bissoon ruled there was not enough evidence to indicate whether Pittsburgh officials have selectively enforced the buffer zone. As a result, she said the underlying suit could continue on the plaintiffs' claim that individuals associated with Planned Parenthood who escort women into clinics are able to gather inside the buffer zones and speak with the women, while abortion-rights opponents are not (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/10).

Dismissal Details

Bissoon on Tuesday approved plaintiffs' motion to dismiss their claim over the enforcement of the ordinance.

In a court motion, the plaintiffs requested the dismissal to "simplify the matters pending before this court and on appeal." They noted that they are "not seeking or conceding dismissal of any of the claims or issues that the court already dismissed" and will continue to pursue the lawsuit (Ove, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/18).

The Atlantic Features Look at Clinic Protest Efforts

In related news, many women seeking care at abortion clinics are "rattled" by contact with antiabortion-rights demonstrators outside the facilities, but "[t]here's no evidence that [antiabortion-rights] activists are succeeding in changing women's minds," according to The Atlantic.

The piece features interviews with women who have gone to abortion clinics and had contact with antiabortion-rights activists, as well as with the activists themselves, who consider themselves "sidewalk counselors." One patient recounted her own experience with protesters, noting that clinic patients only knew that "there were people outside and they were screaming," not their "motivations or if they were good or bad people."

Similarly, Sarah Cyr-Mutty, community relations coordinator at an abortion clinic in Boston, said, "No one wants to drive up to their doctor's office and see over 100 people standing outside." She added, "Whether they're just a presence outside, or they're really trying to interact with them, it's always really upsetting to the patient" (Pearl, The Atlantic, 3/19).