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Anti-Abortion Group Sues Louisville Over Clinic Buffer Zone

EMW Women's Surgical Center has resumed abortions up to 21 weeks and six days, following clarification from a federal judge.
EMW Women's Surgical Center has resumed abortions up to 21 weeks and six days, following clarification from a federal judge.

An anti-abortion organization filed a lawsuit this week to stop Louisville Metro Government from enforcing a new buffer zone in front of the downtown EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Kentucky’s only abortion clinic.

In the lawsuit, the Louisville-based non-profit Sisters for Life said it has operated a ministry on the sidewalk in front of the clinic since 2003, informing people entering of “other life choices available to them...other than abortion.”

The group argued the 10-foot buffer zone keeps them from acting on their religious beliefs, exercising free speech and assembling on public property. It is asking the U.S. District Court in Louisville for a permanent injunction against the city as well as unspecified “nominal damages.”

“The buffer zone compromises [Sisters for Life’s] ability to initiate the close, personal conversations that [they] view as essential to their sidewalk ministry,” the lawsuit reads.

Louisville Metro Council passed the ordinance creating the buffer or safety zone last month. Anyone who violates the ordinance is given one warning before being issued a minimum fine of $150.

Proponents like Councilman Jecorey Arthur (D-4) said the ordinance prioritizes the safety of people seeking abortion, who may subject to harassment or assault by demonstrators.

“That’s a very unsafe sidewalk, but you can change that tonight,” Arthur said before the vote. “I’m asking my colleagues to, please, use common sense and vote yes so that your constituents can have access – safe access – to health care.”

Sisters for Life argued in the court filing that, because the ordinance applies to all health care facilities in Louisville, the entire block could be off limits to “sidewalk counselors” and anti-abortion protestors. The EMW Women’s Surgical Center on Market St. is bordered by an optometrist’s office and the BSideU for Life Pregnancy Center.

“The buffer zone Ordinance prohibits the Plaintiffs and other sidewalk ministers from speaking, praying, or interacting with those entering the EMW clinic, including, without limitation, even with those entering who invite or otherwise solicits [sic] contact with [Sisters of Life],” the lawsuit claims.

A representative for EMW directed press inquiries to the ACLU of Kentucky. Sam Crankshaw, a communications associate for the ACLU, said the organization believes the ordinance does not violate the First Amendment.

"With the robust legislative record presented by Louisville Metro Council when creating this ordinance, the ACLU of Kentucky does not have concerns about the constitutionality of such a limited and content-neutral safety zone rule,” Crankshaw said.

Court documents show Louisville Metro Government agreed to hold off on enforcing the new buffer zone until July 16 as the case moves forward.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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