In the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer that struck down buffer zones around abortion clinics in Massachusetts, five anti-abortion plaintiffs from Western Pennsylvania have filed a challenge to the 15-foot protective zone Pittsburgh enacted in 2005.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, takes aim at a city ordinance that prohibits people from congregating, picketing, patrolling or demonstrating within 15 feet of the entrance of any hospital or health care facility.
The law “creates anti-speech zones on the entrances to an enormous number of facilities throughout Pittsburgh that provide any health care services,” the suit says. “Because new health-care facilities open in a variety of office buildings and zones, the ordinance continually spawns new anti-speech zones on public sidewalks, streets and other public ways throughout the city. … Pittsburgh has no justification for creating even one of these anti-speech zones in traditional public fora, much less creating innumerable zones throughout Pittsburgh.”
The suit was filed by Penn Hills lawyer Lawrence G. Paladin Jr. and two attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit Christian conservative legal organization formed to provide a “strong, coordinated legal defense against growing attacks on religious freedom,” according to its website.
The plaintiffs are listed as Nikki Bruni of Verona, Julie Cosentino of Bridgeville, Cynthia Rinaldi of Coraopolis, Kathleen Laslow of Pittsburgh and Patrick Malley of Trafford, who “regularly engage in peaceful prayer, leafleting, sidewalk counseling, anti-abortion advocacy and other peaceful expressive activities” outside the Planned Parenthood facility on 933 Liberty Ave., the suit says.
The buffer zone, Mr. Paladin said, prevents them from talking with women entering the facility.
“It’s not a matter of demonstrating as much as communicating,” he said, adding his clients attempt to explain options other than terminating pregnancies. “That is the desire — to be able to speak to people.”
Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the city’s law department is reviewing the suit.
Aleigha Cavalier, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, said patients and staff “can count on us to ensure their safety and their well-being is protected today and every day.”
She added that the buffer zone has been “extremely effective at keeping peace on the sidewalk.”
“It gives protesters the ability to say what they need to say and our patients and our staff the ability to feel safe walking through our doors,” she said. “Women should be able to make their own private medical decisions without judgment or harassment from strangers.”
Robert Zullo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @rczullo. First Published September 5, 2014 12:00 AM