The Claim: A Pittsburgh Law Violates the Free Speech Rights of a Pro-life Nurse
What is this about?
A pro-life nurse in Pittsburgh frequently seeks to counsel women who are approaching an abortion clinic in Pittsburgh to get them to reconsider their decision based on her beliefs concerning life in the womb. However a Pittsburgh ordinance allegedly limits her ability to do so.
What is the ordinance?
The ordinance in question allegedly restricts the free speech of someone by not permitting them to be any closer than 8 feet from an individual without permission to give out pamphlet or tracts (more details below). This so called ‘bubble zone’s” purpose is to allow free access to health clinics (i.e. abortion center). This is probably also related to Federal Civil Rights Statute Title 18 USC section 248, re: Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances ActPlease see this excerpt from Pittsburgh's ordinance.... (see link for full text..(Note: this is from page 424 of the document …look at the page number of the document NOT the adobe page number. Starts at section 623 of said page)
Excerpt / overview follows.. Purpose: to allow for unimpeded access to hospitals and/or health care facilities and providing penalties for violations of this ordinance.
Reason for ordinance: The exercise of a person’s right to protest or counsel against certain medical procedures is a First Amendment activity that must be balanced against another person’ s right to obtain medical counseling and treatment in an unobstructed manner; and The City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has been consistently called upon in at least two locations within the City to mediate the disputes between those seeking medical counseling and treatment and those who would counsel against their actions so as to (i) avoid violent confrontations which would lead to criminal charges and (ii) enforce existing City Ordinances which regulate use of public sidewalks and other conduct;
Ordinance / action:
623.03 EIGHT-FOOT PERSONAL BUBBLE ZONE No person shall knowingly approach another person within eight feet (8’) of such person, unless such other person consents, for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education or counseling with such other person in the public way or sidewalk area within a radius of one hundred feet (100’) from any entrance door to a hospital and/or medical office/clinic.
623.04. FIFTEEN-FOOT BUFFER ZONE No person or persons shall knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending fifteen feet (15’) from any entrance to the hospital and or health care facility. This section shall not apply to police and public safety officers, fire and rescue personnel, or other emergency workers in the course of their official business, or to authorized security personnel employees or agents of the hospital, medical office or clinic engaged in assisting patients and other persons to enter or exit the hospital, medical office, or clinic.
Penalty for failing to comply…
§ 623.05 PENALTY Any person, firm, or corporation who pleads guilty or nolo contendere, or is convicted of violating of this section shall be guilty of a summary offense and punished by a fine of at least fifty dollars ($50.00) for the first offense; a fine of at least one hundred fifty dollars ($150.00) for a second offense within five (5) years; and a fine of three hundred dollars ($300.00) for a third offense within five (5) years. For fourth and subsequent offenses within five (5) years the fine shall not be less than three hundred dollars ($300.00) and/or imprisonment for not less than three (3) days but not more than thirty (30) days.
So why is this in court?
The Alliance Defend Fund is taking action against the city of Pittsburgh because they believe that this nurse’s free speech rights are being restricted. You can read their brief here.. Subsequent action is here..and here.
My take on this..
I don’t get it. I do not find any of the city of Pittsburgh’s ordinance unreasonable. I do not see a violation of free speech here anymore than I see one in the ‘Do not call” list that keeps tele-marketers from intruding into a person’s home via their phone.
I would think that being polite and acting like an adult ... (i.e... respecting someone’s personal space .. not sharing tracts without getting consent) would be common knowledge and practice with Christians. I guess it isn’t. And now we need a law like this to make sure common respect and decency is practiced? How sad! What a sad day for our witness.
As someone who is pro-life I think our money and resources could be better spent by actually funding ultrasound equipment for crisis pregnancy centers, by helping the poor in the inner city, and / or by providing education for those with low income. I would like to see a redemptive solution to the abortion issue rather than cases like this. Real help that involves redemptive solutions in Christ are the ultimate answer to the abortion issue.