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Identity & Community

Group Challenging Pittsburgh’s 15-foot Buffer Zone Outside Planned Parenthood

A group of anti-abortion activists has filed suit against a 15-foot buffer zone outside of Planned Parenthood’s downtown Pittsburgh location.

The move follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision this summer that struck down 35-foot protest-free zones outside abortion clinics in Massachusetts for violating the First Amendment rights of protesters.

“We filed suit seeking to have the ordinance found unconstitutional, that it’s an inappropriate restriction on speech,” said attorney Lawrence Paladin.

Yellow paint marks the buffer zone outside Planned Parenthood. It’s been in place since 2006 when the city of Pittsburgh passed an ordinance establishing both the buffer zone and an 8-foot personal bubble around individuals entering the clinic. The personal bubble and buffer zone combination together was ruled unconstitutional in 2009, so the city did away with the bubble, but it kept the buffer zone.

That zone still goes too far, according to Paladin.

“One of our rights is to speak, to talk to people on a place like a public sidewalk,” he said. “With the downtown clinic, it is an entry off of a public sidewalk – but sidewalks are considered, in our culture, to be a place where you’re allowed to talk, where you’re allowed to express yourself, in the language of the court – a public forum.”

Supporters of the buffer have claimed that sometimes activists do more than talk, and that their interventions can sometimes be considered harassment.

“What we are looking for is the opportunity to be heard, the opportunity to speak to people” Paladin said. “This is not a case about demonstrating, it’s not a case about carrying signs, it’s not a case about screaming or blocking doors, it’s a case about talking to people and the opportunity to be heard with an alternative viewpoint.”

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court, is against the city, City Council and Mayor Bill Peduto. The group bringing the case regularly stands outside of the clinic. Paladin said an injunction request would be filed Friday, asking the judge to do away with the buffer zone pending trial.