Anti-choice protester challenges buffer zone law

A woman who harasses women protests outside of abortion clinics has sued the city of Pittsburgh over its “buffer zone” laws that require protesters to not come within 8 feet of patients entering a clinic or within 15 feet of a clinic entrance. She claims that it violates her right to harass women seeking medical care free speech. I can’t say that this surprised me, but I can say that it pissed me the fuck off.

U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer heard arguments yesterday on a challenge to a Pittsburgh ordinance requiring protesters at abortion clinics to stay at least 8 feet from patients.

Mary Kathryn Brown, of Indiana Township, filed a lawsuit against the city, the late Mayor Bob O’Connor and individual City Council members in March 2006, three months after the ordinance took effect.

She claims that the requirements — an 8-foot buffer from people approaching medical facilities as well as a 15-foot buffer from center entrances — violate her rights of free speech and religious freedom.

She was represented at yesterday’s hearing by David Cortman, an attorney based in Lawrenceville, Ga., who works for the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative Christian nonprofit organization.

The challenge to the ordinance is filed only on Ms. Brown’s behalf and would not affect the public as a whole. She has asked for a preliminary injunction which would allow her to continue her peaceful, non-violent protests at clinics Downtown and in East Liberty.

The way she spreads her message against abortion, Mr. Cortman said, is by approaching patients as they enter the clinics. She talks to them, he said, and tells them she understands what’s happening and that she can help them.

“She does so caringly, peacefully, non-violently,” he said.

But the city passed the ordinance to protect patients who they said were being harassed as they entered the clinics.

“This is an area where the city saw a need to protect the citizens at these health care facilities,” said city attorney Michael Kennedy.

“There’s no constitutional right to gently counsel,” added another city attorney, Yvonne Schlosberg Hilton.

A few things:

I find it to be pretty damn hilarious that Brown thinks that she deserves some special rights above the public as a whole. She’s not suing to overturn the law, but simply to gain a personal exception form it. It’s arrogant, ridiculous, and hopefully will fatally flaw her case.

Though I have to say that the arrogance doesn’t surprise me, because these type of individuals are in fact inherently arrogant. They believe that they know what is best for every woman and every pregnancy — and that they themselves are so very compelling that they can change the minds of women on the way to have their uteruses emptied. The idea that a flier and some “don’t kill your baby” talk is going to change someone’s mind about the course of their pregnancy is pretty high up on the list of delusions of self-grandeur.

As for where the hell she found this lawyer (Operation Rescue?), I’m not sure. But if the guy was actually well-versed in his Constitutional law, he would know that free speech does and has always had its necessary limits. For example, one cannot claim free speech while inciting violence. Nor can one claim free speech while posing a risk to the safety of others, or while threatening or harassing someone. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what these people do constitutes harassment.

Yelling at someone through a bullhorn is harassing. Being told that you’re a bad person for seeking medical care is harassing. And giving unsolicited, prejudiced medical advice from total strangers who have absolutely no medical credentials is harassing, too. Just like it would be harassing to stand outside of a building that offers prenatal care and hand out leaflets about how the women going there should have abortions instead. And if reasoning with the people doing so had no effect, I would certainly expect the government to take some sort of action.

The arguments get even more obnoxious, though:

Mr. Cortman argued that the ordinance violates Ms. Brown’s free-speech rights because it prohibits her from reaching her intended audience.

But Judge Fischer, who asked a number of questions of both sides during the nearly three-hour hearing, asked, “Don’t they also have the right to their own privacy in seeking out needed treatment? Don’t I have the right to go about my own business?”

Mr. Cortman responded: “There is no right to privacy on a public sidewalk.”

He also said the ordinance is being selectively enforced, because clinic workers aren’t prohibited from talking to patients as they approach. He also noted that Ms. Brown was permitted to pass out anti-pornography literature, but not anti-abortion fliers.

“I could write this law without infringing on anyone’s rights,” Mr. Cortman said.

He told Judge Fischer that he wouldn’t object to a more narrowly tailored ordinance that specified that a protester couldn’t harass, intimidate or threaten. But, he went on, the city has not been receptive to the idea.

“Harassment and intimidation are far more difficult to define,” Mr. Kennedy responded.

Judge Fischer did not give any indication when she might decide the issue.

“We would like a ruling immediately,” Mr. Cortman said. “Every day that goes by, our client’s rights are being violated.”

Ms. Brown has been going to the clinics to protest for 15 years, and though she has continued since the passage of the ordinance, her message no longer has the same impact, Mr. Cortman said.

By requiring the 8-foot bubble around patients at the clinics, it’s impossible for her to have any intimate conversation with them, he said.

“The noise is so loud with rush-hour traffic and buses, it’s impossible to be heard,” he said. “No one has come and taken a flier out of her hand.”

Kennedy is absolutely correct: harassment is subjective. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and I wouldn’t be forced to explain why Brown’s “peaceful” measures are indeed harassing. In addition, we unfortunately can’t trust anti-choicers to not cross the line. If we extend the right to hand out fliers but not talk to patients, the pamphlets would just start getting a lot more harassing than they already are. And trying to place limits on what can and cannot be said would clearly be impossible to enforce.

But Cortman and Brown seem to be living in some kind of alternate universe where we’re supposed to give a shit. Gee, really? After 15 years of harassing women, her “message” is no longer having an impact? Well that statement is making a pretty large assumption that it ever did have an impact. And even if it did, cry me a fucking river. Yeah, it must be really hard having no one listen to you. I wonder if that feeling is similar to those of the women who have had abortions and speak out positively, only to have their voices completely ignored by society in favor of some unfounded bullshit by the likes of Brown about how “abortion hurts women.” As for no one taking a flier from Brown without her shoving them down people’s throats, maybe it’s time to take the hint. No one is taking your fliers because no one wants them, and anyone with common sense knows well enough to stay away from anti-choice protesters if at all possible, because they can be both horribly cruel and dangerous.

No, I won’t shed any tears about the loss of Brown’s misogynist propaganda racket. And hopefully the judge won’t, either.

0 thoughts on “Anti-choice protester challenges buffer zone law

  1. Thealogian

    The individual exemption that she’s seeking is so like the mentality that “only my abortion is a moral abortion” that afflicts women who both vote anti-choice and then exercise the right to abortion won by others and then go back to voting anti-choice.

    Its that exceptional thinking–“I’m special,” “Jesus talks to me,” “Dirty Sluts Shouldn’t Have Access to Abortion, but Good, Innocent Me? Just this once its okay,” etc.

    She’s applying that exceptional thinking to her “magical counseling” ability–maybe that one time she made a teenager burst out and tears and tell her mom she wanted to go home to think about it some more. That same teenager who only had abstinence only education and a 25 year old boyfriend/statutory rapist.

    I think that the inability to understand that no one is “worth” more or more deserving of human rights is a fundamental moral and personality failure–and should be treated as a kind of social illness. Yet, that seems to afflict those most prone to judgmental activism and warmongering–aka Republicans.


  2. zombie z

    People like this? Almost make me wish I was in a situation where I had to have an abortion (as I would do, 100%, no ifs, ands or buts, if I became pregnant), just so I can say, “Yes, I’m aware that abortion kills a BABY…and no, I don’t give a flying fuck!”

    Yes, I believe every single person in the world should abort every single pregnancy. Because, you know, that’s what pro-choice is REALLY about.

    (Please note general sarcastic snark…)

  3. Daomadan

    So, if I were a woman entering the clinic and just happened to punch Brown in the face is that all protected under my right to free speech? 😉

  4. Hlynn

    Do you have a petition or know anything that can be done? I live in the Pittsburgh area, and I really don’t want to see the protection zone removed. PA tends to be fairly concervative, so I worry about our pro-choice rights.

  5. jovan byars

    What’s up with the strikethroughs, Cara? Anti-choicers do harass women.

    Pennsylvania is one of the five worst states when it comes to reproductive choice. And to top it off, three-quarters of the Keystone state have no abortion provider. So, armed with this knowledge, Mary Brown would be wise to protest against abortion in a Pittsburgh neighborhood that doesn’t have such clinics.


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