'Censorship zone' obstructs free speech outside Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood

by Kelly Ledbetter, |
The sidewalk of the Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood has a line marking the 15-foot 'censorship zone' where protesters cannot enter. | Google Maps Street View / SCREEN SHOT

PITTSBURGH (Christian Examiner) – Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Matt Bowman presented oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit on Friday, Nov. 6 in order to assert Pittsburgh was violating the free speech rights of his clients and the city's citizens.

"The government cannot muzzle speech just because it doesn't reflect the views of abortionists or pro-abortion politicians and bureaucrats," said Bowman on the ADF website.

At issue in the case is an ordinance designating a 15-foot zone around the entrance of the local Planned Parenthood where the city does not permit protestors to enter.

The five plaintiffs in the district case, Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh, wanted to counsel women and provide literature about other options besides abortion. "Plaintiffs regularly engage in peaceful prayer, leafleting, sidewalk counseling, prolife advocacy, and other peaceful expressive activities outside of the Planned Parenthood abortion facility, located at 933 Liberty Avenue," said the original complaint.

Nikki Bruni, one of the plaintiffs, is a leader in her local 40 Days for Life campaign, which involves peaceful protest and prayer vigils around centers for abortion.

In 2013, Bruni painted a mural of Jesus out of 2,470 squares, the number of babies who died from abortion in Harrisburg, Penn.; the final product was made out of 2,484 squares—14 more to represent the babies whose lives were saved in the campaign.

The city's ordinance does not allow anyone to "knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 15 feet from any entrance to the hospital or health care facility." One of the ADF attorneys' objections is the excessively broad definition of "health care facility."

Marie Gallagher of Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation supports the lawsuit to end the city ordinance. "It's not only infringing on the rights of individuals trying to give helpful information to women contemplating abortions, but also on the rights of those women to obtain that information," she told OneNewsNow when the lawsuit was first filed. "We would like to see that buffer zone eliminated."

Bowman's main argument rests on ADF's recent success arguing McCullen v. Coakley before the U.S. Supreme Court, in which a similar ordinance was struck down because it obstructed free speech.

"The Supreme Court made that clear when it affirmed the long-recognized fact that public streets and sidewalks are places where free speech is highly protected," Bowman stated. "These kinds of censorship zones are clearly unconstitutional, and the city should rescind this bad law."