HARRISBURG, PA – Liberty Counsel filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Harrisburg because its ordinance created unconstitutional buffer zones on public sidewalks and public property 20 feet away from abortion clinic entrances, exits, and driveways. In practice, this ordinance pushes sidewalk counselors sometimes 50, to more than 70, feet away and completely silences their freedom of speech. The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned similar buffer zones in McCullen v. Coakley, the unanimous decision which establishes a strong precedent in favor of this lawsuit.
Liberty Counsel represents Becky Biter, Rosalie Gross, and Colleen Reilly, who have regularly engaged in peaceful sidewalk counseling on the public sidewalks outside the Planned Parenthood clinic and the Hillcrest abortion facility. Since the passage of the ordinance, they have been harassed and intimidated by clinic staff and the local police.
The Harrisburg City Council did not list any specific incidents that led to the passage of the ordinance. While pretending to be neutral, this ordinance discriminates based on the speaker’s viewpoint. It allows pro-abortion clinic employees and agents to speak within the buffer zones but bans all pro-life speech. In addition, the city did not first seek any solutions that would cause less than complete censorship of the free speech of pro-life sidewalk counselors.
Liberty Counsel’s suit states that “the Ordinance has completely abolished free speech in traditional public fora used for the expression of ideas, debate, and protest—specifically, public sidewalks and streets adjacent to health care facilities, including abortion clinics, throughout the City of Harrisburg.”
“This city’s blatant discrimination against the pro-life point of view is unconstitutional. The city cannot prohibit one viewpoint on the subject matter of abortion. Sidewalks and parks have always been viewed as a place where we respect the marketplace of ideas. It is a dangerous position for a city to prohibit one viewpoint,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel.
Liberty Counsel is an international nonprofit, litigation, education, and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family since 1989, by providing pro bono assistance and representation on these and related topics.