Community Health

Louisville’s federal prosecutor is asking a judge to implement a buffer zone around the city’s only abortion provider before a planned week of intense anti-abortion protests. Meanwhile, another proposed buffer measure before the Louisville Metro Council was discussed at a Public Safety Committee meeting, though no action was taken.

The moves come before a planned week-long gathering by Operation Save America, a Texas-based Christian Fundamentalist group. The group will be in Louisville July 22-29, and is planning daily protests at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center. The clinic is the only remaining abortion provider in Kentucky.

The federal motion was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, and was assigned to Judge David Hale. It asks for a temporary restraining order under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. If the judge grants the motion, it would mean any violation of the buffer zone would carry with it stricter federal penalties.

A similar measure has been informally discussed in Louisville’s Metro Council, though no official ordinance has been proposed. At a committee meeting Wednesday, members were told the Louisville Metro Police Department is not planning on using extra police or barriers outside the clinic.

Police Planning For Protests

LMPD Major Eric Johnston said his team has been in close talks with Operation Save America, and that they do not anticipate needing extra backup or a physical barrier between protesters and people entering the clinic.

“They’ve indicated it is not their intention to come here and get arrested, so we take them at their word at this point that this is not what they will do,” Johnson said. “I fully expect them to come and obey the law and to protest, as we’ve asked them to do so.”

Acts that would prompt arrest include making threats, vandalism, blocking access to the clinic, making accessing the clinic dangerous or stalking clinic employees.

“They [OSA] have been very forthcoming about their intentions while they’re here, about where they will be and when they will be there. They’ve gone so far as to invite us to be in attendance at all their events in every case,” Johnson said. “So as people protest, they’re certainly allowed to do so on the sidewalk they cannot block the pathway for people to freely move throughout the sidewalk.”

Johnson said last week, someone kicked in the door of the clinic and broke glass. But he said that has been the only incident since 10 people from Operation Save America were arrested in May for blocking the entrance of the clinic.

Buffer Zones

Metro Councilman James Peden said the buffer zone if legislation is introduced to create a buffer zone, “I will fight it.”

Buffer zones have been put in place in several cities, including Chicago, Portland and San Francisco. These zones are usually an 8 to 15-foot zone that protesters are barred from entering. Chicago and Oakland, and the state of Colorado have enacted “bubble zones” around abortion clinics, barring protesters from several feet around a clinic patient, provider or escort.

Before the hearing, Operation Save America leaders held a press conference outside City Hall.  Angela Mitchell, the head of African American pro-life organization Sisters For Life spoke about the sidewalk counselors who hand out pamphlets and try to keep women from entering the clinic.

“It is imperative that a buffer zone not be put in place at the EMW, because if it were, it would hinder our ability to approach women like myself that have had an abortion – it would hinder us from being able to tell them, you have another choice,” Mitchell said.

Abortion rights supporters and opponents also filled the Metro Council meeting room and spoke during the committee meeting.

Patricia Canon volunteers with the Kentucky Health Justice Network, a nonprofit that helps women pay for abortions and transportation to clinics. She said in the past year, there were 110 incidents reported to the clinic of anti-abortion protesters blocking and harassing people entering the clinic, as well as threatening emails sent to EMW Clinic staff.

“We don’t want to encroach on anybody’s freedom of speech, we don’t want to prevent anyone from having conversations with anyone they chose to, but we’d like for them to have a space to move away if they chose to,” Canon said. “It’s not anyone’s choice except the woman that is pregnant, whether or not they want to be pregnant or whether they want to talk to a counselor.”

Operation Save America plans to begin its week of protests on Saturday.