Protesters near Planned Parenthood in Pittsburgh. Source: CBS Pittsburgh.

Last week, a federal district court granted summary judgment to the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a long-running dispute over a buffer zone law applicable to protest activities outside of reproductive health facilities such as Planned Parenthood.  The court held that the city’s 15-foot buffer zone law was content neutral and narrowly tailored to a substantial governmental interest, and thus valid under the First Amendment.

Pittsburgh enacted its buffer zone law in 2005.  The initial buffer zone law initially imposed a 15-foot buffer zone around the entrance to a hospital or health care facility in which no person was permitted to congregate, patrol, picket, or demonstrate.  The buffer zone excepted public safety officers, emergency workers, employees or agents of the facility, and patients.  The law also imposed an eight-foot “personal” buffer zone around individuals.  In the eight-foot buffer zone, no person could approach an individual to provide a leaflet or to protest, where the individual was within 100 feet of a hospital or health care facility entrance.  The eight-foot personal buffer zone was struck down in the case of Brown v. City of Pittsburgh in 2009.  The 15-foot buffer zone remained in effect, but was challenged again in 2014 following the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley, in which the Court struck down a Massachusetts law imposing a 35-foot buffer zone around health care clinics.  The plaintiffs in the case are religiously-motivated protesters who engage in protest activities around a Planned Parenthood facility in Pittsburgh.  In 2016, as we reported, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the case.
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A 20-foot buffer zone at a Planned Parenthood facility in Harrisburg. Source: PennLive.com.

Last week, in a case that we reported on last summer involving protests near abortion clinics in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction back to the district court, finding that the lower court misapplied the narrow tailoring analysis.

The facts of the case, which challenges Harrisburg’s protest-free buffer zone requirement around abortion clinics, can be found on our post from last fall.  The buffer zone in question is a 20-foot zone extending from the entrance to a reproductive health care clinic in which congregating, patrolling, picketing, and demonstrating are unlawful.  Following the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs appealed that ruling to the Third Circuit. 
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Earlier this month, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held that a group of abortion protesters did not have standing to challenge a New Hampshire buffer zone law.  The First Circuit’s decision affirmed a decision by the federal district court, which we reported on last summer.

The law in question prohibited protesters from entering

The City of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania enacted a “buffer zone” ordinance that disallows an individual to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway of a health care facility.”  A group of plaintiffs, protesters and sidewalk counselors near abortion clinics, challenged

As organizers here in Denver make final preparations for PrideFest this weekend, we report on a case stemming from a similar event scheduled in Syracuse, New York.

A plaintiff who had been prevented from protesting Pride Week in Syracuse in both 2014 and 2015 filed a motion in federal court seeking a preliminary injunction to enjoin the city from restricting the plaintiff’s ability to demonstrate at the upcoming Pride Week festival.  In 2014 and 2015, the plaintiff positioned himself on the sidewalk immediately adjacent to the festival’s entrance with a banner and a voice amplifier, and attempted to “explain[] [his] beliefs to those nearby.”  However, each year, city police officers approached the plaintiff and asked him to move across the street from the festival entrance.  According to video footage taken by the plaintiff, the police officer who approached the plaintiff in 2014 justified his request by stating that the festival organizers’ permit entitled them to exclusive use of the sidewalk area immediately adjacent to the festival entrance.  The police officer who approached the plaintiff in 2015 explained that the festival organizers were entitled to a 40-foot buffer on the area surrounding the festival entrance.
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This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer law clerk Alex Gano.  Alex is a rising third-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School.

On June 1, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated a lower federal court’s dismissal of a First Amendment challenge to a City of Pittsburgh ordinance that created a fifteen-foot “buffer zone” around entrances to abortion clinics. The lower court dismissed the challenge filed by five self-described “sidewalk counselors” based on a 2009 opinion by the Third Circuit that upheld the same ordinance. Writing for the Court, Judge Kent Jordan interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision in McCullen v. Coakley to compel a more vigorous “narrow-tailoring” analysis to burdens on speech. Judge Jordan’s opinion also implies that McCullen will have the effect of prolonging litigation over buffer zone ordinances, which have become a cutting edge of First Amendment jurisprudence in recent years.
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Abortion protesters outside of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Portland, Maine. Source: Bangor Daily News.

This post was authored by Otten Johnson summer law clerk Alex Gano.  Alex is a rising third-year law student at the University of Colorado Law School.

On May 23, a federal judge in Maine issued a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a portion of that State’s Civil Rights Act that prohibited “making noise” with the intention of either “jeopardize[ing] the health of persons receiving health services” or “interfer[ing] with the safe and effective delivery” of health services. The ruling in March v. Mills—together with another opinion issued by a federal appellate court in Pennsylvania nine days later—mark the latest chapter in a twenty-year jurisprudential saga on the constitutionality of speech restrictions around abortion clinics.
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Protesters outside a New Hampshire reproductive health clinic. Source: watchdog.org.

Last week, a federal district court judge in New Hampshire ruled that a group of protesters lacked standing to challenge a state law prohibiting them from entering within a 25-foot radius of the entrance to an abortion clinic. The law, which was similar to a Massachusetts law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2014, stated that “[n]o person shall knowingly enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility within a radius up to 25 feet of any portion of an entrance, exit, or driveway of a reproductive health care facility.”  The law also required clinics to “clearly demarcate” the buffer zone.
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