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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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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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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