Court Rules That Anti-Choice 'Sidewalk Counselors' Can Annoy Anyone Trying To Get An Abortion In Pittsburgh

Court Rules That Anti-Choice 'Sidewalk Counselors' Can Annoy Anyone Trying To Get An Abortion In Pittsburgh

If there is a more enraging term in the English language than "sidewalk counseling," I cannot think of it. Just reading it makes my blood boil, and not just because the practice itself entails rudely walking up to people trying to get an abortion and annoying them with anti-choice bullshit, though that is appalling. It's also the unbelievably smug and delusional-sounding term in and of itself. It takes a whole lot of gall to call what they do "counseling." Last time I checked, counseling an adult person who does not wish for you to counsel them usually involves a court order of some kind, and it does not occur on a sidewalk. Surely, if anyone walking into an abortion clinic wanted to be "counseled" by some anti-choice freak of nature, they would go and do that instead of walking into an abortion clinic.

Thus, I thought it was pretty darned awesome when the city of Pittsburgh enacted a law requiring forced birth enthusiasts to stay 15 feet away from abortion clinics during their protests.

And on Friday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that law, which was great, but with an exception, which was very, very bad. While protestors must stay 15 feet away from abortion clinics, the court found that this cannot apply to so-called "sidewalk counselors," and that not allowing them to annoy people trying to get a common medical procedure would violate their First Amendment rights.

Please, join me in my internal screaming, via WITF:

"This is a really good ruling for speech, and especially for my clients who want to engage in one on one conversation with women in front of abortion clinics," said Kevin Theriot, the senior counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented abortion protesters. "The court made clear that they can do that."

Oh they "want to engage in one on one conversation with women in front of abortion clinics," do they? Do they think that women are going to these abortion clinics for the sheer pleasure of talking to them? I think not!

All of that aside, this shouldn't be a free speech issue, it should be a safety concern. The anti-choice movement has a well-documented history of murdering people to promote their cause, and as such, they are a danger and a threat to any person walking into an abortion clinic. And even if they are not trying to murder anybody, they are still making it difficult for people to enter these buildings and obtain medical care peacefully.

Thankfully, at least someone on the appeals court, Judge Cheryl Ann Krause, recognizes this and notes that it may be resolved in a future case:

There may yet be more controversy ahead. The Supreme Court has another case on the docket, Price v. City of Chicago, which looks at protest zones. And Krause wrote that "the City may have a legitimate concern about access to health care facilities if it transpires that multiple one-on-one conversations impair access to the facilities." In that case, she wrote, "the City may then have occasion to revisit the terms of the Ordinance."

But let's continue our internal screaming, shall we! Really give our diaphragms a workout.

Nikki Bruni, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, said she was "encouraged" by the ruling. She serves as the campaign director of 40 Days for Life Pittsburgh and said the court decision could "help to end the discrimination against people who are … trying to offer help to women and men who think that they have to get abortions."

DISCRIMINATION? DISCRIMINATION? I'm sorry, but I am pretty sure that "people who annoy other people outside of abortion clinics" are not a protected class of any kind. I am also pretty sure that the only people offering the kind of help those people are actually looking for are inside the building.

"Judge [Thomas] Hardiman was saying, you have to be very, very careful about how you enforce this ordinance," Theirot said. If, for example, the city treated sidewalk counselors any differently than it did the clinic escorts who accompany people into the clinic, "That would be problematic."

There's a very important difference here, and that is that the clinic escorts are welcome. They are there for those going into the clinic, for the purpose of protecting them from the creeps who want to annoy them about having an abortion. They are providing a much wanted and needed service. A service they would not even have to perform if these people would just mind their own damn business.

Still. The fact that the buffer zone law was upheld is a victory, and an important one, especially considering how hard anti-choicers have been fighting against them.

Anyway! Sorry for all the screaming I just made you do! This is now your open thread!


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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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