The city council of Jackson, Mississippi voted 3-1 to enact 15-foot “buffer zones” around all medical facilities, including abortion facilities, where police will also be required to enforce restrictions on noise, such as “shouting.”
Although the buffer zones are supposedly intended to apply to any health facility in the area, there is broad consensus that the law is actually aimed at pro-lifers protesting outside the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the state’s only abortion facility. Supporters of the law claim it gives women “personal space,” but opponents point out that such buffer zones are an unconstitutional violation of free speech on a public sidewalk, and that it would hinder pro-lifers from peaceably praying with and for women entering the clinic.
The ordinance passed after a heated debate, where supporters — including Commissioner of Agriculture Andy Gibson, who posted about the ordinance’s passing — as well as opponents came out to voice their opinions about the intended ordinance.
It’s a very sad day that a majority of the Jackson City Council has voted to restrict the free speech of peaceful sidewalk counselors near the State’s only abortion clinic. I appreciate those who opposed this unnecessary ordinance.
— Commissioner Andy Gipson (@CommAndyGipson) October 1, 2019
In addition to the buffer zone and the noise restrictions, where noise is defined as “loud, boisterous or raucous shouting in any residential or quiet zone,” according to City Attorney Tim Howard, the ordinance also prevents protesters approaching within eight feet of a patient while the patient is within a 100-foot radius of the facility. Violations of the ordinance carry up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The Mississippi Center for Public Policy pointed out that while the noise regulation is aimed at pro-life protesters, “the noise is often escalated by the abortion center who will turn up music while sidewalk participants attempt to speak with those around the abortion center and that the regulation curtails their free speech rights.”
“The free speech rights of those trying to sell abortions remain in effect,” SFLA President Kristan Hawkins said, according to WLBT. “Crushing the free speech rights of those who care about both mother and preborn child is clearly unconstitutional, and frankly unfair, as abortion supporters are allowed to push their deadly agenda.”
This is not the first time the city has tried to interfere with pro-life protesters. As Live Action News has previously reported, in 2014, the state of Mississippi agreed to stop interfering with the rights of pro-lifers to protest. That decree expired after one year.
A 2014 Supreme Court case, McCullen v. Coakley, unanimously ruled the practice of “buffer zones,” around abortion facilities or elsewhere, is unconstitutional.
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