Louisville Metro Government calls for summary judgment in 'buffer zone' lawsuit

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Louisville Metro Government filed the final brief regarding its motion to dismiss a pro-life lawsuit opposing the contentious “buffer zone” ordinance on Wednesday.

The lawsuit was first filed on June 8 by KY Right to Life and Sisters for Life, a pro-life sidewalk counseling ministry, on the grounds that the ordinance infringed upon their constitutional rights of free speech and free exercise of religion. Attorneys reached a temporary agreement until July 16, when the buffer zone surrounding the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, one of two women’s health clinics providing abortions in the state, will go into effect.

This final brief, submitted by Jefferson County Attorney Michael O’Connell, follows both a memorandum opposing the city’s motion and a reply seeking injunctive relief, which was filed by the plaintiffs in Western District Court on June 28.

“The Ordinance does not violate or substantially burden any of plaintiffs’ constitutional rights,” the brief read.

“The Ordinance creates time, place and manner restrictions on speech and assembly outside of healthcare facilities to ensure the safety of patients entering and exiting such facilities and to provide enforcement officers with bright-line rules which are both significant and legitimate government interests.”

In response to the lawsuit’s allegation that the ordinance is overbroad and restricts religious, pro-life speech, the brief claims the ordinance is content-neutral — meaning it “does not attempt to regulate the content of any individual’s speech” within the buffer zone outside of the EMW.

“Any restriction of plaintiff’s speech, freedom of assembly, and free exercise of religion are minimal and justified by the government’s significant interest in the subject Ordinance,” the brief read.

Under the ordinance, healthcare facilities are not required to establish buffer zones and must request one from Public Works. According to the brief, the EMW is the only facility to request the ordinance “given the unique and long history of violence and harassment at this location.”

Addia Wuchner, executive director of KY Right to Life, stated there is a difference between sidewalk counseling ministry and protesting, which Metro Government identified as “assault, harassment, stalking and intimidation” in its reply.

“Our case is defending the right of sidewalk counselors, which is a ministry, to meet women and to present them with alternatives at a very critical moment in their life,” Wuchner said. “The buffer zone prevents that opportunity for more intimate communication.”

According to their June 28 memorandum, Sisters for Life sidewalk counselors “consider it essential to maintain a caring demeanor, a calm tone of voice, and direct eye contact.” Confrontational methods like brandishing signs, shouting, blocking access and using loudspeakers merely alienates their intended audience.

“We are hopeful Judge Jennings issues a timely and favorable ruling in favor of our clients so that they can continue their sidewalk ministry,” added Chris Wiest, the attorney representing the pro-life ministries. “Without the (preliminary) injunction, Sisters for Life and other sidewalk ministry groups face criminal prosecution for the exercise of their faith outside the EMW clinic.”

The ordinance will go into effect on July 16 unless there is a ruling on the injunction.

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