The Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), a national public interest law firm, based in Ann Arbor, MI, filed a federal lawsuit yesterday challenging Portland, Maine’s Ordinance 17-108, which creates a 39-foot “buffer zone” around Portland’s one abortion clinic, Portland Health Center which is run by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Portland attorney, Stephen C. Whiting, is local co-counsel in the case.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Daniel and Marguerite Fitzgerald and two of their high-school aged children. They are Evangelical Christians who have been praying, counseling and offering pregnancy resource literature outside of the abortion facility for over a year prior to the enactment of the ordinance. Their counseling activities are motivated by their religious beliefs that abortion is the deliberate destruction of innocent human life. Close proximity to the abortion clinic is important to the Fitzgerald’s as it permits them to speak to those thinking about an abortion in a normal conversational tone and offer them alternatives including adoption, and financial and emotional support.
The lawsuit claims that the city ordinance was enacted to prevent pro-life speech near abortion clinics. The ordinance was enacted as an “emergency measure” by Portland’s City Council on November 18, 2013.
Portland Health Center is located in an urban area on a busy street. The prohibited zone created by the ordinance forces the Fitzgerald family and other pro-life individuals to engage people entering the abortion clinic from either the end of the street or across the street, effectively prohibiting their ability to conduct their outreach. The city ordinance specifically prohibits counseling or protesting of any sort, with the exemption of clinic escorts, within the buffer zone. Violations of the ordinance are punishable by a minimum $100 fine.
Erin Mersino, a TMLC attorney handling the case stated,
“The Fitzgerald family peacefully informs women entering the clinic of their options, including their choice not to abort their child. This ordinance makes it impossible for women considering abortion to hear what other options and support they have and forces people, like the Fitzgerald family, to stand on the opposite side of the street from these women, beyond ear shot. The ordinance not only prohibits the Fitzgeralds’ peaceful sidewalk counseling, but it also has the un-American effect of banning those with the same viewpoint as the Fitzgeralds from a large stretch of the public sidewalk.”