Chicago City Council backs abortion-clinic buffer zone

Friday, October 9, 2009

CHICAGO — By a 27-to-11 vote, the Chicago City Council approved a measure to create special buffer zones around abortion clinics to keep protesters away.

Other cities have enacted measures similar to the one voted on Oct. 7 in Chicago. The laws were prompted by the fatal shootings at Boston-area abortion clinics 15 years ago.

Planned Parenthood of Illinois praised the vote and said there had been a recent increase in protests at their clinics.

The Illinois ACLU opposed the ordinance and abortion foes protested the Chicago vote, but courts have generally ruled in favor of such laws.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling upholding a Massachusetts buffer zone. And in 2000, the high court denied a First Amendment claim against a similar measure in Hill v. Colorado.

The Chicago measure would prohibit protesters from approaching within eight feet of a patient who is within 50 feet of a “health care facility.” Violators would be subject to fines of up to $500.

“This sort of peaceful and lawful conduct on public sidewalks in front of abortion clinics is protected by the First Amendment,” said Peter Breen, executive director & legal counsel of the Thomas More Society. Breen testified in opposition to the measure before the Chicago City Council's Committee on Human Relations.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Breen's organization, which litigates on anti-abortion issues, would sue the city unless Mayor Richard Daley vetoes the ordinance. There was no word on whether or when Daley might act on the measure.

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