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You Can Speak Freely on Public Sidewalks… Unless You Live in Pittsburgh, Apparently

Free speech is protected on public sidewalks.

That is, unless you live in Pittsburgh – where there are hundreds of zones around the city where censorship is authorized.

In 2005, the city passed an ordinance that allows government officials to ban leafleting and other free speech around the facilities of abortionists, eye doctors, dentists, and any “therapeutic,” “healing,” or “health-building” treatment providers.

While it may seem odd for such an ordinance to lump each of those different facilities together, it’s quite clear what’s going on here. The law targets pro-life counselors who stand on public sidewalks outside of abortion facilities to talk to the women going inside, offer them pregnancy resources, and pray with them.

How do we know? Because the city applies the ordinance to prohibit pro-life speech, but allows abortion facility employees to speak in the zone. 

This is a major constitutional violation, not to mention that this ordinance contradicts Supreme Court precedent. (And don’t even get me started on the irony of lumping abortion providers in with “healing” treatment providers.)

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of pro-life advocates in Pittsburgh in 2014. And now, ADF attorneys will argue before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on February 6.

The good news is that the Third Circuit has ruled in our favor once before. In 2016, the Third Circuit ruled that Pittsburgh’s ordinance “imposes the same kind of burden on speech” as the one the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down in 2014 in the case McCullen v. Coakley.

In that case, ADF represented sidewalk counselor Eleanor McCullen against a Massachusetts “buffer zone” law that required pro-life counselors to keep at least 35 feet away from building entrances, exits, and driveways.

The Massachusetts law impacted the way sidewalk counselors interacted with mothers, fathers, and others entering and exiting the centers. Instead of approaching them with kindness and compassion, Eleanor and the other counselors were forced to shout to get their attention, giving off the impression they were there to condemn, not help, the women and men and their unborn babies.

After this important win, however, cities across the country started repealing their unconstitutional buffer zone laws, restoring free speech.

But not Pittsburgh.

Instead, the government there continues to censor peaceful sidewalk counselors who simply want to provide help and hope to the men and women visiting local abortion facilities. And the district court has repeatedly refused to strike down this unconstitutional law.

Please pray that the Third Circuit will once again set this straight and restore free speech to the sidewalks of Pittsburgh.

Sarah Kramer

Digital Content Specialist

Sarah worked as an investigative reporter before joining the Alliance Defending Freedom team.

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