Proposed Buffer Zone Ordinance Restricts Free Speech, Says ACLU
COLUMBUS—The ACLU of Ohio sent a letter today to Columbus City Attorney Richard Pfeiffer expressing concern over a proposed city ordinance to create buffer zones around facilities that provide reproductive health services. These would prohibit demonstrators from coming within a certain distance of clinics and other health care facilities, which the ACLU contends places undue burden on free speech.
“As an organization that has always defended access to reproductive health care, we maintain that women must have control over their private medical decisions,” said Christine Link, executive director for the ACLU of Ohio. “We also have a duty to protect the fundamental rights of people to express their beliefs in public spaces. While the intentions behind buffer zones are to protect those women who are demonized for their personal medical decisions, in practice they present an unacceptable barrier to free speech.”
In the letter, the ACLU notes that existing laws already make it illegal to harass or threaten another person, regardless of the intention behind those actions. The ACLU also questions vague language in the proposed ordinance which could have broad implications for criminalizing speech.
“Buffer zones provide no protections to women that are not already in place under existing law,” Link said. “However they do create a scenario where the government steps in to determine what type of speech is acceptable for people to say and hear.”
The ACLU advocates for enforcement of existing laws to protect access to reproductive health facilities, which can be applied without adding restrictions to speech.
“Women deserve to be free from illegal harassment when making personal health care decisions, so we should enforce laws that already deal with those situations,” Link said. “Censorship never stops with a single group or idea. By closing the space for abortion opponents to speak, we also increase the likelihood of government to silence the stories of women that teach us why abortion access deserves the most rigorous defense.”