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Kentucky AG to US Supreme Court: Hear anti-abortion protester’s case against buffer zones

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Kentucky AG to US Supreme Court: Hear anti-abortion protester’s case against buffer zones

Jun 06, 2024 | 3:36 pm ET
By McKenna Horsley
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Kentucky AG to US Supreme Court: Hear anti-abortion protester’s case against buffer zones
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Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman (Kentucky Lantern photo by Mathew Mueller)

Kentucky Republican Attorney General Russell Coleman is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to a New Jersey city ordinance creating a buffer-zone for protesters around health care facilities. 

The 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently backed the city’s rule in the lawsuit, Turco v. City of Englewood. Jeryl Turco is arguing that she has a right under the First Amendment to approach patients leaving abortion clinics or other facilities and give them anti-abortion literature. 

A Thursday press release from Coleman’s office said the city ordinance “prevents sidewalk counselors from holding compassionate conversations with women considering abortion.” Coleman’s office filed an amicus brief in the case backing Turco. 

“Buffer-zone laws cut off free speech, and they do it where the First Amendment is most necessary and effective,” Coleman said in the press release. “Although cities can stop obstruction on sidewalks, the First Amendment doesn’t tolerate laws based on the content of speech or that restrict more speech than necessary.”

A similar case is on hold in Kentucky, as noted in the brief. The 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2022 that a buffer-zone law in Louisville had restrictions that “likely violate the First Amendment.” The attorney general’s office said that case is ongoing and could be affected by a ruling in the New Jersey case. 

Angela Minter, president and founder of Sisters for Life, one of the groups involved in the Kentucky case, said in a statement that buffer-zone laws “are a fundamental threat to the First Amendment and stop the work that can truly save lives.” 

Kentucky’s abortion ban went into effect immediately after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. Since then, health clinics in the state are not allowed to perform abortions. There is a narrow exemption in cases where the life of the mother is at risk.