A pro-life challenge to a buffer zone ordinance passed by the City of Jackson, Mississippi, has had some recent success in court. The buffer zone ordinance, enacted in October, requires police to enforce noise restrictions and to limit the activities of protesters within 15 feet of the entrance to a medical facility. Although supposedly aimed at any medical facility, the ordinance came at the behest of the state’s only abortion facility, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and is largely understood to target pro-life activities and organizations such as Sidewalk Advocates for Life. Violations of the ordinance could result in up to 90 days in jail or fines of up to $1,000.
The Mississippi Justice Institute filed a free speech lawsuit on behalf of the Sidewalk Advocates for Life last fall, complaining, in part, that the ordinance runs contrary to Mississippi’s constitution. Despite this, the city attempted to move the lawsuit to federal court, with city attorney Timothy Howard calling it “the appropriate venue for this matter.” Last Wednesday, however, a federal judge ruled against the city’s move, stating that the issue was local rather than federal, and ordered the City to pay attorney fees.
Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, Aaron Rice, hailed the move. “Jackson’s argument completely disregarded the principles of federalism upon which our country was founded, denigrated the competence of state courts to hear state law claims, and was dismissive of the authority of state courts to interpret their own state’s constitution,” he said, according to WLBT. “Fortunately, the federal court understood that, and ensured that state courts will have this important opportunity to interpret the Mississippi Constitution’s free speech protections.”
Sidewalk Advocates for Life also celebrated the move. In October, the organization told Catholic News Agency that 7,000 women nationwide have sought life-affirming alternatives, and that the ordinance would severely hinder the group’s ability to approach women seeking abortions to present them with alternatives.
“Women regularly accept our offer to help in the midst of an unexpected pregnancy,” Pam Miller, co-leader of the organization, said to the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. “In fact, in partnership with other peaceful community members, more women than ever have opted to take advantage of the free, alternative resources the Jackson community provides. We are committed to connecting women with the loving, life-affirming assistance they deserve, and we will continue to serve the women of Mississippi in a peaceful and law-abiding way.”
Lawmakers in Mississippi have also introduced House Bill 628 in an attempt to prohibit buffer zone-type laws “without prior legislative authorization.”
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