Should pro-lifers be kicked off public sidewalks?

Dec 27, 2018 | 0 comments

The Independence Law Center, a Pennsylvania-based legal organization offering free legal services to advance civil rights, recently filed a friend of the court brief in support of three sidewalk counselors and their case against the City of Harrisburg for creating unconstitutional buffer zones on public sidewalks outside of abortion clinics.

Colleen Reilly, Becky Biter and Rosalie Gross have regularly engaged in peaceful sidewalk counseling on the public sidewalk outside of two abortion clinics in Harrisburg, PA (and one clinic – Hillcrest – has since been shut down!).

City officials passed an ordinance that created an unconstitutional buffer zone 20 feet away from abortion clinic entrances, exits or driveways, which include public sidewalks and public property. In practice, this means that for the Harrisburg Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, this ordinance pushes sidewalk counselors sometimes between 50-70 feet away.

Since the passage of this city ordinance, these three women have been harassed and intimidated by Planned Parenthood staff. These women have since filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Harrisburg and this unconstitutional ordinance.

Here’s part of the brief filed by the Independence Law Center:

What motivates an ordinary citizen to voluntarily set out, day after day, week after week, rain or shine, to quietly talk with passers-by entering an abortion clinic? She receives no pay for this work. She acts out of an earnest desire to do good, a desire deeply rooted in moral conviction and sometimes personal experience. As Justice Scalia succinctly put it:

“For those who share an abiding moral or religious conviction (or, for that matter, simply a biological appreciation) that abortion is the taking of a human life, there is no option but to persuade women, one by one, not to make that choice. And as a general matter, the most effective place, if not the only place, where that persuasion can occur, is outside the entrances to abortion facilities.”

Whatever the motivation, the Appellants share the same underlying goal with thousands of other ordinary citizens across the nation: to save women from the pain, regret and remorse that come with abortion, and to save nascent, innocent human life from destruction.

Click here to read the Independence Law Center’s full brief.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned similar buffer zones in McCullen v. Coakley, the unanimous decision which establishes a strong precedent in favor of this lawsuit. This Harrisburg case is currently on appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Independence Law Center filed their friend of the court brief on December 19, 2018 with co-counsel Life Legal Defense Foundation.

Please keep this case in your prayers. Pray for the removal of barriers like these unconstitutional buffer zones so that more women can be informed and encouraged with life-affirming support and that more lives will be saved as a result.

Tom Shaheen, Vice President for Policy, on the sidewalk outside of the Harrisburg Planned Parenthood. The city of Harrisburg passed unconstitutional buffer zones on public sidewalks outside of abortion clinics, making sidewalk counselors stand as far as 70 feet away from entrances despite it covering public sidewalks and property.

This is one example of how you help people by partnering with the Pennsylvania Family Institute. Right now, we have an opportunity to head into 2019 even stronger with a generous partner presenting us with a $50,000 challenge gift. We’re getting close to meeting this challenge and I hope you will consider giving generously to our work. To donate, go to