FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 19, 2021
Contact: Kelly Novak, [email protected]

Louisville, KY – Today, Louisville Metro Council Members filed a new safety zone ordinance to help ensure that patients and providers in Louisville can access health care safely. This law would establish a narrow safety zone to keep the public, patients and health care providers safe from escalating threats, harassment, and violence outside of Louisville health care facilities.

The proposed ordinance will provide safety zone protection to any health care facility in Louisville that requests it. Louisville’s EMW Surgical Center was Kentucky’s only abortion provider for a decade, and has long been the target of anti-abortion protestors, who clog the sidewalks and block the clinic entrance as they threaten and harass patients — resulting in assault and violence on several occasions. In 2017, extremist protestors executed the first clinic blockade in decades at the EMW Surgical Center, leading a federal judge to create a temporary safety zone that was enforced by U.S. Marshals. The frequency and intensity of protests has increased substantially in the last four years, with the clinic becoming a target of national anti-abortion groups, some of whom are affiliated with militant anti-government organizations.

The goal of the 10-foot wide safety zone is to protect the entrance to the clinic by providing a clear boundary for patients and their companions to enter and exit safely while protecting First Amendment rights. A bright line painted on the sidewalk will provide clarity for protestors, patients, and law enforcement.

Numerous leaders, advocates, and care providers support this ordinance:

  • Louisville Metro Council President David James D6 – “This very important piece of legislation will help in efforts to make sure people are safe when seeking medical care.”
  • Louisville Metro Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong D9 – “It is important that everyone be able to access health care safely. A safety zone is an extremely narrow way to make sure that patients can do that. A ten foot safety zone doesn’t stop people from exercising their First Amendment rights. It does, though, provide many public safety benefits.”
  • Ona Marshall, Owner, EMW Women’s Surgical Center – “There is a difference between peaceful protest and unlawful conduct. Many known, regular, aggressive protesters clearly violate city ordinances daily. A narrow safety zone will not restrict free speech. It will protect patients and companions from the danger and stress of physical assaults that take place regularly and provide safe access into a healthcare facility.”
  • Dr. Marjorie Fitzgerald – “I am a board certified anesthesiologist and have practiced my specialty in Louisville for over 35 years. I am in support of a safety zone.  I am concerned about the increased risk a patient faces as a result of the stress response that results from the verbal attacks and lack of social distancing that our patients endure as they enter the clinic. Many of you know how anxious you have been prior to surgery. Imagine having to face harassment prior to a consultation or surgery.  These patients arrive for care and frequently have high blood pressure and fast heart rates from the terrifying entrance to the clinic. This complicates their care.”
  • Meg Sasse Stern, Louisville Clinic Escort Volunteer – “As a clinic escort, I see and know the fear caused by the crowds in front of the clinic. People have a right to protest, but they do not have a right to interfere with access to medical care. A Safety zone is one small measure to improve safety on the sidewalk.”
  • Erin Smith, Executive Director, Kentucky Health Justice Network – “This is an issue of public safety. It is past time for there to be a Safety Zone that protects patients from intimidation and fear mongering tactics of others.”
  • Rev. Wayne A. Gnatuk, retired pastor, Presbyterian Church (USA) and Board Chair of Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice – “The safety zone is necessary because the protesters at EMW show no decency in the way they treat those coming there for medical care. As a pastor, I can not understand how they think their behavior is compatible with what a loving God expects of us. There is no excuse for people acting the way the protesters act.”
  • Tamarra Weider, Kentucky State Director, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Kentucky “Patient safety is a top priority for Planned Parenthood. No one should have to push their way through protestors to access the care they need. This common sense legislation is long overdue and we are one step closer to providing the protections necessary for patients as they enter and exit medical facilities. Permanent safety zones are common across the country and it is time the City of Louisville got on board. It should be the mission of all community leaders to increase access to care, especially during a global pandemic, and this is a step forward in that direction.”
  • Andrea Miller, President of the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH): “We at NIRH are proud to work with the Louisville Safety Zone Coalition to introduce and pass a safety zone. This ordinance is exactly the type of local solution that cities across the country have implemented — and courts have upheld — to ensure that patients are able to access the health care they need in order to live their lives with dignity, respect, and security. We salute the Louisville Metro Council Members and all the advocates and activists in Louisville who are working to make this safety zone a reality, ​and urge Council to pass this ordinance.”

If Louisville passes this ordinance, it will join the ranks of cities across the U.S. – from Pittsburgh to Boulder to Pensacola – that have passed laws creating safety zones around health care facilities, including abortion clinics. Safety zones very similar to this one have been upheld in the Supreme Court, and federal district and appellate courts have continued to uphold buffer zones that are appropriately and narrowly tailored to the local circumstances, as is the Louisville ordinance.

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The Louisville Safety Zone Coalition knows that establishing a narrow safety zone will keep the public, patients and health care providers safe by addressing escalating threats, harassment, and violence. No one in Louisville should have to risk their safety to seek health care or should feel unsafe walking down the public sidewalk. This law supports free speech, access to healthcare, and most importantly public safety.