In a setback for Florida anti-choice protesters, a federal judge on Tuesday refused to stop the city of West Palm Beach from enforcing a law mandating a “quiet zone” around an abortion clinic in the city until the issue comes to trial in February.
U.S. District Judge Donald Middlebrooks upheld an ordinance, passed in 2005, that restricts shouting, bullhorns, and other sound amplification devices within 100 feet of all health-care facilities. Middlebrooks’ ruling denied the request of anti-choice protesters for a preliminary injunction that would keep the law from being enforced until a full trial.
“I think that [anti-choice protesters] are not substantially likely to prevail on the merits of their First Amendment challenge,” Middlebrooks said.
The 2005 ordinance was passed shortly after Presidential Women’s Center, the city’s only abortion clinic, closed temporarily due to suspected arson. The ordinance also originally mandated a 20-foot “buffer zone” prohibiting protests near clinics, but Middlebrooks struck that down in 2006 on free speech grounds.
In this case, Middlebrooks said, the First Amendment freedoms of anti-choice protesters are not limited, because the law doesn’t target them specifically; furthermore, they can still hold signs, talk at a normal volume, and distribute literature outside clinics.
This ruling comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to rule on whether abortion clinic buffer zones in Massachusetts are constitutional, which could affect similar legislation in cities like San Francisco and Portland, Maine.
The ordinance applies to all health-care clinics, but in practice it mostly affects Presidential Women’s Center, which is heavily targeted by anti-choice protesters.
Louis Silber, attorney for the women’s center, told RH Reality Check that he was pleased with the ruling, and congratulated the City of West Palm Beach and its attorneys for “protecting all patients who seek medical care at health-care facilities, including women who seek care at Presidential Women’s Center.”