Federal Court Refuses to Block Buffer Zone Ordinance in Madison, Wisconsin


On Friday, a federal judge rejected a request by anti-choice groups to temporarily block a new ordinance creating buffer zones at the entrances of health-care facilities in Madison, Wisconsin, leaving the ordinance in place while a legal challenge to its constitutionality moves forward.

The buffer zone ordinance, passed last week, was prompted in part by repeated protests at a Planned Parenthood health-care center in Madison. That facility is the only abortion provider in the city and one of only four in the state. The ordinance is similar to others passed recently in places like Portland, Maine, in response to targeted clinic protests. It creates a protective zone within 160 feet of any heath-care facility to allow patients and staff to enter and exit without being obstructed. In addition, under the ordinance, people on public sidewalks cannot approach another person within eight feet without their consent for the purpose of oral protest, education, “counseling,” displaying signs, or passing leaflets—even outside the 160-foot buffer zone. Violations of the ordinances are punishable by fines ranging from $300 to $750.

Jenni Dye, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin, explained the purpose of the ordinance to RH Reality Check; it was one of several policy proposals to come out of an investigation of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) the NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin Foundation completed last year. According to Dye, the investigation found that CPCs were increasingly located adjacent to abortion providers, and their presence, along with so-called sidewalk counselors who target patients for harassment outside clinics, demonstrated a need to proactively protect access to reproductive health care.

“No one attempting to access any type of health care should be greeted with physical confrontation, protesters in their face, or forcing leaflets into their hands,” said Dye. “Madison’s newly passed buffer zone will protect patient privacy and dignity while accessing health care.”

Madison Vigil for Life and several other anti-choice activists and organizations filed the lawsuit challenging the buffer zone less than a day after the Madison City Council passed the ordinance. According to the complaint, the city council had no justification in passing the ordinance, which the plaintiffs allege unconstitutionally violates their First Amendment free speech rights.

In denying the request for a temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled the plaintiffs had not yet shown they could succeed on the merits of their claims that the ordinance unconstitutionally restricted their speech rights.

Wisconsin Vigil for Life and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are also asking the court for a preliminary injunction against the ordinance, which, if successful, would set the stage for blocking the ordinance permanently. Judge Conley gave attorneys for the City of Madison 30 days to respond to that request, which means the buffer zone will stay in place for now, with the court hearing additional arguments challenging the ordinance later this spring.

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  • Mirable

    Well this is the end of free speech in America!!

    / snark

    • Shan

      It’s like deja vu all over again.

      • HeilMary1

        Or deja BOO by the fetal scaremongers.

    • Jennifer Starr

      Well, I guess old Donald Hudzinski, who protests in Madison, won’t be able to play out his ‘Prince Charming’ rescues ‘Snow White’ fantasies in front of the clinic anymore…..

      • fiona64

        As odd as this seems, I felt a teeny bit sorry for him at the time; he’s clearly not wired right.

  • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

    Good law.

    • VonRecklingHause

      Unless you like buffer zones for all protesters, then you are being very short sighted.

      How about enforcing the existing law before trampling on the first amendment?

      • fiona64

        I see you still have not answered my question: how is your right to free speech abridged if you have to shout at someone from 35 feet away instead of being able to shout directly into their face?

        • L-dan

          You’re not the only one that’s asked him that. He doesn’t answer because there isn’t one.

          • Jennifer Starr

            I think that if he actually answers that, s/he’ll be forced to betray his anti-choice leanings and end up spluttering something like “Bu-but we need to counsel women on their options and help them–we can’t possibly be expected to do that at a distance!” And so on and so forth.

          • Jennifer Starr

            I’m betting that’s why s/he made their history private. I did see one comment that they made in the past about the teens who had a dead fetus in a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag–something along the lines of “I didn’t know Planned Parenthood was giving away souvenirs.” Somehow that doesn’t sound very pro-choice to me.

          • Shan

            Oh FFS…

          • Ella Warnock

            But, Jennifer, questioning zis pro-choice cred is just PARANOID. Paranoid, I tells ya!

          • VonRecklingHause

            You’re right. It was about this article:

            newyork . cbslocal . com/2013/10/17/nypd-possible-fetus-found-in-teens-bag-inside-nyc-victorias-secret/

            And to anyone with a brain, it was obviously a joke making fun of anti-choicers.

            Get a clue.

          • Shan

            “And to anyone with a brain, it was obviously a joke making fun of anti-choicers.

            Another new term. I think this one is called gaslighting.

          • VonRecklingHause

            What’s a new term?

          • cjvg

            Of course ’cause conflagrating a desperate abortion and the illegal disposal of a dead fetus with the work of planned parenthood is something that pro-choice people do all the time!

          • Mirable

            s/h/it is a libertarian who hates Mexicans, I can tell you that much, from reading it’s history

          • Ella Warnock

            What’s its problem with Mexicans?

          • Mirable

            Some disparaging comments about ‘illegal immigrants’ is all I can recall.

          • VonRecklingHause

            Not all illegal immigrants are Mexican.

            And not all Mexicans are illegal immigrants.

            Try again.

          • Mirable

            *yawn*

          • VonRecklingHause

            My Mexican-American roommate would be very interested that I hate Mexicans.

            What should I tell him?

            (Yeah, I just did the “but my friend is _____ thing. Go ahead, make fun of me for it.)

          • fiona64

            Oh, criminy. A Randtard? That explains everything I need to know about s/h/it. “I got mine, so screw you.”

        • VonRecklingHause

          1. It’s 160 ft, not 35 ft. Not that the number really matters….

          2. And if you’re OK with applying a buffer zone to all protesters then I guess at least you’d be applying your restriction on first amendment rights fairly. Is that the case? Are you ok with applying a 160 ft buffer zone around all state employees from people who are protesting at the Wisconsin capital?

          • fiona64

            So, you took all of that time and still couldn’t bother to answer the question?

            Once again, how is your free speech abridged simply because you cannot get into someone’s face and verbally assault them?

            The remainder of your response is, well, non-responsive.

          • VonRecklingHause

            Great. I’m glad you agree that all protesters at the state Capital should not be allowed within 160 ft of any state employee.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Does protesting require close proximity to state employees? Why? People can easily be seen and heard from 160 feet. And you didn’t answer Fiona’s question.

          • VonRecklingHause

            OK, then no protesters inside the Capital building it is.

            Also, no OWS in or near the banks.

            And no picket lines near stores.

          • Shan

            Again: why would they do that?

          • VonRecklingHause

            Uh…to apply the law equally maybe.

            Or are you also OK with different laws based on the content of your message? Because that sounds like a great idea.

          • Shan

            The buffer zone is around ALL medical facilities. It’s content neutral.

          • anja

            Laws are often applied differently dependent on the situation. That’s why Woman’s Clinics need the buffer zones. It a unique situation.

          • Jennifer Starr

            What do you need to do in a store picket line that can’t be done at a distance?

          • Ella Warnock

            Intimidate, of course.

          • Jennifer Starr

            And you still didn’t answer Fiona’s question. How is an abortion protester’s right to free speech abridged because they can’t get face to face with a patient? What do they need to say or do that they can’t just as easily say or do from 35 or 160 feet away? You keep dodging this.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Not only does the first amendment not give you the right to the audience of your choice, but it also doesn’t give you the right to what you feel would be the most effective venue for your protest.

          • anja

            Completely different situation. In one case you are protesting public legislation (often biased, bigoted, or corrupt) at a public place. In the other you are threatening and harassing private people and their business.

          • VonRecklingHause

            It’s on public sidewalks and public land.

            Don’t lie.

          • anja

            Guess you can’t explain logic to a box of rocks.
            That’s exactly what I’m saying. It’s a public space that people should be free to access without fear, harassment, or threats of violence (or actual violence).
            It’s not a lie. Have you ever seen an anti-choice protest. They are nauseating and often highly threatening.

          • Melinda Hampton

            I have seen plenty of anti-choice protesters and I agree that they are nauseating.

            I just ignore them because they are idiots.

          • anja

            I usually just ignore them too but when they get in my face with their propaganda I usually just say “The laws against you, science is against you, common sense is against you, not even the bible really supports you so therefor you have no ground to stand on. May God have mercy on your poor conceited (or selfish) soul.” and walk past. Usually they’re just stunned but often start reciting irrelevant religious drivel or phoney medical statements.

          • Shan

            “all protesters at the state Capital should not be allowed within 160 ft of any state employee.”

            Why would they do that?

            No, really. Why?

          • Shan

            The buffer zone is 160ft, but that’s just the area that encompasses the rule to stay 8ft away from the individual.

          • fiona64

            So, you made a stupid straw man and still didn’t answer the question.

            Why is that?

          • anja

            You have the right to free speech NOT the right to an audience. You CANNOT force someone to hear what you have to say. That’s unconstitutional. Since the antis push way beyond what is socially acceptable free speech there NEEDS to be a buffer zone to protect the rights of the people who need the clinic’s services. The buffer zone is especially important when it’s mostly religious based protesting as that also violates peoples freedom of religion.

          • VonRecklingHause

            How are they being forced? Are they being detained?

            No? Then they’re not being forced any more than someone is forced to watch Fox News because they heard it while flipping through the TV stations.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Why do protesters need to talk to the patients in order to protest?

          • lady_black

            Protesters have no such right to talk to patients.

          • anja

            Not detained. Harassed! They have to thread their way through a mob of crazy conceited preaching loonies who want to disrupt a LEGAL business and redistrict access to a necessary and LEGAL services. It is only fair and just that those loonies be kept at a safe distance from business so they do not disrupt operations or harass clients.
            Often groups of escorts are needed to guide customers safely through these mobs. Is that fair or even nice? How would you like it if herds of chanting loonies stood outside your place of business with the intent to scare customers away? I bet you want a buffer zone!

          • VonRecklingHause

            What do you think a picket line is?

      • Jennifer Starr

        The right to speak doesn’t guarantee you the right to the audience of your choice, and it doesn’t give you the right to approach patients uninvited. And they can’t use the ‘counseling’ defense, because they are not licensed counselors, and that’s not the way that a licensed counselor would operate in the first place.

        • VonRecklingHause

          1, You don’t need to be a licensed counselor to talk to someone.

          2. Approaching someone is not against the law.

          3. Nobody is a captive audience.

          Any more points you’d like refuted?

          • Jennifer Starr

            Yes, if they need to get inside to get medical care they are a captive audience. And there is no need for the protesters to interact with the patient in order to protest the clinic.

          • Jennifer Starr

            From the article :
            In addition, under the ordinance, people on public sidewalks cannot approach another person within eight feet without their consent for the purpose of oral protest, education, “counseling,” displaying signs, or passing leaflets

            I’m sorry, but this sounds perfectly fair to me. Surely these people would only want to approach people willing to talk to them in the first place, right?

          • Ella Warnock

            But people don’t *know* that they actually do want to talk to them unless they’re harassed into it. They really DO want to be talked out of something or the other; they just don’t know it yet! Hearing that they’ll throw a few diapers and some baby toys your way will make ALL the difference, don’t you know?

            Kind of like when you don’t regret an abortion, but that of course is proof positive that you actually DO regret it and need to *heal*.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Yeah, kind of like the way they feel the need use subterfuge to get women to enter one of their fake clinics, because they know that most women wouldn’t enter voluntarily if they knew the truth.

          • Ella Warnock

            Then hem and haw and obfuscate when the jig is up and the woman wants to leave. Their message should be a slam-dunk once they actually get the woman into their facility, no?

          • anja

            It’s like anti-panhandling laws. Who complains about those? No one want’s to be accosted.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Or telemarketers. They claimed that the do not call list would ‘put them out of business’ and that they were being denied their free speech because they couldn’t call anyone who didn’t want to be called. And while they didn’t come out and say it, their big fear was that given the choice, most people wouldn’t consent to being called by them. That argument didn’t exactly fly with the courts.

          • anja

            Good one Jennifer, I had almost forgotten about the do-not-call lists and how annoying things were before them. That proves just how effective and necessary things like that are.

          • anja

            1 & 2) True but you are not talking, you are trying to block access, scare, shame, lie to and/or influence someone inorder to prevent them from doing something. You are infringing on their rights and that is in fact a form of harassment and could be called “forced counseling”.
            3) Protesting by harassing people who need to pass by or through protesters for a legitimate reason is in fact a captive audience and thus an infringement on their rights.

          • VonRecklingHause

            “You” ?

            I’m not one of them. I’ve never protested anything in my life and I certainly don’t care what women decide to do with their own bodies.

            3. That is not the definition of a “captive audience.” Are you a captive audience to billboards on the road? To commercials on TV? To a coworker that wants to talk about the Oscar awards. No. You can choose to leave. Learn the definition…then get back to me.

          • Jennifer Starr

            Billboards on the road don’t walk up to you. Neither do TV commercials.

          • VonRecklingHause

            But the coworker can. I guess you want 160 ft buffer zones on annoying coworkers?

            Actually, that might be nice. Hell, I think you’re making me reconsider this 160 ft thing.

          • Jennifer Starr

            You still haven’t explained why abortion clinic protesters would need to talk to patients in order to protest.

          • Shan

            You guess a lot.

          • Ella Warnock

            WELL WHY NOT? What about the billboard’s rights, hmmm? You just DRIVE ON BY the billboard like it’s not even there, imploring you to JUST FREAKIN LISTEN FOR JUST A SECOND! The billboard is CONCERNED about you, dammit.

      • Shan

        If all protesters acted like abortion-clinic “protesters” I expect we’d see a lot more buffer zones. Or, you know, a lot more enforcement of the existing laws.

    • goatini

      Agreed, and let’s all please ignore VonRH here. S/he’s already trolled the other buffer zone article with his/her made-up nonsense, and deserves not an iota more of the attention s/he craves.

      • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

        Agree.

        • Shan

          Well, you never know. Von might actually come up with something new and interesting. One remains hopeful.

          • Jennifer Starr

            I wish I was so hopeful, but after much discussion with her/him I got exactly nowhere, just the same responses and no acknowledgment of the points that I and other posters made. Like banging your head into a brick wall.

          • http://plumstchili.blogspot.com/ Plum Dumpling

            When pigs fly. AH has been on for days. Not one interesting comment.

    • anja

      Great law!

  • http://aikenareaprogressive.blogspot.com/ jovan1984

    Correct ruling.