A new Madison city ordinance designed to protect patients while entering reproductive health care clinics is under scrutiny by pro-life advocates, who claim this law violates their first amendment rights.

The newly passed ordinance creates a 160-foot buffer zone around the entrance to abortion clinics. Protestors within the designated area must stand at least eight feet from individuals entering the facility unless otherwise permitted.

“This allows patients to pass freely without harassment or intimidation and with their privacy intact,” Ald. Lisa Subeck, District 1, said. “You are ensuring a level of personal space for an individual patient who may be trying to access the health center.”

City Attorney Michael May said Vigil for Life filed a lawsuit against the ordinance on the morning of Feb. 26, just one day after the bill was unanimously voted through by City Council.

A statement from Vigil for Life said the objective of the lawsuit is to terminate the ordinance and ensuring the rights of pro-life protestors to speak and act freely in public.

“No city can create a gag rule banning leafleting on miles of public sidewalks in places like campus, State Street and Capital Square, just to drive its brazen pro-abortion agenda against peaceful people who offer women compassionate choices outside of abortion facilities,” Vigil for Life director Gwen Finnegan said in the statement.

Subeck said protestors still have the right to enact their first amendment rights by displaying signs and handing out leaflets but just not within the buffer zone. She said with this ordinance the privacy rights of patients are protected as well.

May said the ordinance was based on a Colorado law. He said the law there was also challenged by a pro-life protest group but was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. This support gives the city’s defense team confidence for a similar verdict, May said.

“We think it is in accord with the status of the law regarding the balancing of first amendment rights and the right to be free from being approached when you’re getting medical care,” May said.

The City Court is still in the process of gathering information, and will have more details in the future, May said.

[Image from Flickr user Fibonacci Blue]