Hey all. Here is a tightened version of a blog post I did on my work as a Planned Parenthood Escort. My next post will be a follow up, but as a teaser, Ms Brown lost on her initial injunction. I sent this in one of my internship applications, so if Turnitin.com find it, feelingelephants is Jessica’s blog!
Here it is! It’s written in the form of a letter to the editor.
I would like to comment on the recent article entitled “Choice Words” (Pittsburgh City Paper, December 27th 2007) about Ms Brown’s lawsuit claiming the Pittsburgh Bubble Zone law, designed to protect patients of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania and other clinics which provide abortion services, violates her First Amendment rights to Free Speech and Exercise. While I enjoyed the article, I feel there are a number of legal points they failed to bring up. As an Escort for the targeted Planned Parenthood and an Aluma of the Carnegie Mellon’s 1st Amendment Law class, I feel I have an insight into the issues which Ms Brown brings up.
A Bubble Zone is an area where protesting is restricted by an city ordinance. At the Planned Parenthood clinic where I volunteer, the Bubble Zone has two aspects:
1. Protesters cannot stand within a 15 feet of the clinic door, as marked out by a semi-circle painted by the city. Since the clinic entrance is on an open city street this could theoretically get awkward if the protesters weren’t easy to recognize. As an Escort, I have never seen a non-protester have trouble walking through the marked semi-circle. Protesters are easy to recognize because they are carrying literature and disturbing signs.
2. There is a 100 foot area where advocates of any viewpoint must respond to requests to back up by moving back 8 feet from the person who asked. In Escort training I was taught that all kinds of language could serve to ask a protester to move away, but the most common is probably “get away from me!”.
This statute would be illegal under 1st Amendment precedent as I understand it if it banned only protesters against the clinic. However in Pittsburgh no one is allowed to remain within 8 feet of someone who has asked them to back off within the Bubble Zone. In 1st Amendment law this is called a “content-neutral” statute.
As an Escort I could, but don’t, ask protesters to move away from me. If they’re focused on me, maybe some people will get into the clinic without being hassled. Escorts never engage and never ask for attention other than by standing in front of the clinic in our Planned Parenthood jerseys but it is always nice to see people get into the clinic because the protesters weren’t paying attention. In fact on my last weekend, every single couple got in without needing our help. That Saturday we got more “good job”s, “thank you”s and even an “I love you guys!” than fingers and sermons from the random Pittsburgh residents who passed us on their way downtown.
On the First Amendment implications of the 15 foot painted semi-circle where protesters cannot go, I know from personal experience it is easy to discern the messages of the protesters standing as far away from them as possible in the 15 foot buffer zone. Though I am far from an expert, I remember no First Amendment precedent which requires privately run organizations to allow all speech inside of their facilities. In fact, the distinction between a “restricted forum” and a “public forum” seems to imply that, unless specifically designed as such, most spaces are not open to all messages and forms of discussion. Also, would the clinic be required to leave its doors open on 20 degree mornings if they were required to make sure the protesters’ speech could be heard by all?
On the 8 foot requestable personal space bubble within 100 feet of the clinic, I believe that protesters are prevented from a method of distributing their speech rather than the act of speech itself by the 8 foot personal space bubble. The method which I assume Ms Brown is wishing to engage in is commonly called Sidewalk Counseling, where a protester walks very close to a patient and pressures them in a low and sincere voice. It is this sense of private counsel which Ms Brown and her fellow protesters lose if they are asked to move back, not the ability to convey their messages.
The only other possibility is that Ms Brown is hoping to physically intimidate a patient and her partner as they try to enter the clinic. Protesters sometimes ring the 15 foot circle, forming a seemingly impassable wall of yelling people and ugly signs, though they are legally banned from forming “human chains”. However physical intimidation is an action, not speech and therefore is not automatically protected by the First Amendment or any aspect of the United States Constitution.
Anecdotal evidence is also damning to Ms Brown’s claims. In my limited time at Planned Parenthood I have never heard or seen anyone invoke the 8 foot rule. I have seen protesters squeeze between a woman and her companion to try and separate them and I have seen protesters specifically set down outside of the 100 foot Bubble Zone to display their signs. I have heard protesters orate from the full 15 feet away and I could hear them clearly. I could also hear them saying the rosary quietly.
One protester chooses to deliver his speech in the form of a 12 inch wooden crucified fetus pendant. I believe its bearer’s message may be most effective when viewed from within 8 feet; however the size of a sign (or in Ms Brown’s case the volume of speech) is the speaker’s choice, and if the speaker makes an ineffective choice, the Constitution does not required the speaker’s intended audience to step closer or listen harder.
I see no First Amendment support for Ms Brown’s claim. I absolutely believe in the protesters’ right to share their message; however I also believe that people have a right to access medical care without intimidation: this is why I Escort. Ms Brown’s First Amendment claim is erroneous because she is mistaking a manner of speech restriction for a speech restriction. The statutes is content neutral and is written in such a way as to balance the right to Privacy of the patients with the First Amendment rights of the protesters. Thankfully for the patients of Planned Parenthood, the Constitution does not compel them to listen to Ms Brown or anyone else.
“In addition, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania passed the Abortion Control Act, 18 PA.
CONS. STAT. § 3201, et seq. (1989), which provides the statutory framework governing abortion in the Commonwealth. The Act ensures that all women, especially minors, receive information about 24 the risks, consequences, and alternatives to abortion to ensure that the patients give an informed consent to the procedure. 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 3205 (1989); In Re L.D.F., 820 A.2d 714, 716 (Pa. Super. 2003). In fact, physicians are required to provide all women with access to state produced materials, which offer information on alternatives to abortion. 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 3205(2)(i); In Re L.D.F., 820 A.2d at 716. Physicians must also inform their patients about medical assistance benefits that may be available and that the father of the unborn child is “liable to assist in the support of [the] child,” even if he has offered to pay for the abortion. 18 PA. CONS. STAT. § 3205(a)(2)(ii),(iii). With this in mind, the Court recognizes that the women Brown seeks to counsel are required by law to receive mandated information about abortion and its alternatives from their physicians upon becoming a patient.” Opinion on Mary Katheryn Brown v City of Pittsburgh et all, 2:06-cv-00393-NBF