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Englewood Abortion Protest Curbs Violate Free Speech, Court Rules

Anti-abortion protester

An ordinance designed to deter “sidewalk counseling” of women entering an Englewood abortion clinic violates the First Amendment, a New Jersey federal judge has ruled.

Tuesday’s decision by U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton in Turco v. City of Englewood follows a 2014 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in McCullen v. Coakley, striking down a similar law in Massachusetts. Wigenton said Englewood’s law, like the one in Massachusetts, was content-neutral but nonetheless violated the First Amendment because it was not narrowly tailored to serve a significant government interest.

Englewood’s law was enacted in response to protesters who congregate outside Metropolitan Medical Associates, an abortion clinic. Protesters have sought to engage clients of the clinic in discussions about abortion, have handed out flyers and rosaries and have occasionally engaged in shouting, pushing and blocking entrances, according to the court opinion.

The city established a buffer zone on the sidewalk around the clinic’s entrance and driveway and prohibited people from remaining in that area unless they are entering or leaving the facility, or using the sidewalk while passing through the area. The ordinance also exempts first responders, utility workers and other public employees acting in the scope of their employment.

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