By Joanna Puddister King
JACKSON – Pro-life supporters will now have barriers to their First Amendment rights to support women considering abortion at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. The Jackson City Council passed an ordinance on Tuesday, Oct. 1 preventing people from congregating, picketing or demonstrating within 15 feet of any entrance of a health care facility.
The ordinance also created a “buffer zone” prohibiting persons from approaching women with any sort of leaflet or speaking to her about saving the life of the unborn within a radius of 100 feet from the abortion clinic’s entrance.
On both Sept. 26 and Oct. 1, to a packed chamber, with standing room only in the hallway outside, Jackson city council members listened to those in favor and those against the ordinance. The ordinance passed with a vote of 3 to 1. The sole voting for the life of the unborn was Councilman Ashby Foote of Ward 1.
The ordinance states that the city council “recognizes that the exercise of a person’s right to protest or counsel against certain medical procedures is a First Amendment activity that must be balanced against another person’s right to obtain medical counseling and treatment in an unobstructed manner and that is free from increased health risks such as those associated with shouting or other amplified sound. The Jackson Police Department has been consistently called upon to mediate the disputes between medical providers, those seeking medical counseling and treatment, and those who would counsel against their actions. …”
The ordinance continued that, “It is the intent of this article to establish guidelines that will ensure that patients have unimpeded access to medical services that may be conducted in a calm environment while ensuring that the First Amendment rights of those seeking to communicate their message are not impaired.”
At the council meetings, business owners in the Fondren neighborhood in Jackson where the clinic is located reported that the atmosphere around the abortion clinic is “bad for business.” The position that resonated with council members when they voted for the “buffer zone” ordinance.
Lisa Duran, president of Pro-Life Mississippi, is concerned about the limitation “to exercise free speech [and] the right to share the Gospel on the streets of Jackson around ‘healthcare facilities.’”
Duran says that “all citizens should be concerned because now a Pandora’s Box has been opened.”
“The city council used the term ‘health care facility’ in the ordinance but the only facility mentioned in the city council meeting was the abortion facility … When did the killing of pre-born boys [and] girls become ‘healthcare’?”
Pro-Life Mississippi pledged to continue to be on the sidewalk near the facility to pray and share other options with expectant mothers. The organization invites all to respect life and join the group for their annual Walk for Life event on Oct. 19, where supporters march from St. Richard Jackson to the abortion facility and back. For more information visit www.prolifemississippi.org.