LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to block abortion foes from impeding access to Kentucky’s only abortion clinic in a pre-emptive move ahead of vigils against the facility.
The motion filed by U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr. asks that demonstrators be kept out of a “buffer zone” outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville. Kuhn cited a federal law guaranteeing access to clinic entrances in submitting his motion late Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
The request for a court order comes as the clinic braces for surging protests.
Operation Save America, a Texas-based Christian fundamentalist group, is planning a weeklong vigil starting this weekend as abortion foes target the state’s last abortion clinic.
Without court intervention, the court motion said, it’s “reasonably likely” that demonstrators will violate the law protecting access to clinics.
Abortion-rights supporters on Wednesday hailed the request for judicial intervention.
“Blocking the doors of an abortion clinic is against the law,” said Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “No one should be prevented from a medical appointment by an egregious blockade of their health care provider.”
A leader of the group planning the vigils said the action was an overreaction.
“We’re not going to allow the federal government that has unleashed this hell upon us to dictate our beliefs or our actions,” Rusty Thomas said. “We don’t fear them. We fear God. It’s not going to change one iota on the vision and mission and message that we’re bringing to Louisville.”
Thomas said his group had already told local police there were no plans to try to block the clinic as part of the upcoming vigil. Demonstrators will be on public sidewalks, he said.
“We have no plans of getting arrested this coming week,” said Joseph Spurgeon, an Indiana pastor and a local leader of Operation Save America.
The motion was aimed specifically at Thomas and several other anti-abortion activists who were arrested at a May demonstration outside the Louisville clinic.
The demonstrators sat down in rows with their backs against the clinic’s door, refusing to move while behind a white line delineating EMW’s private property, the court filing said. Police estimated another 40 demonstrators rushed the clinic entrance and surrounded the activists blocking EMW’s doors, the filing said. Patients were unable to enter the clinic.
The motion is aimed at preventing a repeat of such tactics. It asks that the court order apply to the activists accused of blocking the clinic doors in May, as well as “any others acting in concert or participation” with them.
It seeks a court order preventing them from physically obstructing any clinic patient or accessing the “buffer zone” outside EMW’s entrance.
Spurgeon said the request infringes on free-speech rights of demonstrators.
Kuhn’s motion comes as Louisville’s Metro Council has discussed whether to create a buffer zone at the clinic.
Thomas’ group is targeting the Louisville clinic with the goal of making Kentucky a national model in its push to end abortion. The group urges state officials to ignore the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that legalized abortion nationally.
Its activists plan to demonstrate outside the clinic and elsewhere downtown — and in the neighborhoods where the clinic’s doctors live, organizers said.