The St. Louis Board of Aldermen rejected a bill that would
have created a buffer zone around health care facilities, including
Board Bill 34 failed by a vote of 9-15 on April 16, the last day of the aldermanic session.
full board previously voted 15-13 to perfect the bill, but for the
final vote, several aldermen who previously supported it changed their
votes from “yes” to “no” — including Brandon Bosley (Ward 3), Terry
Kennedy (Ward 18), Sam Moore (Ward 4) and Lisa Middlebrook (Ward 2).
previous “yes” votes also were not there for the final vote, including
Jack Coatar (Ward 7), Tammika Hubbard (Ward 5) and Joseph Roddy (Ward
The bill would have created a fixed, 8-foot buffer zone
around a health care facility’s driveway entrance, or within a public
right-of-way or sidewalk. The bill also said that no one may “knowingly
enter, remain on, or create an obstruction” in those areas.
are grateful to the Board of Aldermen for defeating Board Bill 34CS, and
choosing not to restrict the constitutionally protected rights of
assembly and free speech on public property,” said Karen Nolkemper,
executive director of the archdiocesan Respect Life Apostolate. “Our
work of prayer and presence will continue because we know that women
facing difficult or unplanned pregnancies need real options and support,
In debate on the bill April 16, sponsor Christine
Ingrassia (6th Ward) reiterated that it was crafted to balance First
Amendment rights and a woman’s right to access health care and public
“We felt that the 8-foot buffer was a smart distance so
that people would still be allowed to get across their message if they
were choosing to demonstrate, but would allow for the driveway to be
accessible,” she said.
“If the bill doesn’t pass, it does not mean
that the conversation is not important to have here at the board,” she
said. “Having a conversation and having a bill not pass out of the board
is not a failure in my mind.”
Similar buffer zone ordinances
exist in Chicago and Pittsburgh. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a
Colorado law with a 100-foot buffer zone, and within it, an 8-foot
floating buffer zone, meaning it applies to the zone around an
individual. The Supreme Court in 2014 rejected a Massachusetts law that
had a 35-foot fixed buffer zone.
Several aldermen questioned
whether protesters should have their First Amendment Rights restricted.
Alderwoman Sharon Tyus (1st Ward) noted that she’s in favor of the right
to abortion, but the bill chips away at a fundamental right of free
“For me it’s about the right to protest,” she said. “I
think free speech is very, very important. Everybody’s — mine, and those
who do not agree with me.”
A Planned Parenthood statement noted
that it is “committed to safe access for patients, staff, volunteers and
protesters at St. Louis health care facilities, including ours. Board
Bill 34 accomplished that, balancing safety concerns with First
Amendment rights. Although the bill did not pass, we will continue to
back policies to improve access while supporting the rights of free
speech in our community.”
“At least for a little while, we
continue our pro-life efforts unobstructed,” said Brian Westbrook,
executive director of Coalition for Life St. Louis. “We want to thank
the aldermen and alderwomen who stood up against this attack on our
First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, especially to those who
disagree with us on the abortion issue.
“Make no mistake: While
this is a huge victory, Planned Parenthood and their friends will
continue to pursue even more restrictive efforts to limit our speech,”
Westbrook said. “While BB34 was defeated today, we fully expect this
bill or a similar one to be filed again next session. We here at the
Coalition for Life will fight to the end.”
>> State legislation
Missouri lawmakers have
proposed legislation that would pre-empt local governments from enacting
laws restricting First Amendment rights. Read more: www.stlouisreview.com/jVV.