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Judge: Anti-Abortion Protesters in Kentucky Must Stay Out of Buffer Zone (Updated)

Imani Gandy

A radical anti-abortion group has targeted Kentucky's last abortion clinic for vigils and protests that begin this weekend.

UPDATE, JULY 24, 5:23 p.m.: The court on Monday issued an order stating the parties had agreed that the temporary restraining order will remain in effect until it expires August 4. The parties agreed that there was no need for the court to consider the government’s request for a preliminary injunction.

A federal judge on Friday ordered a group of anti-abortion protesters from a Christian fundamentalist group to stay away from a buffer zone outside EMW Women’s Surgical Center, an abortion clinic in Louisville, Kentucky.

Operation Save America (OSA), the radical anti-choice group previously known as Operation Rescue, has targeted the clinic—the last in Kentucky—for weeklong vigils and protests that begin this weekend.

U.S. District Court Judge David J. Hale issued the temporary restraining order (TRO) at the request of U.S. Attorney John E. Kuhn Jr. acting on behalf of the United States, which sought to enforce the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act against the leader of OSA, Rusty Thomas, and nine other defendants. The FACE Act prohibits the use of “force, threat of force, or physical obstruction” to prevent someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services.

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The order comes on the heels of a Summer of Mercy-style protest in May, which led to the arrest of ten people, including Thomas. Judge Hale referenced those arrests in his order.

“[T]he United States has presented evidence that the Defendants violated the FACE Act on May 13, 2017, by physically obstructing patients’ and providers’ access to the entrance of EMW,” Hale wrote in his order.

“The United States has further demonstrated, through evidence of public statements made by Defendant Rusty Thomas and others associated with Operation Save America … that Defendants intend to carry out further violations of the FACE Act at EMW in the future.”

The TRO bars Thomas, his co-defendants, and anyone “acting in concert or participation” with them from using physical obstruction to interfere with any person obtaining or providing reproductive health services at EMW. It bars them from coming within the buffer zone outside EMW’s entrance.

The buffer zone in question is located directly outside the entrance of the Louisville clinic, between clinic property and the curbside patient drop-off zone, according to the court order.

“The small buffer zone is designed to protect both the rights of individuals seeking access to EMW and the protected First Amendment rights of individuals wishing to communicate directly with EMW’s patients and providers,” Kuhn’s office said in a statement, according to the AP.

The TRO will remain in effect for 14 days, pending the court’s decision on whether to convert the TRO into a preliminary injunction.

Judge Hale set the matter for a Monday hearing.

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