Florida Life Advocates Sue Clearwater Over Illegal Abortion Facility Buffer Zone

June 8, 2023
Tom Ciesielka

(June 8, 2023 – Clearwater, Florida) Attorneys with the Thomas More Society filed an amended complaint in federal court on June 7, 2023, representing a group of Florida life advocates whose free speech rights are being violated solely because they are sharing a pro-life message. The lawsuit charges the City of Clearwater with crossing the constitutional line by imposing a buffer zone ordinance, designed to prevent the approach and presence of individuals offering life-affirming alternatives to abortion-bound women.

“This buffer zone is clearly discriminatory and meant to stifle pro-life speech,” explained Tyler Brooks, Thomas More Society Senior Counsel. “It was instituted by the Clearwater city council for the express purpose of limiting the speech and activities of life advocates taking place outside of the deceptively genteel looking Bread and Roses abortion facility.”

“These abortion vendors have sought favor from the city in apparent retaliation for the increased public displeasure at the abortion facility’s presence,” added Brooks. He noted that the numbers of people praying and witnessing to the sanctity of human life outside of this abortion business have grown in the weeks since April 3, 2023—when the Florida Senate passed a ban on aborting babies beyond six weeks gestation.

Rather than treating the five-foot buffer zone around the abortion facility driveway as a “no man’s land,” the restriction has only been applied to those espousing pro-life sentiments. The filing states that “contrary to the city’s purported justification for enacting the ordinance”—ostensibly due to “dangers to pedestrians”—police have regularly occupied the now restricted public right-of-way on the driveway. While doing so, they have permitted the presence of abortion promoters in the driveway.

The lawsuit provides evidence that Clearwater’s buffer zone actively discriminates based on the content of speech, by describing a photograph of individuals wearing neon pink pinafores stamped with messages indicating they are pro-abortion clinic escorts:

“Within the buffer zone, they openly, and in plain view of the Clinic, as well as police (who are often present), carry messages with pro-abortion signs such as “Keep Abortion Legal.” The Ordinance permits that expressive activity, while barring [pro-life individuals’] expressive activity; therefore, the Ordinance discriminates based on viewpoint.”

“Federal law unambiguously prohibits content-based restriction of speech and discrimination against the free expression of ideas,” summarized Brooks. “When it comes to Clearwater’s ordinance, clearly designed to hinder pro-life activity around an abortion business, there is no question that it is violating the First Amendment rights of pro-life individuals. The city cannot legally favor one side of an issue, nor may it silence speakers on the public sidewalks without giving them adequate alternative means to communicate their particular message.”

Read the Amended Complaint filed on June 7, 2023, in United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, by Thomas More Society attorneys, in the case Florida Preborn Rescue, et al. v. City of Clearwater, Florida, here.