Minneapolis considers ordinance protecting abortion clinic driveway entrance

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The city of Minneapolis is considering a new ordinance to keep demonstrators — who call themselves “sidewalk counselors” — from “disrupting access” to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Uptown.

Planned Parenthood employees and volunteers told a City Council committee that there has been a small increase of threats, harassment and even assaults at the clinic on Lagoon Avenue. The proposed ordinance would not allow demonstrators to stand in the driveway entrance where they often hand out information regarding options women might consider instead of an abortion.

Tim Stanley, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the ordinance would only prohibit people from standing on a small section of the sidewalk when cars are trying to enter the clinic. The measure would not prevent demonstrators from standing on either side of the driveway to exercise their protected speech.

“Yes, 100% it protects free speech, and that is where we have been very, very careful and narrow in the crafting of this in that we would never be foolish enough to try and impede the First Amendment rights of the protesters,” Stanley said.

He says the ordinance is designed to keep people visiting and working at the clinic — as well as demonstrators and the public — safe.

“At the clinic right now is a very dangerous situation where cars get backed up because of someone impeding the driveway, and cars get backed up, and it creates a lot of opportunity for misfortune,” Stanley said.

Thomas Wilkin, sidewalk counseling program director for Pro-Life Action Ministries, said his organization is usually the most visible group at the Minneapolis Planned Parenthood clinic. He says their volunteer sidewalk counselors attempt to talk with women about options they might not have considered prior to seeking an abortion.

“We don’t actually block the driveway. We approach cars as they are entering,” Wilkin said. “Our volunteers, in the process, get verbally abused on a daily basis even being pushed several times by Planned Parenthood volunteers.”

Wilkin said if the ordinance passes, Pro-Life Action Ministries will challenge the measure, arguing it violates their First Amendment constitutional rights.

The full City Council is expected to approve the ordinance Thursday.