The Louisville Metro Council is expected to vote next week on a proposed buffer zone around health care facilities for the second time in less than a year. The proposal states that it’s intended to ensure unimpeded access to healthcare services.
The sidewalk outside the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, 136 W. Market St., is a place where people gather both in protest and support of abortion rights.
The Archdiocese of Louisville’s pro-life ministry opposes the buffer zone — just as it did last August when the measure failed — because it will restrict crucial moments outside the clinic, where sidewalk counselors have helped women change their minds about abortion.
The current situation “allows us as sidewalk counselors to walk alongside a woman considering an abortion, to convince her there are lifesaving alternatives and that we, as Catholics, will accompany her even further,” said Ed Harpring, coordinator of pro-life ministries for the archdiocese.
In August, he explained that 50 to 60 times a year, in those last few feet before a woman enters the clinic, these conversations save lives.
He begins by talking with a woman before she reaches the proposed buffer zone, he explained. But with just 30 seconds to talk, it’s often in the last few feet that the conversation gains traction.
“I’ll start by saying, ‘Could I offer you some information? … There are options and we’d like to help you. The norm is that they keep walking,” he said.
But he doesn’t give up. With just seconds and a few feet to spare, he often ends with something he doesn’t plan. “It’s whatever God lays on your heart.” Something like this: “God loves you and your baby.”
One day he said, “You don’t have to do this.” The woman who heard him came out of the clinic soon after. “She came out and said the last thing I said changed her mind.”
A buffer zone would remove the opportunity for conversations to reach this point, he said.
After a mother chooses to carry her baby to term, Harpring said, the archdiocese, parishes and individuals offer a range of assistance, from financial help to mentoring.
“It’s not just saying abortion is wrong, but it’s about accompanying mothers as they make a life-affirming decision,” he said. “Most women don’t want to make this decision. We’re trying to help them find a way out of this — civilly, charitably and spiritually.”
He added, “Archbishop Kurtz has spoken of this many times.”
In a statement on the proposed ordinance, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz said, “Over the years, hundreds of women have accepted the help of sidewalk counselors and have expressed gratitude for the chance to benefit from resources and assistance to help them choose life for their unborn children.
“Buffer zones could harm vulnerable women who need our help, and it would restrict the first amendment rights of sidewalk counselors offering a life-saving alternative to abortion,” he said.
The archbishop also noted that pro-life advocacy outside the clinic should always be peaceful.
“I have always counseled that our pro-life efforts should be courageous, compassionate, and civil, and that pro-life advocacy at abortion clinics be conducted in a prayerful, peaceful, and respectful manner that includes a respect for just laws.”
Harpring urges Catholics to contact their Louisville Metro Council members and ask them to vote against the buffer zone.