Allow free speech in Madison: Common Council should vote against buffer zone Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Last fall, a couple leaving the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Madison stopped at the driveway to tell the sidewalk counselor with Vigil for Life that they were going to keep their baby.

Vigil for Life volunteers didn’t know if this couple had come to the clinic for a pregnancy test or for an appointment for an abortion. In any case, these parents chose life for their baby.

Praying and working for a change of heart

In an email named “Baby Saved,” sent to volunteers after that incident, Bette Weisshaar, then director of Vigil for Life-Madison, said, “That’s why we’re out there — to pray for a change of heart, for God’s graces to show them a way other than abortion. Our prayers on the sidewalk are offered for parents, that they will choose life for their babies . . . and that’s exactly what happened today!  Praise God!”

She encouraged Vigil for Life volunteers, “Let’s join this sidewalk counselor in prayer as this couple moves forward. Pray for a healthy and safe pregnancy for both the mom and dad and their baby. Pray that they will have all the support they need from each other and their families.  Pray that they will be brought closer to Christ through this experience.”

Pro-life presence outside abortion clinic

Pro-life volunteers have been present outside Madison’s Planned Parenthood Clinic even before it opened 10 years ago. Local pro-lifers have prayed and witnessed for life on Orin Rd. since 2003, when plans were made public for the location of the Planned Parenthood Clinic.

“We continue to pray for, and witness to, Christ’s Culture of Life at this abortion mill,” said Jeanne Breunig, a volunteer with Vigil for Life-Madison.

In my own visits to the sidewalk outside the clinic, I have found the people to be peaceful and respectful of those coming to the clinic. The guidelines found on Vigil for Life website ( make it clear that those coming to pray and witness should be “peaceful, prayerful, helpful, and joyful.”

Proposed buffer zone in Madison

Now the efforts of these peaceful pro-life witnesses could be curtailed by a buffer zone being considered in the city of Madison. The proposal would impose a buffer zone of 160 feet around abortion clinics in the city.

“This buffer zone is quite severe — over four times the size of the controversial Massachusetts buffer zone being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court — and it would effectively end all sidewalk counseling at the Planned Parenthood abortion center on Orin Rd.,” said Pro-Life Wisconsin (PLW) in a statement. Vigil for Life-Madison is an affiliate of PLW.

PLW said there have not been any issues with prayer or protesting at the clinic in Madison. Vague accusations of harassment and intimidation are completely unfounded, they say. By the way, Madison city councilwoman Lisa Subeck, the author of the proposal, is the former director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin.

“We’re not protesting with anger or hate,” said Gwen Finnegan, current director of Vigil for Life-Madison. “We’re out there because we care. We care about everyone going to Planned Parenthood, especially the young mothers who are pregnant and feel there is no other option.”

There is a federal law called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). This law makes it an offense to use intimidation or physical force — such as forming a blockade — in order to prevent a person from entering a facility which provides reproductive healthcare or a place of worship. The law also creates specific penalties for destroying, or causing damage to, either of these types of buildings.

Restricting freedom of speech

Going beyond the federal law, some states and cities have passed “buffer zone” laws which further restrict freedom of speech around abortion clinics. The buffer zone rule proposed by the Madison City Council has passed through two committees and now moves on to the Common Council at the end of this month for a vote.

Let’s recall that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” (my boldfaces).

I urge concerned citizens to contact members of the Madison Common Council urging them to vote against this buffer zone law and uphold the right of people to express their opinions freely and peacefully on public property in our city. Go to to obtain information on how to contact your alderperson.