City Reinstalls EMW Buffer Zone Lines In Downtown Louisville After Removal, Confusion

Tuesday afternoon, EMW Women’s Surgical Center and its advocates celebrated the city installing a buffer zone outside of the abortion clinic — bright yellow lines marking where protesters couldn’t cross, creating space for patients to enter. 

At 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Councilperson Cassie Chambers Armstrong — a sponsor of the ordinance that led to the buffer zone — was sent a text from a reporter, saying the lines were gone, asking if she knew anything about it. She didn’t, and neither did the owner of the EMW or the head of the Louisville Safety Zone when Chambers Armstrong contacted them. They assumed it was vandalism.

It wasn’t until Wednesday morning that they found out that Public Works removed the lines after initially making the zone wider than the 10 feet required by the ordinance. Around noon on Wednesday, the city corrected the mistake and installed the new lines, but Chambers Armstrong said that the lack of communication was troubling. 

“I’m glad that it wasn’t an act of vandalism,” she told LEO. “I think the fact that the owner of EMW and the safety zone committee wasn’t notified created a lot of confusion and a lot of amped up emotion, because this has been such an emotional fight for a lot of [people] that for a lot of years have been trying to get these lines on the ground. And then when they were removed, and no one knew why, it just sort of caused a lot of emotions to flare. And understandably so. There’s been a history of that and building being vandalized by a repeat group of actors.”

The confusion was felt by several groups and circulated around social media. After finding out what happened, a Louisville Clinic Escort twitter account posted: “We were given no choice but to assume it was vandalism. GIVEN NO CHOICE. BECAUSE THE ENVIRONMENT THAT HAS SURROUNDED ABORTION FOR DECADES.”

Late on Wednesday morning, Metro Public Works clarified what happened via a statement on Twitter:

“Public Works crews yesterday striped lines marking the ‘buffer zone’ at the EMW Women’s Surgical Clinic. Those lines had to be adjusted to fit the dimensions listed in the approved ordinance, it was not an act of vandalism. Corrected lines will be restriped today at noon.”

Chambers Armstrong said that the buffer zone — which was established after a 14-11 vote in city council in May and a court ruling upholding the ordinance — was an important step for the Louisville, especially since abortion rights are being attacked across the nation. She also said this misstep isn’t without cost. 

“This is something that a lot of people that have advocated for years, to get this zone set aside, so they can have physical safety as they enter a healthcare facility,” she said. “In the midst of a lot of bad things happening nationally and reproductive rights feeling like they’re under attack, a lot of people felt like this was a small positive step in a sea of otherwise bleak actions. We regain that by reinstalling the lines and reinstalling them quickly. And I worry that people are looking for any reason to say, ‘The safety zone isn’t working,’ ‘The safety zone isn’t a good idea,’ and I worry any sort of misstep or confusion or miscommunications are only going to add fuel to that fire.”

Violators of the buffer zone face citations and fines. 

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