Minneapolis bans pro-life activists from sections of public sidewalks

"The obvious implication is that free speech is undermining Planned Parenthood’s efforts to kill babies and they don’t like that," one pro-life sidewalk counselor said of the ordinance.

A sidewalk counselor greets a car outside the Uptown Planned Parenthood. (City of Minneapolis/YouTube)

The Minneapolis City Council adopted an ordinance Thursday that will prohibit pro-life sidewalk counselors from being on sections of public sidewalks.

“We believe this proposal is unconstitutional and want to express our opposition as we prepare to challenge it should it go into effect,” said an email from Thomas Wilkin, Pro-Life Action Ministries’ sidewalk counseling manager.

Wilkin wrote that the ordinance will prevent sidewalk counselors “from standing on parts of the public sidewalk outside Uptown Planned Parenthood to offer life-saving literature to abortion clients driving in.”

The ordinance states that “occupying” driveways of abortion facilities will be prohibited. It defines a driveway as “that portion of a right-of-way, including a sidewalk or bikeway, that provides vehicular access from a street to a reproductive health care facility.”

It goes on to say that sidewalk counselors must not enter the driveway of abortion facilities unless they are “crossing the driveway completely from one side of the driveway to the other without stopping or slowing and continuing to a destination beyond the furthest lot line of the reproductive health care facility.”

“No person shall knowingly physically disrupt any person’s access to, ingress to, or egress from a reproductive health care facility, or attempt to do so,” the ordinance says.

A public sidewalk stands between the entrance to the Uptown Planned Parenthood and the street outside, as shown in the image above. In theory, sidewalk counselors can still stand on either side of the entrance to the clinic.

The ordinance was proposed by Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman, who formerly served as the executive director for Minnesota National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL).

A security access supervisor for Planned Parenthood spoke in front of the city’s Public Health and Safety Committee on Nov. 9, claiming he has experienced many problems with patients, guests, and employees trying to enter the Planned Parenthood facility.

“I have also seen protesters follow patients, guests, and employees to the next traffic stop,” he said. The Planned Parenthood employee said that while he has not seen a car accident due to sidewalk counselors, he is “sure we will.”

Several other Planned Parenthood employees and volunteers claimed there has been an increase in “violence” and “harassment” in recent months.

Ward 2 Council Member Robin Wonsley discussed her own experience at a Minneapolis Planned Parenthood, saying that when she had an appointment there, she was made to feel anxious by “protesters” outside of the clinic.

Wonsley said that the city “should not be creating spaces for people who are seeking health care … to feel intimidated in that process.”

“Harassment, intimidation, stalking, threats, following people. You’d think they were talking about how political people treat us,” Goodman, the author of the ordinance, said during the committee meeting. “But even worse, you’re talking about how political people treat the general public, women who are trying to exercise their First Amendment rights in order to access health care.”

Wilkin called the claims unfounded and hypocritical. “​​We strictly instruct volunteers to be peaceful and compassionate while offering resources to Planned Parenthood clients. Our own volunteers have been pushed, swerved at by vehicles driven by Planned Parenthood employees, and verbally abused by them,” he told Alpha News.

Wilkin said that sidewalk counselors are not obstructing traffic and that Planned Parenthood has failed to provide evidence to back up that claim.

“Every example in the footage Planned Parenthood released depicts their own clients freely stopping to receive information from our sidewalk counselors,” Wilkin told Alpha News. “The obvious implication is that free speech is undermining Planned Parenthood’s efforts to kill babies and they don’t like that. If Planned Parenthood truly supports choice they would be supporting our efforts to offer alternative options to abortion.”

The City Council unanimously passed the ordinance Thursday.


Hayley Feland

Hayley Feland previously worked as a journalist with The Minnesota Sun, The Wisconsin Daily Star, and The College Fix. She is a Minnesota native with a passion for politics and journalism.