Louisville Metro Council Passes Safety Ordinance, Protects Access to Abortion Clinics and Other Health Care Facilities

May 20, 2021
Contact: Tara Sweeney, [email protected]. 620-520-3518

Following years of advocacy, this major municipal policy win will mean safer access to care at Kentucky’s only two abortion clinics

LOUISVILLE – Late on May 20, 2021, the Louisville Metro Council passed a safety zone ordinance, O-179-21, that will provide safer access to health care facilities in Louisville, including the city’s two abortion clinics, the only two abortion clinics in Kentucky. This law, passed by a vote of 14-11, establishes a narrow safety zone to keep the public, patients and health care providers safe from escalating threats, harassment, and violence outside of Louisville health care facilities. 

“We finally did it!” said Erin Smith, Executive Director of the Kentucky Health Justice Network. “I can’t be happier for our organization, for my staff, and for the reproductive justice movement. The passage of this ordinance is a step in the right direction that this city needed. If we are to truly be a compassionate city, we must first demonstrate the ability to empathize, understand, and respect others – even if we don’t agree.”

“This ordinance is a testament to the power and potential of local policy advocacy to advance and protect reproductive freedom — especially important now, in light of threats to abortion access from states and the Supreme Court,” said Andrea Miller, President of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, which has worked closely alongside Kentucky partners for several years to pass this necessary ordinance. “This is exactly the type of local solution that cities can pass to ensure that patients are able to access the health care they need in order to live their lives with dignity, respect, and security. We salute the Louisville Metro Council Members and all the advocates and activists in Louisville who played the long game, organized people on the ground, and demanded action to protect abortion access.”

“Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates commends the Louisville Metro Council for passing the Louisville Safety Zone, a simple and long overdue step toward ensuring patient protection. Without safety zones, patients are subjected unnecessarily to harassment, stigmatization, and shame for seeking basic health care services, including abortion,” said Tamarra Wieder, Kentucky State Director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates. “Access to this essential and time sensitive care is more important than ever given the Supreme Court’s decision this week to consider a case that directly challenges Roe v Wade. Our public health is being politicized to score political points and patients continue to pay the price. This small space will provide safer access to health care facilities and help mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure. Public safety and increasing access to health care should be a priority for all community leaders, especially during a pandemic. We hope to see other cities across our commonwealth follow Louisville’s lead. Abortion is a legal right in Kentucky and we must do everything we can to protect patient access to it and other essential health care.”

Louisville’s EMW Surgical Center was Kentucky’s only abortion provider for a decade, and has long been the target of anti-abortion protestors, who clog the sidewalks and block the clinic entrance as they threaten and harass patients — resulting in assault and violence on several occasions. In 2017, extremist protestors executed the first clinic blockade in decades at the EMW Surgical Center, leading a federal judge to create a temporary safety zone that was enforced by U.S. Marshals. The frequency and intensity of protests has increased substantially in the last four years, with the clinic becoming a target of national anti-abortion groups, some of whom are affiliated with militant anti-government organizations.

This ordinance will provide for a 10-foot wide safety zone to protect the entrance to the clinic by providing a clear boundary for patients and their companions to enter and exit safely while protecting First Amendment rights. A bright line painted on the sidewalk will provide clarity for protestors, patients, and law enforcement.

Louisville now joins the ranks of cities across the U.S. – from Pittsburgh to Boulder to Pensacola – that have passed laws creating safety zones around health care facilities, including abortion clinics. Safety zones very similar to this one have been upheld in the Supreme Court, and federal district and appellate courts have continued to uphold buffer zones that are appropriately and narrowly tailored to the local circumstances, as is the Louisville ordinance.

Louisville’s victory is the latest example of local-level actions to protect reproductive freedom. As NIRH’s Local Reproductive Freedom Index highlights, cities and counties have extraordinary potential to advance access to reproductive health care, including abortion.


The National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) is an advocacy group that works directly with state and local reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations and allied groups to protect and advance access to reproductive healthcare. For more than 40 years, NIRH has been partnering with communities to build coalitions, launch campaigns, and successfully advocate for policy change. NIRH’s strategy is to go on the offensive and focus on communities where change is needed, so the fabric of reproductive freedom becomes harder to tear apart.

The Louisville Safety Zone Coalition knows that establishing a narrow safety zone will keep the public, patients and health care providers safe by addressing escalating threats, harassment, and violence. No one in Louisville should have to risk their safety to seek health care or should feel unsafe walking down the public sidewalk. This law supports free speech, access to healthcare, and most importantly public safety. 

Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, serving AK, HI, ID, IN, KY, WA (PPAA) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization educating residents and policymakers about reproductive health issues in Alaska, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky and Washington. PPAA lobbies and educates to advance Planned Parenthood’s mission, and engages in limited electoral activities.