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Public Works Repaints Abortion Clinic Buffer Zone After Measurement Error

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Roberto Roldan
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Louisville Metro workers repainted the parallel yellow lines outside the doors to the downtown EMW Women’s Surgical Center to be more narrow Wednesday afternoon, a day after they initially marked out a new buffer zone where anti-abortion protesters will not be allowed to stand.

Hours after the first installation, the lines were covered by gray paint, raising concerns of vandalism. However, city officials said they covered up the zone because it was improperly measured on Tuesday.

The 10-foot buffer zone outside of the surgical center, one of only two abortion clinics in Kentucky, became possible after Metro Council approved a measure in late May. The work of marking out the buffer zone was put on hold when anti-abortion advocates and self-described sidewalk ministers sued the city in June. Then a federal judge ruled last week that the city could move forward with implementation while the lawsuit advances.

Democratic Metro Council Member Cassie Chambers Armstrong, of District 8, who was one of the sponsors of the ordinance creating the buffer zone, said it is meant to ensure patients seeking reproductive healthcare can do so safely.

“Every single day, we hear about people being assaulted or trespassing onto private property or being harassed or just generally an unsafe situation being created,” she said. “It’s important to act quickly to make sure we are addressing those risks.”

Chambers Armstrong also said the importance of having a buffer zone for patients has only increased as more states like Texas move to further restrict abortion access.

“Since we’ve seen the rhetoric around reproductive healthcare just really shoot up and grow exponentially and become even more charged lately, I’m glad we are able to have this tool at this particular moment,” she said.

Advocates for abortion access voiced concerns about vandalism on social media Tuesday night after reports that the lines appeared to have been removed and repainted gray to match the sidewalk. At least one news report quoted the director of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center suggesting it could have been the work of anti-abortion protesters.

But in a statement late Wednesday morning, Metro Public Works officials claimed responsibility.

“Those lines had to be adjusted to fit the dimensions listed in the approved ordinance, it was not an act of vandalism,” spokesperson Salvador Melendez said. “Crews removed the lines last night and are setting up a work zone to, weather-permitting, restripe the area between 12:00 and 1:00 pm today.”

Chambers Armstrong told WFPL News that neither Metro Council members nor clinic leaders were told about the removal in advance.

“There has been a long history of vandalism at the clinic and emotions around it run very high, so I think, understandably, people assumed the worst had happened,” she said.

While Chambers Armstrong said she’s glad that wasn’t the case, she said “better communication” is needed moving forward.

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