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Quiet Zone Would Be Established Outside Women’s Clinic Targeted By Protesters Under Alderman’s Plan

Ald. Bill Conway is introducing an ordinance Thursday to ban amplified sound near a Downtown clinic, following weeks of complaints about anti-abortion protesters using loudspeakers and bullhorns.

A group of clinic escorts and anti-choice protestors on Aug. 12, 2023.
Melody Mercado, Block Club Chicago
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DOWNTOWN — The city could establish stricter noise rules near a women’s clinic after neighbors and workers complained about protesters harassing patients and staff while loudly demonstrating outside the building.

Family Planning Associates, 615 W. Washington Blvd., regularly sees up to 20 anti-abortion protesters every Saturday morning. In July, the clinic had more than five times that number, with several of them rushing at patients, forcibly trying to hand out religious pamphlets and using a loudspeaker which could be heard from inside the clinic.

Ald. Bill Conway (34th) and others have said the protesters’ behavior violates a city ordinance designed to keep demonstrators away from people seeking any type of medical treatment. But the protesters’ use of loudspeakers and bullhorns called for more intervention, he told Block Club in August.

Conway is introducing an ordinance at Thursday’s City Council meeting to add the area surrounding Family Planning Associates to the list of Chicago’s noise-sensitive zones.

Streets included in the ordinance would be:

  • West Washington Boulevard, between North Des Plaines Street and the easternmost offramp from Interstate 90/94.
  • North Des Plaines Street, between West Court Place and West Madison Street.
  • West Warren Avenue between North Des Plaines Street and the easternmost offramp from Interstate 90/94.

The ordinance says people seeking “health and social services” are “often in need of quiet as their conditions make them sensitive to noise.”

The city also has noise-sensitive zones enacted for several streets surrounding Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Lurie Children’s Hospital in Streeterville.

“This is not the first time that a noise-sensitive zone has been put at a location that provides health care, and it’s no secret that health care is a noise-sensitive activity as specified in the code,” Conway said. “This is clearly a health care facility in a residential area, and it should be designated as a noise-sensitive zone and that’s what we’re going to work to do.”

Chicago’s Bubble Ordinance states it is illegal to be within 8 feet of someone who is within a 50-foot radius from the entrance of a medical facility in order to pass out unwanted literature, signs or engage in oral protest, education or counseling.

A group of protesters from Metro Praise International have regularly started singing worship songs or prayers outside Family Planning Associates as early as 7:30 a.m., the volume amplified by portable speakers. At times, the speakers can be heard within a block in any direction.

Family Planning Associates has argued the bubble ordinance is not good enough as the use of loudspeakers from recent protests negatively impacts their patients’ experience.

The loudspeaker, located directly outside the clinic’s windows, can also be heard inside the clinic, where patients are receiving care just a few feet away. At times, patients and staff cannot hear each other above the noise, Dr. Allison Cowett, medical director for the clinic previously said.

Residents in nearby high-rise buildings have also complained about the noise, Conway has said.

Joe Wyrostek, pastor for Metro Praise International, previously told Block Club Chicago he believes his group hasn’t violated the city’s bubble ordinance. The group has never been arrested or cited by police, he said.

His group has turned down the volume on their speakers when police ask them to, Wyrostek said.

“We’ll have no problem turning off our speakers by the way, but as of right now, we do it within our 100 feet,” Wyrostek said.

Credit: Provided
Clinic escorts stop a protestor from approaching a patient on July 22, 2023.

The ordinance is content-neutral, meaning there would be a blanket ban on “the creation of any sound through the use of a bullhorn or loud and raucous electronic amplification,” according to the existing ordinance.

The ordinance will be referred to the Committee on Public Safety.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) chairs that committee and recently added additional protection to noise-sensitive areas in his ward in 2019.

Hopkins told Block Club he doesn’t anticipate Conway having any problems establishing the noise-sensitive area, saying his office consulted the freshman alderman on how to pursue the issue.

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