- Associated Press - Friday, July 21, 2017

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A federal judge issued an order Friday to keep protesters away from a “buffer zone” outside Kentucky’s only abortion clinic, which is targeted by a national anti-abortion group.

U.S. District Judge David J. Hale issued a temporary restraining order sought by federal prosecutors in a pre-emptive move ahead of vigils by Operation Save America. The order is aimed at preventing abortion foes from impeding access to EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Louisville.

The judge’s order comes as supporters of Operation Save America, a Texas-based Christian fundamentalist group, descended on Louisville for weeklong vigils starting this weekend. They plan to protest outside the abortion clinic, which is facing challenges on multiple fronts in trying to stay open.

The buffer zond is directly outside the surgical center’s entrance, between clinic property and the curbside patient drop-off zone.

The group’s leader said the government’s request sought to “trample” on free-speech rights, and said his lawyers would make his case at a hearing Hale set for Monday in the matter.

“I’ve got news for the federal government, they are not God,” group leader Rusty Thomas said. “They don’t have the authority to choose who lives and who dies.”

Hale scheduled next week’s hearing on the government’s request for a preliminary injunction to keep protesters from impeding access to the clinic.

“We believe the federal government’s case is very, very thin,” Thomas said. “And if the court allows the truth to be made known, then truth will prevail.”

Abortion-rights supporters did not immediately comment on the judge’s order Friday.

The request for the court order comes as the Kentucky clinic braces for surging protests.

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