By Associated Press - Monday, July 24, 2017

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - Abortion opponents have agreed to a federal restraining order that keeps them from gathering on a patch of sidewalk outside the only clinic still performing abortions in Kentucky.

Last week, a federal judge established a buffer zone to prevent protesters from assembling in front of Louisville’s EMW Women’s Surgical Center.

Rusty Thomas, director of the group Operation Save America, challenged the restraining order during a Monday hearing. Thomas’ group is leading large anti-abortion protests at the clinic this week.

The hearing drew a crowd of protesters to the U.S. District courthouse in Louisville on Monday morning, many holding signs or singing Christian hymns. The court hearing was set to continue Tuesday, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced later that the opponents agreed to let the restraining order continue until its scheduled expiration on Saturday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release that enforcement of the buffer zone will protect patients seeking access to Louisville’s EMW Women’s Surgical Center as well as the First Amendment rights of the protesters.

Earlier at the hearing, Vince Heuser, an attorney for Thomas, argued that the buffer zone was “heavy-handed” and kept protesters from exercising their free speech rights.

A clinic volunteer, Patricia Canon, testified that the buffer zone helped patients move into the clinic without obstructions during protests by the group on Saturday.

“It was great,” Canon said.

Those inside the courtroom were shown security footage from the clinic. The recording showed patients being dropped off at the curb on Saturday and walking into the clinic with protesters separated from them on either side.

U.S. District Judge David J. Hale issued the temporary restraining order on Friday as a pre-emptive move ahead of the demonstrations. The order was aimed at nearly a dozen anti-abortion activists who were arrested at a May demonstration at the EMW clinic when police said they blocked access to the downtown Louisville clinic.

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