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Group pushes for ad in bus during lawsuit

A month after filing a federal lawsuit claiming to be the victim of discrimination, a local women’s group opposed to abortion wants a judge to make Citilink let the group buy an ad while the case progresses.

Filed last week by Women’s Health Link Inc., the request for a preliminary injunction claims Citilink continues to violate the group’s constitutional rights.

“Plaintiff is banned from Defendants’ free speech forum, while other nonprofit and government organizations are free to advertise within,” their attorneys wrote. “It is imperative that Defendant’s censorship of Plaintiff’s health-care-related speech immediately cease.”

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Miller scheduled the matter for a hearing in South Bend on June 3, according to a notice issued Monday.

In April, attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Women’s Health Link, filed a lawsuit against Fort Wayne Public Transportation Corp., which does business as Citilink. The lawsuit alleged that the “life-affirming” health referral organization tried twice last fall to buy 70 small ads inside the buses, but was denied.

According to court documents, the 11-by 17-inch ad would cost $524 for three months and said “You are not alone” and “Free resources for women seeking health care” on either side of the smiling face of a young woman, with the organization’s website and telephone number on a banner below.

Citilink officials rejected the proposed ad on two occasions, saying their attorneys believed the organization’s website dealt with “controversial issues,” according to court documents.

Citilink officials then said the ads were inherently noncommercial in nature because they advertised services that were free. Women’s Health Link attorneys argue that is no different from a number of other public service announcements and noncommercial advertisements, according to court documents.

Women’s Health Link argues that the ad ban violates its constitutional rights to free expression, free association, due process and equal protection under the law.

Among the many arguments spelled out in their request for a preliminary injunction, Women’s Health Link attorneys said that the bus company engaged in “unlawful viewpoint discrimination,” and continues to harm the nonprofit group by not allowing its ads to run inside the buses.

They also argue that Citilink created a designated public advertising forum, and allowed access to a “broad spectrum of non-profit and government organizations,” like the one proposed by Women’s Health Link.

Attorneys representing Citilink have not yet filed their response to the lawsuit and have until May 27 to do so, according to court documents.

rgreen@jg.net

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