Chicago Drops Bubble Zone Charges Against Pro-Life Advocate

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 7, 2011   |   6:06PM   |   Chicago, IL

The City of Chicago has dropped charges against yet another pro-life advocate charged under the law that infringes on the First Amendment rights of pro-life people to provide abortion alternatives to women.

Yesterday, the city dismissed its case against Andrew Scholberg, who was arrested while standing outside Family Planning Associates, a late-term abortion facility on the north side of Chicago. He was arrested for allegedly blocking access to the abortion business and violating Chicago’s controversial “mini-FACE” ordinance, a local version of the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.

The complaining witness from the abortion clinic and arresting officer did not appear in court.

“We are pleased that the City of Chicago has dismissed these false charges against a man who was properly and legally exercising his First Amendment rights on the public way,” said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel at the Thomas More Society. “He did nothing wrong, and was peaceful. The police commander has to stop these baseless arrests and the filing of frivolous charges.”

The City of Chicago adopted both “Bubble Zone” and “mini-FACE” ordinances in late 2009. The “mini-FACE” ordinance mimics the language of the federal FACE statute, and a guilty verdict under the City’s “mini-FACE” ordinance could give rise to a federal civil action for fines of $10,000 and permanent injunctions against pro-life activity outside a particular abortion facility.

Chicago’s “Bubble Zone” ordinance prohibits someone from approaching a person within eight feet of a local abortion clinic, and does not allow the presentation of a leaflet, sign or oral message within that space. The Thomas More Society has already won three other similar “Bubble Zone” cases in the past year and a half.

The case of Joe Holland received national press when a Fox News report focused on how he was arrested merely for praying in front of a Chicago-area Planned Parenthood abortion business.

Holland, a Northwestern University graduate student, was praying the rosary on a public sidewalk outside the Planned Parenthood Near North abortion facility when staff called the police, claiming that he had violated the new ordinance. He saw his charges dismissed last August.

Shortly after that, Chicago officials dismissed the city’s case against the second arrestee charged with disorderly conduct. Breen represented David Avignone, an MBA student at Loyola University Chicago, who was arrested while standing outside Planned Parenthood’s Near North Side clinic.

The Thomas More Society challenged the constitutionality of this ordinance, in agreement with the ACLU, in 2009. The new bubble zone law subjects pro-life advocates to a $500 fine for merely talking to women considering abortion outside an abortion facility.

The “Bubble Zone” ordinance prohibits approaching within eight feet of a person without their consent “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling.” The law establishes a 50-foot buffer outside the entrances of abortion centers and, within that zone, no one can come within an 8-foot zone to distribute literature, counsel or display a sign.