Pro-Life Advocates Prosecuted for Lawful Free Speech Activity

State   |   Tom Ciesielka   |   Apr 25, 2013   |   7:12PM   |   Washington, DC

Life Legal Defense Foundation is urging the United States Supreme Court to review a First Circuit decision which severely limits free speech of pro-life advocates.

In McCullen v. Coakley, seven Massachusetts residents who engaged in pro-life counseling outside of abortion clinics sued the state for violation of their right to free speech through enactment of a “bubble zone” law. The statute created a thirty-five-foot fixed buffer zone around driveways and entrances of reproductive health care facilities. The lower court upheld the buffer zone despite its prejudicial applications. Life Legal Defense Foundation has filed an amici curiae, or friends of the court brief arguing that this buffer zone is unconstitutional.

“This is clearly a case of ‘viewpoint discrimination,'” stated Dana Cody, Executive Director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. “Activists who make disturbances at military funerals, animal rights protests, and ‘occupy’ demonstrations are not held to the stringent restrictions applied to peaceful pro-life witnesses who invite women to learn about abortion alternatives,” Cody explained, “It’s a true double standard and an unbelievable violation of First Amendment rights.”

Life Legal Defense Foundation argues that there is no compelling governmental interest in limiting the free speech of pro-life advocates in this way. The brief states that it is presumptively content and viewpoint-based, because the restrictions only apply at abortion clinics. As the brief points out, the reasons for which the Supreme Court condemns this type of restriction in other contexts, such as labor disputes or sexually-oriented businesses, are the same reasons that the lower courts have used to limit speech at abortion clinics.

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Life Legal Defense Foundation routinely defends the civil rights of pro-life advocates. The majority of the time, due to these efforts, the discriminatory charges are dismissed, the discriminatory application of the law is set right, and the pro-life advocates’ rights are vindicated. One such case is that of Reverend Walter Hoye (www.lldf.org/pastor-hoye), who joins Life Legal Defense Foundation on the brief, was convicted of violating Oakland California’s “bubble zone” ordinance. Hoye was charged and tried, even though no patient or person seeking access to the clinic complained of his conduct. After Hoye served 30 days in jail and paid a large fine, his unconstitutional conviction was overturned as a result of Life Legal Defense Foundation efforts.

Read Life Legal Defense Foundation and Walther B. Hoye III’s Amici Curiae brief filed in the Supreme Court of the United States here.