Judge Allows Pro-Lifers to Fight City of Chicago’s Attempt to Deny Their Free Speech

State   |   Tom Ciesielka   |   Jan 12, 2017   |   7:51PM   |   Chicago, Illinois

Chicago area pro-life advocates achieved a victory last week when United States District Judge Amy J. St. Eve denied the City of Chicago’s motion to dismiss a federal complaint challenging Chicago’s abortion-protective “bubble zone.” This ruling was in response to the Thomas More Society’s challenge, on behalf of the Pro-Life Action League, Live Pro-Life Group and several individual pro-life counselors, that the ordinance that denies life advocates their First Amendments rights and impedes their ability to share life-affirming alternatives with women seeking abortions.

Ann Scheidler, Anna Marie Scinto Mesia, David Berquist and Veronica Price are citizens who peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights on the public ways near Chicago abortion facilities by reaching out to women who are approaching the clinics.  These “sidewalk counselors” and their organizations inform these abortion-bound women of the dangers inherent in the procedures and share life-affirming alternatives. Their complaint asserts that Chicago’s “bubble zone” law unconstitutionally constrains the peaceful work of these counselors because police have selectively and erratically applied it against them, but not abortion clinic escorts.

St. Eve ruled that the plaintiffs could proceed with the challenge to the “bubble zone” ordinance.  She decided that since the law was enacted in 2009, sufficient instances of discriminatory and inconsistent enforcement have been alleged to warrant a hearing. She deemed valid the need for a hearing on whether the Chicago police enforced the ordinance with “deliberate indifference” toward the rights of the plaintiffs.

The “bubble zone” law, which is exclusively applicable to abortion facilities, designates a 50-foot radius of an abortion clinic entrance as an area in which a pro-life counselor is prohibited from intentionally coming closer than eight feet to a person approaching the entrance, unless that person gives permission for the counselor to approach.

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Thomas More Society Senior Counsel and Co-Executive Director Thomas Olp explained, “Contrary to pro-abortion propaganda, pro-life counselors do not intimidate women approaching abortion clinics. That type of engagement would be ineffective.  Pro-life sidewalk counselors compassionately and calmly approach women, one-on-one, to offer them information about abortion alternatives. The Chicago ‘bubble zone’ ordinance is designed to impede — and does impede — this communication. This law is unconstitutional and it deliberately curtails our clients’ First Amendment rights.”

Read U.S. District Court Judge Amy St. Eve’s January 4, 2017, Memorandum Opinion and Order handed down in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division in the case, Veronica Price et al. v. The City of Chicago et al., here [https://www.thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Order-granting-and-denying-MTD-010417.pdf]