Supreme Court Denies Pro-Life Free Speech, OKs Laws Banning Sidewalk Counseling at Abortion Clinics

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jul 2, 2020   |   12:25PM   |   Washington, DC

Another U.S. Supreme Court decision brought more disappointing news Thursday when the justices refused to hear cases involving pro-life advocates’ freedom to speak on the public sidewalks outside abortion facilities.

CBS News reports the justices decided not to consider two similar cases from Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania challenging buffer zone ordinances outside city abortion facilities.

In Chicago, the ordinance designates a 50-foot radius from an abortion clinic entrance as an area in which people are prohibited from intentionally coming closer than 8 feet to any other person, unless that person gives permission, “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with such other person.”

The Pennsylvania city ordinance similarly makes it illegal for a person to “knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate in a zone extending 20 feet from any portion of an entrance to, exit from, or driveway” of an abortion facility.

Pro-life sidewalk counselors sued both cities, slamming the ordinances for violating their First Amendment free speech rights. The Third and Seventh circuit appeals courts refused to block the ordinances, but the pro-lifers appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Though the majority of the Supreme Court justices refused to hear the pro-life advocates’ appeal, Justice Clarence Thomas said he would have heard the case, according to the report.

Veronica Price, one of the sidewalk counselors who sued Chicago, said she simply wants to offer hope and help to people considering abortion. She is represented by the Thomas More Society.

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“Many parents are unaware of the support that is available,” Price said in 2017. “By providing information on pregnancy resource centers, church programs, social services and adoption agencies, I can reach out and caringly offer help.”

Price said the buffer zone also hurts women’s right to make an informed choice about their unborn baby. Buffer zones not only prevent free speech, they also block pro-lifers from offering life-affirming information and support to pregnant moms. Often it is information that women will not receive inside an abortion facility, including the material support available to them and their babies, the risks of an abortion and the facts about their unborn baby’s development.

“By unconstitutionally denying my right to share important information with women at a critical time, we are doing them a great disservice,” Price said.

The Liberty Counsel is representing Pennsylvania pro-life sidewalk counselors Colleen Reilly and Becky Biter who regularly engaged in peaceful counseling on public sidewalks around a city abortion clinic. They said they have been harassed and intimidated by clinic staff and the local police since the city enacted the ordinance, which was drafted and pushed by Planned Parenthood.

Pro-life advocates have been fighting against city and state buffer zones for years. In 2014, pro-lifers won a victory when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 35-foot Massachusetts buffer zone law. However, other smaller buffer zones still are in place in the U.S.