Federal Court Blocks California Ban on Pro-Life Free Speech

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jan 14, 2022   |   6:34PM   |   Sacramento, California

California pro-life advocates won a victory in federal court recently when a judge agreed to block a state law that restricts free speech outside abortion facilities.

In late December, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California agreed with pro-life advocates’ request to temporarily block the law while their lawsuit moves forward, CBN News reports.

Life Legal Defense Foundation, which is representing the pro-life advocates, said the law violates the First Amendment freedom of speech.

California Senate Bill 742, which Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in October, bans certain free-speech activities outside abortion facilities and vaccination sites. It creates a 30-foot buffer zone between peaceful pro-life advocates and abortion facility patients.

Pro-lifers who violate the law could be punished with up to six months in jail or $1,000 fines, according to CBN.

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Judge Nathanael Cousins said he believes the pro-life advocates likely will win their case.

“This language raises a very real risk that speech will necessarily be chilled in the course of enforcement of this law, even in the absence of the overbroad harassment section,” Cousins wrote in his ruling. “It is not at all clear how a given law enforcement official is supposed to determine, possibly from a significant distance, whether someone is approaching with the lawful purposes of educating or leafleting, as opposed to the unlawful purpose of intimidating or interfering.”

Katie Short, an attorney with Life Legal Defense Foundation, celebrated the judge’s ruling and expressed hope for a final victory soon.

“Life Legal is pleased that the court has carefully considered our arguments and has determined that we are likely to succeed in our lawsuit challenging this unprecedented suppression of speech on public sidewalks,” Short said. “We are confident that California’s assault on the First Amendment will be permanently struck down.”

Alliance Defending Freedom and the Right to Life Central California in Fresno also filed a separate lawsuit against the law in October, saying it unconstitutionally restricts speech based on viewpoint and content.

Another federal judge blocked parts of the law in October in response to their lawsuit.

“The court rightly acknowledged SB 742’s double standard in restricting pro-life outreach while permitting other types of speech, such as picketing about a labor dispute,” ADF senior counsel Denise Harle said at the time. “We are thankful Right to Life’s staff and volunteers can continue their critical mission of serving vulnerable women in the central California region with their free, life-giving services.”

California Family Council director of capitol Greg Burt told CBN News that state lawmakers ignored their warnings about the unconstitutional law when they passed it last year. Pro-abortion Democrats control the California legislature by a strong majority.

“We warned legislators the bill violated the First Amendment, but they didn’t seem to care,” Burt said. “So crushing are these legal defeats, I doubt the California Attorney General’s Office will try and defend this law any longer.”

Pro-life advocates’ peaceful witness outside abortion facilities does make a difference. Former abortion workers admit that when pro-life sidewalk counselors are outside, the no-show rate for abortion appointments goes up. Sidewalk counselors often are the last line of hope for unborn babies. They offer hope and encouragement to mothers who think abortion is their only option, as well as information about their unborn baby’s development and resources to help pregnant and parenting families.