Federal Judge Strikes Down California Law Criminalizing Pro-Life Free Speech

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 30, 2023   |   7:13PM   |  

A federal court yesterday struck down a provision of a California law that threatened the right of pro-lifers to exercise their First Amendment rights on public sidewalks outside abortion clinics.

In 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 742, which criminalized speech and other First Amendment activities outside any “vaccination site,” including Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics that dispense Gardasil and other STD vaccines.

The law specifically outlawed “harassing,” which lawmakers redefined as approaching within 30 feet of another person or occupied vehicle “for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with, that other person in a public way or on a sidewalk area.” These are all activities pro-lifers frequently engage in on public sidewalks.

SB 742 was, in effect, a gift from lawmakers to abortionists who wanted to squelch pro-lifers’ First Amendment rights.

Life Legal immediately filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of SB 742. Our clients are pro-life sidewalk counselors who regularly speak with women entering “vaccination site” abortion clinics, and who provide literature and display signs offering help with abortion alternatives – all of which would have been illegal under the law.

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The court held that “the prohibition on ‘harassing’ in the statute violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” noting that “[T]he loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury.”

“We are pleased that the court emphasized the unconstitutionality of the legislature’s shameless abuse of the term ‘harassing’ to encompass protected speech and activities,” said Life Legal’s Katie Short, who litigated the case before the court. “At a time when all manner of liberties is in jeopardy, pro-lifers – even in California – can be assured that federal courts have not wholly abandoned fundamental First Amendment principles.”

Life Legal will never stop fighting for the First Amendment right of pro-lifers to help women and to oppose the abortion regime.

The case is Aubin v. Bonta, Case No. 21-cv-07938 NC.