Pro-Life Group Sues to Stop Illinois Law That Bans Free Speech Outside Abortion Centers

State   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   May 16, 2023   |   6:43PM   |   Springfield, Illinois

A pro-life organization sued the City of Carbondale, Illinois on Tuesday to challenge a 100-foot buffer zone around abortion facilities that restricts compassionate outreach to pregnant mothers and babies.

Coalition Life, a sidewalk counseling organization dedicated to helping mothers and saving unborn babies from abortion, expressed confidence about their lawsuit, saying the ordinance clearly is unconstitutional.

Brian Westbrook, executive director of Coalition Life, said he warned the Carbondale City Council that they would take legal action, but the city leaders passed it anyway Jan. 10.

“Today is that day, and I assure you that we have both the legal resources and the stamina to fight this matter all the way to the Supreme Court,” Westbrook said in a statement shared with LifeNews. “This appallingly discriminatory ordinance is an attempt to silence American citizens and is a direct assault on our civil rights and religious freedoms.”

The ordinance, which pro-lifers described as an “anti-speech bubble,” creates a 100-foot zone that restricts free speech around the entrance doors of abortion facilities, hospitals and other medical clinics in the city.

It prohibits anyone from approaching another individual within 8 feet inside the zone to offer educational materials, display a sign or engage in “oral protest, education or counseling” without the person’s consent. Those who violate the ordinance could be cited for disorderly conduct.

The lawsuit, filed by the Thomas More Society, says the ordinance gives city government leaders “unbridled discretion” to determine what speech is allowed within the zone and what is not.

“We feel strongly that this 100-foot bubble zone ordinance is a direct infringement on constitutionally-protected rights,” said Peter Breen, executive vice president of the legal organization.

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Westbrook said Coalition Life staff and volunteers are not aggressive or disorderly; they sincerely just want to help women and babies.

“Our sidewalk counselors are peaceful and loving people …” he said. “There are thousands of women we have helped during a very difficult time in their lives, and they want us on that sidewalk to help others. We will do whatever it takes to be there for them.”

Despite what abortion activists often claim, pro-life sidewalk counselors are peaceful and compassionate. Being mean or harassing is counterproductive to pro-lifers’ goal of helping parents choose life for their babies.

Most pro-life sidewalk counselors are volunteers who stand outside abortion facilities in all kinds of weather to offer mothers support and save unborn babies from slaughter. Sometimes pro-life sidewalk counselors are victims of assault and harassment.

Pro-life sidewalk counselors do save lives. During a press conference Tuesday, Westbrook said Coalition Life counselors have helped 3,600 women choose life for their unborn babies in the past 11 years just in Illinois and Missouri, WSIU reports.

Buffer zones across the country are being challenged in court as a violation of free speech and other constitutional freedoms. While the U.S. Supreme Court did grant a victory to pro-lifers in a 2014 buffer zone case, it more recently refused to hear two other cases involving pro-life advocates’ freedom to speak on public sidewalks outside abortion facilities in Pennsylvania and Chicago.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 35-foot Massachusetts buffer zone law. However, other smaller buffer zones still are in place across the U.S.