Pro-lifers in Britain for now seem stuck with 'exclusion zones' preventing us offering advice and help to frightened young women outside abortion clinics. But in the USA, the same draconian legislation is being challenged, with the help of the free speech First Amendment.
Colorado pro-life activist Wendy Faustin has filed a lawsuit against the state’s “bubble law” limiting peaceful sidewalk counselling outside abortion facilities, arguing that the law infringes on pro-lifers’ constitutional right to free speech as well as equal protection under the law.
Colorado’s 1993 law forbids anyone within 100 feet of the entrance to an abortion centre from “knowingly approach[ing]” within 8 feet of someone else without his or her consent for the purpose of passing “a leaflet or handbill to, displa[y] a sign to, or engag[e] in oral protest, education, or counseling with [that] person.”
Faustin filed a challenge to the law, as well as a related local ordinance in Denver, with the U.S. District Court of Colorado on First and Fourteenth Amendment grounds. She argues that the law makes meaningful respectful dialogue with women considering abortion all but impossible, forcing pro-lifers to yell from a distance in order to be heard at all.
“The basic idea is that free speech means the government can’t squash or silence messages it doesn’t like; it can’t punish people who voice those messages,” explained First Liberty Institute attorney Roger Byron, who is representing Faustin. “That kind of government action is blatantly unconstitutional. The whole point of the First Amendment is to prevent stuff like that. And yet, what we have here in Colorado and Denver is a law and an ordinance that does just that.”
“These laws would have been struck down instantly if they had restricted anti-war protesters or union members on strike outside their employer’s building,” Byron continued, maintaining that current jurisprudence essentially acts as if there are “two First Amendments” in operation. “There’s the real First Amendment that protects your basic civil rights, including free speech, and then there is the other First Amendment that applies to those who advocate the pro-life viewpoint, and it is used to trample their free speech rights.”