A proposal moving swiftly toward approval by the Oakland City Council would tell Christians and others who offer an alternative to abortion to “shut up,” a public interest law firm says.

Cyrus Johnson

“If we assume there is a right to choice as it is alleged … if there is the right to choose an abortion, there must also be a right to choose birth,” Cyrus Johnson, an attorney affiliated with Pacific Justice Institute, told WND after the council gave initial approval to a new speech restriction on pro-life protesters.

But Johnson said a new “bubble” law en route to passage by the council simply ignores free speech issues and clamps down on one side of the abortion argument.

“If reproductive rights include the right to choice, and one of those choices is abortion, then another one of those choices is to give birth,” Johnson said. “If they claim, on the one hand, that the law guarantees the right to reproductive rights counseling on the matter of the choice of abortion, it must necessarily also include the right to receive counseling about another choice. This ordinance effectively wipes out that second alternative.

“It is saying some people can counsel but other people cannot counsel,” he told WND. “It depends which side of the debate you’re on.”

Pro-lifers recently waited through six hours of arguments over other issues before the proposed ordinance, No. 25 on an agenda of 26 items, took the stage at 12:30 a.m. The city’s proposal would require anyone who offers counseling on sidewalks outside of abortion industry businesses to remain eight feet away from those entering the building.

City officials alleged there was a rising tide of complaints of “harassment” of clinic patients and staff and state and federal laws don’t offer enough protections. They want to impose penalties of up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,000 for violators of their new speech regulation. A final vote is set for Dec. 4.

But city officials are wrong on both counts, Johnson insisted, pointing out there were no records of complaints, no injunctions, no records of lawsuits, no record of police action and no record of any kind submitted to support the allegation that such situations are a problem.

Council, left to right, standing: LaTonda Simmons, Desley Brooks, Jean Quan, Patricia Kernighan, Ron Dellums, Henry Change, Ignacia De La Feunte, Deborah Edgerly. Seated: Courtney Ruby, Nancy Nadel, Larry Reid, Jane Brunner, John Russo

And, he said, the law already provides penalties for various actions.

“If I get too close to you in a threatening way, that’s known as assault,” Johnson said. “If I touch you, that’s battery. If I block you or prevent access, that’s false imprisonment.”

There’s even a federal law requiring open access to such “health care” facilities, he noted.

The driving force, therefore, isn’t any legitimate safety concern but simply a desire to stop the free speech of one side, Johnson asserted.

“This is the biggest threat to free speech in a generation, and that’s not hyperbole,” he told WND. “I truly believe that, with regards to the topic of abortion, which is very controversial, this is the government deciding which message can be heard and which message cannot be heard.”

The proposal was brought by councilwoman Jane Brunner, who told local reporters the ordinance “would give women the right to make that choice and safely go to the clinic,” without hearing any statements that conflict with the abortion-rights lobby.

But protesters themselves say they are more often the victims of harassment, up to and including violence.

Walter Hove, a Union City resident who hands out pro-life literature in Oakland, told reporters that’s exactly what he’s seen.

“I’ve seen the escorts push and shove protesters,” he said. “The ordinance is one-sided, and there is no need for it.”

He suggested if protesters have been “threatening,” police and prosecutors simply should use video as evidence video from the cameras abortion businesses have installed to monitor them.

Johnson said the proposal restricts speech, conversation, handing out a leaflet and a range of other actions.

“Anyone with an interest in the right of free speech and limited government would consider whether we ought to grant the government the power to say which message can be communicated and which message cannot,” he said.

On the California Catholic News website forum, reader Maria Rosa was blunt in her opinion: “Those supporting and promoting this bubble law do not care one iota about free speech when that free speech doesn’t agree with what they want to do. They only support free speech when it is in agreement with what they support.”

“So, where’s the ACLU?” asked another reader. “Why aren’t they rushing forward to protect that which they claim to be their basic charge – protecting the First Amendment freedom of speech rights?”

The Catholic newspaper also reported the story of Mary Arnold, 55, who was a pro-life protester for about a year, until the business hired escorts to “protect” customers.

“During that year, we had a lot of saves – about 20 babies,” she said. “These women were grateful that someone was there to offer an alternative. We referred them to a pregnancy help center that provided assistance.

“When the escorts came, it was like having a bubble anyway, because we couldn’t get near anybody,” Arnold said. “They would jump in front of us and shout out at the women, ‘Don’t talk to them!’ If a girl was actually brave enough to reach out for a pamphlet, they would snatch it out of her hands.”

Johnson told WND the ordinance provides a protected area within 100 feet of an entrance to an abortion business in which no one can approach another person within eight feet without permission.

“Nobody has the right to be unspoken to,” he said. “The constitution does not prevent people from being addressed.”

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