The U.S. Supreme Court this week heard arguments from the state of Massachusetts that it’s necessary to limit the First Amendment rights of pro-life sidewalk counselors in order to provide protections to abortion facilities.
But pro-lifers, including some of those who were integral in launching the practice of offering pregnant women information about alternatives that could save the lives of their unborn, say it’s an unnecessary infringement of their rights, and should be struck down.
At issue is what the Washington Times labeled a “2007 Massachusetts public safety law” that forbids people from approaching closer than 35 feet to entrances and driveways of abortion businesses – only if they oppose abortion.
The oral arguments in the case were Wednesday, and the Times said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, long known for her dedication to abortion, speculated that it was “disturbances” at abortion clinics and the fact that no one can tell “who will be well-behaved” that make the speech restrictions necessary.
But the Times admitted that “other justices homed in on the free speech issues during the hour-long oral arguments.”
Troy Newman, chief of Operation Rescue, said he fought such bubble zones two decades ago in California, and noted that the “far left” will stop at nothing to silence the pro-life message, and “ultimately saving babies.”
But he agreed that the zones really are not necessary, since most abortion facilities across the nation don’t have them.
He warned that American courts are not to be trusted regarding decisions on abortion, and the pro-life movement already is winning – having closed down 73 percent of the nation’s abortion clinics over the last 41 years.
He pointed out that several of the justices on the current court, including Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor, were brought onto the bench by Barack Obama, and since then, the court has shown it “is a political animal that will do the bidding of the far left …. who’s in the White House.”
Newman’s associate, Cheryl Sullenger, said there are only a few places now protected by such bubble zones, and eliminating them would simply allow counselors – as they do in other cities – to approach women in a friendly manner and a normal voice – instead of raised volume required by distance – and “carry on a conversation.”
“We’re there to help people get the help they need,” she said.
The zones are not needed, and are “grossly unfair” because the “Constitution is supposed to protect everyone’s right to speak,” she said.
“What we have is a buffer zone that singles out people who are pro-life, and discriminates against them. Escorts and people who are pro-abortion walk in and out of those zones without having to give it a second thought.”
It was the Pro-Life Action League that in Chicago pioneered many of the early sidewalk counseling procedures that now are widely used.
There, League Vice President Ann Scheidler told WND the elimination of buffer zones would make a huge difference in those locations.
“There’s no need to violate the First Amendment, take away free speech rights of the whole society, simply because of a viewpoint,” she said, adding that currently the restrictions hamper counselors’ ability to provide information to women.
She also pointed out the discriminatory nature of the buffer zones.
“If you’re for abortion, it’s perfectly OK to be inside. But if you’re against …”
Others also pointed out that there’s a federal law that already makes sure there is open access to abortion facilities.
Mathew Staver, chief of Liberty Counsel, has fought the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances law several times – and won.
He said it already provides legal entrance to abortion facilities for those who want. It specifically bans the use of force, or threat of force, or intimidation, to block access.
In fact, he’s brought to court several times a challenge to the application of the law in West Palm Beach, Fla.. There sidewalk counselors say they unfairly are being targeted by police because officers enforce a noise ordinance only against them.
Not passersby. Not Wendy’s. Not a Pollo Tropical restaurant. And not the abortion business itself.
On appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Susan Pine and Marilyn Blackburn are asking that a noise ordinance be struck down, or otherwise changed to make it constitutional.
Right now, Pine and Blackburn, who offer to help women facing crisis pregnancies outside the city’s Presidential Women’s Center abortion business, say the city’s enforcement of an ordinance is selective.
According to officials with Liberty Counsel, which is representing the women, the city ordinance “bans all ‘shouting’ and amplified sound within 100 feet of the [abortionists'] property line, regardless of the volume or whether the sound causes any disturbance.”
The legal team reports the city and its police department, however, are “only enforcing this draconian ordinance against the pro-life counselors. Susan Pine has already been fined once for using a megaphone outside PWC, and the city and police have threatened further enforcement and punishment.”
“In the meantime, PWC is free to use its own loudspeakers, passers-by are free to use their radios and iPods, and the nearby Wendy’s and Pollo Tropical restaurants are free to use their drive-thru speaker systems, even though all of them violate this ordinance,” Liberty Counsel explained.
“The Constitution applies throughout the entire city of West Palm Beach, and the city may not create ‘Constitution-free zones’’outside abortion clinics,” said Senior Litigation Counsel Horatio Mihet. He said it is unconstitutional for the city to impose a communicative straitjacket on only those speakers with whom the city disagrees.
“The conspiracy to silence pro-life Americans continues unabated in West Palm Beach,” said Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel. “This ordinance is not only overly broad but also viewpoint discriminatory and is, therefore, flatly unconstitutional. Liberty Counsel will not stand idly by while government officials – whether they be the attorney general or leaders in the city of West Palm Beach – harass these law-abiding Americans for their pro-life beliefs.”
He cited the attorney general because it was in 2010 when the abortionists convinced U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to file a federal lawsuit against Pine under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, alleging she “obstructed” the entrance to PWC.
Liberty Counsel defended Susan, the lawsuit was dismissed, and the DOJ was required to pay $120,000 for its abuse of power. Federal Judge Kenneth Ryskamp suspected that there was “a concerted effort between the government and PWC … to quell Ms. Pine’s activities.”
In its opening brief to the 11th Circuit seeking a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the noise ordinance, Liberty Counsel said the women have used hand-held walkie talkies to communicate with each other, and hand-held loudspeakers because of the “ambient noise” that includes traffic, passersby, businesses, lawnmowers, street sweepers and weather elements.”
The noise ordinance is just the latest effort on the party of “the city, the clinic and even the Department of Justice” to “curb free speech outside the business.” In fact, earlier sound restrictions plans were “invalidated on First Amendment grounds,” officials said.
Shortly after, a city ordinance to create a “buffer zone around the clinic,” and a ban on sound within 100 feet, also was struck down.
WND reported on the most recent conflict. That was when Holder accused Pine of allegedly blocking a car loaded with people trying to get to the entrance to the clinic.
As the judge dismissed the federal complaint brought by Holder, he said, “It is rather curious that the Department of Justice was able to meet with the [Presidential Women's Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.] staff and police officers the very next day after the alleged violations occurred. It is also curious that the government failed to make any efforts to obtain the identities of the passengers who are the alleged victims in this case – the court finds it hard to believe that the government was completely unaware of the existence of the sign-in sheets and video surveillance system.”
The judge said the court “can only wonder whether this action was the product of a concerted effort between the government and the PWC, which began well before the date of the incident at issue, to quell Ms. Pine’s activities rather than to vindicate the rights of those allegedly aggrieved by Ms. Pine’s conduct.
“If this is the case, the court would be inclined to sanction the government with, at a minimum, an adverse inference. Given the absence of further evidence substantiating the court’s suspicions, the court is not authorized to do so,” the judge wrote.
The judge’s 21-page ruling in the case that granted Pine a summary judgment and cleared her of the charges said the entire episode raised questions.
“The court is at a loss as to why the government chose to prosecute this particular case in the first place,” Ryskamp wrote. “The record [is] almost entirely devoid of evidence that Ms. Pine acted with the prohibited motive and intent or that Ms. Pine engaged in any unlawful conduct. The government has failed to create a genuine issue for trial on all three elements of its FACE (Federal Access to Clinic Entrances) claim, and Ms. Pine is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
The case pending before the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether it is legal for states to restrict the First Amendment by setting up zones around abortion clinics where pro-life opinions are disallowed.
The Massachusetts law under challenge requires a 35-foot buffer zone. It was established in 2007.
According to a CBN report, Planned Parenthood’s Marty Walz said before the buffer zone, “There were large groups of people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in our doorway, usually screaming at full volume, not quiet counseling, trying to prevent our patients and staff from coming into the health centers.”
But Attorney Steven Aden, with the Alliance Defending Freedom, who has helped the plaintiffs sue Massachusetts, said pro-lifers “have been greatly hindered in their ministry. … They’ve had hundreds of saves in the past and that’s dwindled to next to nothing. So this is a real-world, unconstitutional law that is claiming real lives.”
Ironically, the Supreme Court has imposed a massive buffer zone around itself, where opinions from Americans are disallowed.
The high court has affirmed such zones in the past, but observers at this week’s arguments noted that a number of justices seemed to question the First Amendment infringements.