WESTCHESTER COUNTY, New York (LifeSiteNews) – A coalition of pro-life states and organizations are calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down so-called “bubble zone” laws infringing on pro-life activists’ ability to engage in peaceful speech outside of abortion facilities.
Catholic News Agency reported that the Attorneys General of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia have signed onto an amicus brief supporting religious liberty firm Becket’s case against a New York county law on behalf of Catholic mother and pro-life sidewalk counselor Debra Vitagliano.
Vitagliano, whose faith as well as her work with special-needs children as an occupational therapist help inform her passion for the preborn, is challenging Westchester Count’s Reproductive Health Care Facilities Access Act, which forbids pro-lifers from speaking to abortion-minded women within 100 feet of an abortion facility. Violators face up to $5,000 in fines and up to a year in prison.
“I want to offer abortion-vulnerable women a message of hope and compassion, letting them know that they are loved and can keep their babies,” Vitagliano said.
She, Beckett, and those supporting them want the nation’s highest court to reconsider its 2000 precedent Hill v. Colorado, which upheld the constitutionality of bubble zone laws.
“Legal scholars and judges have long criticized Hill, and last year, five justices of the Supreme Court stated that Hill was a major departure from our nation’s protections of free speech,” Becket says. “Debra’s case presents an ideal opportunity for the Supreme Court to right Hill’s wrong and protect all those who want to serve abortion-vulnerable women.”
Becket president and CEO Mark Rienzi takes the volume of outside support their effort has gotten as an encouraging sign. “Eighteen briefs in support of certiorari is a huge number,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Westchester Board of Legislators voted to repeal the law’s 8-foot “floating bubble zone” around individuals entering or leaving abortion facilities, according to Thomas More Society, another religious liberty firm challenging the law. However, several other anti-speech provisions remain.
The only member of the Court involved in the Hill case and still serving is conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, who dissented. Pro-lifers hope bubble zone challenges will fare better with a more conservative majority and a legal environment less defensive of abortion in light of the Court overturning Roe v. Wade last year.
In 2021, the Supreme Court gave bubble zone laws another reprieve when it refused to hear Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh, which concerned a 2005 ordinance requiring pro-life activists to stay more than 15 feet away from the entrances to abortion facilities, effectively keeping pro-lifers from communicating with women entering or exiting the building to appeal to them to choose life or offer them assistance with abortion alternatives.
While agreeing that rejecting the particular case was valid on technical grounds because “it involve[d] unclear, preliminary questions about the proper interpretation of state law,” Thomas urged his colleagues at the time to “take up this issue in an appropriate case to resolve the glaring tension in our precedents,” because such laws “often impose serious limits on free speech.”