By Kathleen Gilbert

CHICAGO, Illinois, October 9, 2009 ( -  Within hours after a Chicago ordinance muzzling abortion mill sidewalk counseling passed the City Council Wednesday, hundreds and perhaps thousands of pro-lifers began pushing back against the ordinance, flooding the city government with phone calls against what they call an egregious violation of free speech rights.

Mayor Richard Daley's office has received so many calls over the controversial measure that attempts to reach the mayor by telephone are being immediately transferred to an automated system registering callers' approval or disapproval on the bill.

The Disorderly Conduct Ordinance amendment, introduced by Chicago Alderman Vi Daley on September 9, prohibits pro-life protesters within 50 feet of an abortion mill from approaching within 8 feet of visitors without their consent.  Violators of the new law, to go into effect November 17, could be fined up to $500.  

The move was greeted heartily by Planned Parenthood of Illinois, who personally lobbied in its favor, saying it balanced “the need to protect patient and staff safety while preserving the freedom of speech.”

But pro-life Chicagoans say it would put an effective end to the visible 40 Days for Life campaign in the city.  Even the ACLU – known for championing the “right” to abortion over the rights of the unborn – weighed in against the bill as a clear threat to First Amendment rights.

“Eight feet is a very large buffer for a city like Chicago,” said Eric Scheidler of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League 

Scheidler told (LSN) that the ordinance “will actually be devastating to sidewalk counselling in the city” because of the high level of congestion, and sidewalks too narrow to abide by the law “without being driven out of any kind of opportunity to witness to the value of life.”

Sources within the city government confirmed that “the phones have been ringing off the hook” with calls opposing to the ordinance, according to Scheidler.  

“They even had to set up an automated system, so that's a pretty good sign that people are really calling in,” he said.  He also noted that, judging by the crowd that rallied before the City Council Wednesday, “an overwhelming majority” of the feedback was in opposition to the ordinance.

Scheidler noted that the bill's wording was dangerously vague, as it failed to specify what constituted enough “consent” from a visitor to allow a pro-lifer to approach without paying the penalty.

“It would have a tremendously chilling effect not only in its practical application,” he said, “but in the fear that it raises amongst pro-life witnesses: that they may be breaching this confusing law – a fifty foot zone within which there is an 8 foot zone – and it may cause people to stay away simply out of fear.”

He said the Pro-Life Action league planned to continue fighting against the ordinance with a legal brief to the mayor pointing out its unconstitutionality, amid other efforts.  While Daley does not need to sign the law, Scheidler said Daley has the power to veto the bill by executive order even after it goes into effect.  

Mayor Daley has yet to respond to the outpouring of opposition.

To respectfully contact Mayor Richard Daley: 312-744-3300

For more information: Pro-Life Action

See related coverage:

Bursting the Bubble: Pro-life Advocates Fight Chicago Law Aimed to Kill 40 Days for Life Vigil