US Supreme Court declines to hear cases on laws banning pro-life free speech outside abortion centers
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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 6, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — The U.S. Supreme Court decided last week on Thursday not to hear challenges by pro-life advocates to two “bubble zone” laws that ban them from exercising pro-life speech outside abortion centers.
The court’s July 2 written order declining to hear the cases from Chicago and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, came scant days after its 5-4 ruling striking down a Louisiana law requiring abortion centers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
The justices followed the usual practice of not commenting on turning away the cases, Associated Press reported, adding that the court’s order noted that Justice Clarence Thomas would have heard the Chicago case.
The Chicago ordinance has been in place since 2009 and forbids pro-life advocates from going within eight feet of a pregnant mother who is within 50 feet of an abortion center. It is modelled on a law the Supreme Court upheld in its 2000 Hill vs. Colorado decision, which ruled bubble zones are not unconstitutional.
Pro-life advocates challenged the ordinance after the Supreme Court in 2014 unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that created 35-foot buffer zones around abortion facilities.
The 34-page ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts said the Massachusetts statute went too far by prohibiting pro-life advocates from engaging in free speech on “a public way or sidewalk adjacent to a reproductive health care facility.”
The buffer zone law represents an “extreme step of closing a substantial portion of a traditional public forum to all speakers,” the justices ruled. “The Commonwealth may not do that consistent with the First Amendment.”
A U.S. District Court judge gave the Thomas More Society the go-ahead in 2017 to proceed with the challenge after Chicago’s city council tried to have it dismissed.
Pro-life activists told the Supreme Court that the Chicago ordinance violates their free speech rights and that the court’s 2000 Hill vs. Colorado decision should be reconsidered, Associated Press reported.
The top court also declined to hear a Liberty Counsel challenge to the Harrisburg city ordinance that makes it illegal to “congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” with 20 feet of an abortion facility.
The council of Pennsylvania’s capital city passed the ordinance unanimously in 2012 at the behest of Planned Parenthood, and tacked on fines of up to $300 and jail time 0f up to 30 days.
Lower courts have upheld the Harrisburg ordinance on the grounds that it doesn’t apply to “sidewalk counseling,” Associated Press reported.
The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the bubble zone law challenges follows its Monday decision on the Louisiana abortion law, which it ruled violated the abortion “rights” the court discovered in the U.S. Constitution in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
It was the court’s first major case on abortion since Trump’s election and his appointment of two justices, which was thought to give the court a conservative majority, Associated Press noted.
However, Roberts sided with the majority and reversed his own past decision to uphold a similar Texas law.
Pro-life advocates denounced Monday’s ruling, with Abby Johnson describing it as a “huge blow” to women and Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser calling it a “bitter disappointment.”