April 13, 2023

Federal Court Strikes Down California Buffer Zone Law

On March 29, a federal court struck down part of a California law prohibiting pro-life advocates from counseling or protesting on public sidewalks near abortion clinics.

California passed SB 742 under the guise of protecting "vaccination sites." The law impacts speech outside abortion clinics that dispense STD vaccines.

The law outlawed "harassing" patrons of these "vaccination sites." Harassment is defined by the law as approaching within 30 feet of a person or occupied vehicle "for the purpose of passing a leaflet or handbill to, displaying a sign to, or engaging in oral protest, education, or counseling with, that other person in a public way or on a sidewalk area."

These activities are common methods pro-life advocates use to encourage abortion-minded women to choose life for their children. The language was clearly crafted to specifically prevent pro-life speech.

Life Legal filed a federal lawsuit challenging SB 742 on behalf of pro-life sidewalk counselors. In its decision, the court ruled that the prohibition on "harassing" as defined by the law "violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments," noting that "[T]he loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury."

"We are pleased that the court emphasized the unconstitutionality of the legislature's shameless abuse of the term 'harassing' to encompass protected speech and activities," said Life Legal's Katie Short, who litigated the case before the court. "At a time when all manner of liberties is in jeopardy, pro-lifers – even in California – can be assured that federal courts have not wholly abandoned fundamental First Amendment principles."