A Catholic “sidewalk counselor” has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review a New York county law that prevents pro-life protesters from speaking to people near abortion clinics, according to a religious liberty law firm.
Debra Vitagliano is now petitioning the Supreme Court to look at a 2000 court ruling, Hill v. Colorado, which involves a 1993 law that prevents the approach of a person within eight feet without their consent to give them fliers or counseling, according to law firm Becket.
Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that Mrs. Vitagliano can ask the Supreme Court to reconsider the Hill v. Colorado ruling that the law firm says “allowed states and local governments to ban peaceful life-affirming advocacy on public sidewalks.”
In 2022, the government of New York’s Westchester County passed a measure that restricts discussions about abortion, resources available to women, and alternatives to abortion on public sidewalks near abortion clinics. The law implemented a 100-foot zone around clinics, including public sidewalks.
“This ban on sidewalk counseling deprives abortion-vulnerable women of a final opportunity to receive help and learn about additional resources before potentially making a life-altering choice,” the firm said, adding that now, the Supreme Court could render a decision against Hill v. Colorado, which it said was a “major departure from our nation’s protections of free speech.”
Last month, the Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law adopted by Westchester County, located just north of New York City, was valid under the Hill ruling. The court said it was bound to follow that ruling unless the Supreme Court expressly overturns it.
“No one should be arrested and put behind bars for having peaceful, face-to-face conversations on a public sidewalk,” Mark Rienzi, president and CEO at Becket, said in a news release. “The Court should fix the mistake of Hill and make clear that the First Amendment protects these offers of help and information to women in need.”
He added, “No one’s looking for the right to block or tackle somebody or anything like that. But we are looking for the right to speak peacefully,” according to the Washington Examiner.
The Supreme Court in a 2014 case struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, but the court did not mention the Hill decision.
Last year, an Ohio-based U.S. appeals court temporarily blocked a Kentucky county’s 10-foot buffer zone, citing the 2014 Supreme Court decision. A Philadelphia-based appeals court is currently considering a challenge to a 20-foot buffer zone adopted by Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Last year, when the law was passed, some on the Westchester’s Board of Legislators who supported the measure said it would afford a woman the “right to walk freely to and from a health care facility.” The law was passed right after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, allowing states to have the right to place restrictions on or allow abortions.
“It will not prevent protesters from protesting in those places. That is not the intent of the law. Rather, it would only prevent those persons seeking to engage in those activities from harming, harassing or obstructing access,” Democratic Legislator Colin Smith said at the time, according to local media outlets.
“Eleven years ago, this law didn’t get passed for a reason, and it still is wrong today, not because of medical reasons but cancelling someone’s freedom of speech,” Republican Legislator James Nolan said in response.
Some critics of the measure also said the Westchester law’s passage was simply a knee-jerk reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision.
The case submitted by Mrs. Vitagliano is listed as Vitagliano v. County of Westchester. The Supreme Court’s nine justices will likely consider whether to take up the case or not during the fall. At least four justices are required to sign off on taking it up for the next term.
Reuters contributed to this report.
From The Epoch Times
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