Pro-life group contests Bubble Zone laws in Chicago

By Michael Layer

CHICAGO, Ill. – The pro-life movement is seeking to dismantle protections for people seeking abortions by challenging the constitutionality of Buffer and Bubble Zone Laws. These laws specify that within a determined radius of a health care facility, protesters cannot be within 8 feet of individuals seeking abortions. On Monday, the Thomas More Society filed in the United State Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Court in Veronica Price v. The City of Chicago.

The Chicago case centers around the 2009 City of Chicago’s Disorderly Conduct Ordinance which stipulates that protestors cannot be within 8 feet of individuals seeking abortions, within a 50-foot radius of a health care facility.

Law enforcement in cities around the county – notably in St. Louis and Madison, WI – mention that such laws are difficult to enforce because protestors have a right to free speech while people seeking abortions have a right to not be harassed. In Veronica Price v. The City of Chicago, plaintiffs allege that Chicago law enforcement have enforced the Ordinance when it does not apply, arguing that they were not within 8 feet of individuals or 50 feet from health care facilities.

The Thomas More Society feels that the “bubble zones” restricts their First Amendment Rights. The anti-abortion group contends that the law prohibits their sidewalk counselors from persuading people from going to the facilities. They posit that such laws limit their constitutional right to free speech. On the other hand, Pro-choice advocates contend that not only are such protests unwelcome, the “bubble zones” protects people, specifically women, from being followed and photographed. The Thomas More Society denies those allegations.

“Contrary to pro-abortion propaganda, pro-life counselors do not intimidate women approaching abortion clinics,” Thomas More Society Senior Counsel and Co-Executive Director Thomas Olp said. “That type of engagement would be ineffective. Pro-life sidewalk counselors compassionately and calmly approach women, one-on-one, to offer them information about abortion alternatives, of which many are unaware.”

The Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, Alison Dreith, says after the Center for Medical Progress – who is supported by the Thomas More Society – released deliberately misleading videos, “harassment, threats, and attacks against abortion providers, their staff, and facilities have surged dramatically across the country.”

She contends that “the violence is intended to silence providers and drive them away from their jobs, but we will not let that happen. Nobody should face harassment or attacks for seeking or providing constitutionally protected healthcare.”

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) which banned protestors from using physical force, intimidation, or interfere with people seeking abortions. The 2000 Supreme Court case, Hill vs. Colorado, established these “bubble zones,” which established that within a 100-foot radius of a facility, protestors cannot display signs, distribute literature, or give counseling to a person within 8 feet. In 2014, Boston attempted to prevent protest within a radius of facilities in 35 feet in McCullen v. Coakley, but was stricken down because the court felt that 35 feet burdened free speech. The case has inspired similar bills around the country.

The Missouri legislature held a special session this summer to address regional abortion clinic protections and changes passed by the City of St. Louis.

The story originally appeared in The Missouri Times.

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