A Catholic sidewalk counselor petitioned the Supreme Court Friday to reverse a prior ruling that permits states to enforce laws targeting pro-life counseling outside abortion clinics.
In response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June 2020, Westchester County, New York passed a law creating a 100-foot “buffer zone” outside abortion clinics where it is illegal to approach another person to engage in “oral protest, education, or counseling” without consent. The law is similar to one the Supreme Court upheld in its 2000 Hill v. Colorado decision, which sidewalk counselor Debra Vitagliano, backed by Becket Law, now asks the justices to overrule.
“No one should be arrested and put behind bars for having peaceful, face-to-face conversations on a public sidewalk,” Becket president and CEO Mark Rienzi said in a statement. “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.”
A sidewalk counselor asked #SCOTUS today to affirm her ability to offer compassionate support to abortion-vulnerable women. This comes on the heels of a federal appeals court leaving in place a law that targets peaceful conversations on public sidewalks outside abortion clinics.…
— BECKET (@BECKETlaw) July 21, 2023
Westchester County’s law carries penalties of up to six months imprisonment or $1,000 for the first conviction and one year or $5,000 for any subsequent offenses.
Vitagliano had just completed courses on counseling abortion-vulnerable women and began volunteering at a local pregnancy center as a “life consultant” when the county passed its law, according to the petition. Her petition notes the county was “aware that Hill is on unsure footing and ripe for overruling” but still passed it just three days after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
“I am called to be a compassionate voice to abortion-vulnerable women, letting them know that that they are loved, supported, and can choose life for their babies,” Vitagliano in said a statement. “I pray that the Justices will take this case and allow me to help women in need.”
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