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Pro-Abortion City Councils Sued For Attempting To Silence Pro-Life Sidewalk Counselors

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City council members made it clear that the goal of the ‘buffer zone’ rule is to suppress pro-lifers outside abortion facilities.

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A federal lawsuit filed in May by Coalition Life seeks to break down unconstitutional, restrictive speech zones across the country. The suit positions pro-life advocates against the city of Carbondale, Illinois, where council members made an aggressive move to shut down pro-life sidewalk advocacy, voting unanimously to establish a buffer zone surrounding “health care” clinics in the area, including abortion facilities. Coalition Life seeks to reinstate free speech rights, as protected under the Constitution, and set a national precedent for pro-life sidewalk advocates.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year, the city of Carbondale in southern Illinois has been rolling out the red carpet for abortion facilities. The town of around 22,000 residents welcomed its first abortion facility on Oct. 11, 2022, then a second not long after, and a third. A mega Planned Parenthood is currently under construction.

One city council member suggested in an email that abortion would be good for the hotel and restaurant business, generating more tax dollars for the city, said Brian Westbrook, Coalition Life’s executive director.

Carbondale has been lauded by leftists as the “abortion haven” of the southeast, but a steady resistance is disrupting industry profit.

Abortion-minded women driving from several hours away are responding to sidewalk counselors and turning around, said Westbrook. For these places of “death, deception, and confusion,” life advocates offer a powerful alternative. That’s bad for business.

“They’re not doing the business they thought they would do,” said Shawn Carney, co-founder and CEO of 40 Days for Life. “These abortion facilities go to state lines and … They never hit their numbers historically.”

According to Coalition Life, 82 percent of abortion clients are from out of state.

“Women come from miles away because they feel like they have absolutely no other options, yet we and [more than] 90 pregnancy centers and millions of citizens stand with them,” Westbrook said. “We provide all of our services completely free, from pregnancy testing, ultrasounds, STI testing, housing, counseling, car payments, diapers, maternity clothes, and adoption services. The abortion industry is unwilling to provide any of this to women and goes to great lengths to hide these resources from them.”

The Carbondale City Council attempts to enforce regulations, effectively creating a “bubble zone” outside abortion facilities. Sidewalk counselors offering information on free services and support to pregnant women have been told where they can and cannot stand, what they can and cannot wear, that smiling and waving are prohibited, and most egregiously that a volunteer couldn’t pass out copies of the Holy Bible.

“The ordinance is predicated on the fact that we have to protect the safety of those going in to obtain an abortion and there was no evidence there was any vice or safety issues,” said local attorney Darrel Dunham. “There wasn’t any basis for the accusations. At the council meeting [members] were making statements about how uncontrolled the abortion protesters were and none had any factual basis.”

Citizens who opposed the council’s regulations attended council meetings to express their concerns only to be lectured and ignored.

“The city council gave little justification for this anti-free speech bubble zone, but instead resorted to calling [pro-lifers] names,” Westbrook said. “When asked a simple question about how this bubble zone would be enforced the city attorney claimed that was attorney-client privilege and would be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

Overturning Buffer Zones

In Hill v. Colorado, the U.S. Supreme Court said the statute achieved the appropriate balance between pro-life advocates and abortion patients in their right to exercise free speech. The court ruled that protesters could not engage in any acts of physical violence and must stay outside of a 50-foot buffer zone.

In a post-Dobbs world, any constitutional right to an abortion has been overturned and should be dominated by the right to free speech.

“The Colorado case was trying to balance two rights — free speech and abortion,” Dunham said. “That analysis is out the window [post-Dobbs]. Most importantly, in the Colorado case, the U.S. Supreme Court took care to note that when they looked at the legislative history that would have caused them to believe that the statute was aimed or primarily concerned with pro-life protestors.”

In the Carbondale case, city council members made it clear that the goal of the zone rule is to suppress pro-lifers.

In Westchester, New York, pro-life sidewalk campaigns are currently illegal. The city successfully removed the pro-life presence outside of abortion facilities with a similar city ruling.

40 Days for Life v. Westchester seeks freedom of speech protections similar to Coalition Life’s case. If passed in favor, both cases would set a strong precedent in eliminating the perceived “right” of abortion mills to control free speech on the sidewalks and areas surrounding their facilities.

“The city did get one thing right, we are entitled,” Westbrook said. “As U.S. citizens we are entitled to our First Amendment right to free speech identified in our founding documents. We are entitled to have our voices heard and the women and their pre-born children are entitled to know their options.”

The Carbondale City Council would not provide comment on pending litigation.


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