Lawsuit Filed Against Westchester Abortion Clinic Access Law

Thomas More Society Claims Free Speech Restrictions Unconstitutional
Lawsuit Filed Against Westchester Abortion Clinic Access Law 313401853 599357258631401 4046768703787107885 n
Father Christopher Moscinski was arrested outside a White Plains clinic in 2021

“I voted no because I believe this bill will fail the test proposed in the 2014 US Supreme Court decision McCullen v Coakley and that this bill places an unfair burden on protesters’ right to freedom of expression. In the long run, I believe that passing this law will cost Westchester County millions of dollars trying to defend this unconstitutional law in court. We are elected not only to represent our constituents but also to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

County legislator James Nolan

“We have at least seven layers of unconstitutional speech restrictions in this law. The First Amendment does not allow the government to ban legal speech it deems offensive simply because it does not agree, even vehemently, with the message.”

Lawyer Cristóbal Ferrara

“This law is designed to intimidate pro-lifers and scare them off the sidewalks in front of abortion facilities. We cannot allow it to achieve that goal.” WHITE PLAINS 40 DAYS FOR LIFE,

By Dan Murphy

Citing the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Thomas More Society has filed a lawsuit against Westchester County County Executive George Latimer and Westchester County Police Commissioner, Terrance Raynor, alleging that a Westchester County law placing restrictions on protests outside abortion clinics is unconstitutional and a violation of free speech and the First Amendment.

Westchester County legislators passed the Reproductive Health Care Facility Access Act, which prohibits any person from entering or leaving a reproductive health care facility, following, or harassing a person within 25 feet of a facility and damage or interfere with the operation of a facility.

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The law was passed as a result of several incidents in which pro-life protesters entered clinics in Westchester that perform abortions. A pro-life group, 40 Days for Life, a local 40 Days for Life vigilante group, and two individual plaintiffs have asked a New York federal court to stop Westchester County from enforcing a law that places multiple restrictions on speech of pro-life advocates. on sidewalks and rights-of-way adjacent to abortion clinics in the county.

On November 24, the plaintiffs filed for a preliminary injunction to enforce the new law, Westchester County Laws Chapter 425, while the matter is under court consideration, followed by a permanent injunction on enforcement.

40 Days for Life claims the new law includes a “floating bubble zone” provision that makes it illegal for sidewalk counselors to “approach” within 8 feet of anyone within 100 feet of the driveway. to an abortion clinic unless they have the person’s permission. prior “affirmative” consent to do so. The law defines “approach” as any movement to a point within eight feet of any part of another person’s body by any part of the body of a pro-life advocate or even a sign held by a pro-life advocate.

“The floating bubble zone is a classic content-based speech restriction,” said TMS Special Counsel Christopher A. Ferrara. “Only speech involving ‘protest, education or advice’—meaning only pro-life speech, obviously—is prohibited within the floating bubble under threat of arrest, prosecution, fines, and up to six months in jail. You can talk about the weather or anything else inside the floating bubble, but if you say a word about the pro-life message, you’re a criminal.”

Ferrara’s co-counsel, Michael McHale, attorney for the Thomas More Society, further explained the Westchester County law’s challenge. “The law also establishes a ‘no stalking and stalking’ zone within 25 feet of any part of an abortion clinic facility, including the public portion of the driveway that is the main point of peaceful gathering between pro-life sidewalk advocates and people. approaching or leaving one of the abortion clinics by car. ‘Go on’ could mean a step or two, while ‘harassment’ is defined, incredibly, as any form of unwanted speech or conduct, no matter how peaceful, that does not stop after an ‘express or implied request’ from cease. What does ‘implicit request’ mean? That is anyone’s guess, which is why the law is unconstitutionally vague and overly broad. That is also true of the law’s other prohibitions on ‘obstructing’ access to an abortion clinic or ‘interfering’ with its operation, defined to include ‘by deceptive means’, meaning potentially any pro-life speech that the clinic political opposition consider ‘disinformation’. ‘”

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“We have at least seven layers of unconstitutional speech restrictions in this law,” Ferrara added. “During the legislative sessions that preceded its adoption, ‘pro-choice’ members of the Board of Legislators made it clear that they were targeting pro-life discourse that they considered too ‘offensive’ to allow. The First Amendment does not allow the government to ban legal speech it deems offensive simply because it does not agree, even vehemently, with the message.”

As the local vigil group 40 Days for Life, a plaintiff in the action, warned its participants: “This law is designed to intimidate pro-lifers and scare them off the sidewalks in front of abortion facilities. We cannot allow it to achieve that goal.”

Chapter 425 passed four days after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, quashing Roe v. Wade. “County legislators made it clear during the meeting where they voted to adopt Chapter 425 that it was in part retaliation for Dobbs’ decision. But the same lawmakers are well aware that, just for starters, the 8-foot floating bubble zone may well be struck down by the Supreme Court, whose most recent decisions clearly challenge an earlier Supreme Court decision, Hill v. Colorado, which upheld that law despite its blatant targeting of pro-life sidewalk councillors, an unconstitutional “content-based” restriction on speech that seeks to punish speakers based on the officially unfavorable content of their message.

Since Hill, the Supreme Court has recognized that “floating bubble zones” in which pro-life speech is criminalized but other types of speech are permitted violate the First Amendment. Accordingly, TMS’s Amended Verified Complaint against Westchester County cites the Court’s 2014 decision in McCullen v. Coakley, in which the majority observes that “when the government makes it more difficult to engage” in pro-life “sidewalk counselling,” including “normal conversation and fliers on a public sidewalk,” “imposes an especially significant burden of the First Amendment.” Furthermore, the Amended Complaint states that any law regulating this peaceful defense of life must provide “adequate respite to First Amendment-protected liberties,” according to Madsen v. Women’s Health (1994). .

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“Westchester County has completely ignored the clear warnings of the Supreme Court,” Ferrara observed, “by enacting a blitzkrieg of speech restrictions near abortion providers that leave no breathing room for peaceful expression pro -life”.

Read the complaint here[[[[https://thomasmoresociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/FILED-First-Amended-Verified-Complaint.pdf].

The Westchester Board of Legislators voted 15-2 to pass the law, with lawmakers James Nolan and Margaret Cunzio voting against it. Casting his vote against, Nolan said, “I voted against it because I believe this bill will not meet the test proposed in the US Supreme Court decision. In the long run, I believe that passing this law will cost Westchester County millions of dollars trying to defend this unconstitutional law in court. We are elected not only to represent our constituents but also to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

This summer, three men affiliated with the anti-abortion group Red Rose Rescue were sentenced to three months in prison following their criminal conviction for breaking and entering at All Women’s Health and Medical Services in White Plains. On November 27, 2021, at approximately 8:40 a.m., the defendants entered the facility where they unlawfully remained for approximately two hours despite receiving numerous requests and warnings from medical personnel and the White Plains Police Department to that they leave