California to Pay $192K to Settle Pro-Life Group's Free Speech Lawsuit
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California state officials have agreed to settle a two-year-old lawsuit brought by Right to Life of Central California, agreeing to honor the group's free speech rights and pay $192,706 in attorneys' fees.
Attorneys with the nonprofit religious rights law firm Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represented the pro-life group in its free speech battle with the state.
The ADF filed a lawsuit in October 2021 after Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 742 into law making it illegal to approach a person within 30 feet of "a public way or on a sidewalk area" and "within 100 feet of the entrance or exit of a vaccination site and is seeking to enter or exit a vaccination site."
A vaccination site was defined as the "physical location where vaccination services are provided, including, but not limited to, a hospital, physician's office, clinic, or any retail space or pop-up location made available for vaccination services."
Any violation of the law was "punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment."
In the lawsuit, the ADF explained the law restricted Right to Life's ability to peaceably offer charitable services to women in need on the public sidewalk and street outside its own building—and even its own parking lot—because Right to Life is located next to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic that administers the HPV vaccine.
As part of the settlement, California officials agreed to not enforce the discriminatory parts of the law against Right to Life or any speaker.
"Women facing unplanned pregnancies deserve to have full support and resources available to them when they choose life for their unborn children, yet the state of California unconstitutionally tried to silence the voices of those advocating on their behalf," ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle said.
"This is a significant victory not only for our client, Right to Life, but for every other speaker in California," she noted. "The First Amendment protects every Californian, regardless of their viewpoint. Now Right to Life's staff and volunteers can continue their critical mission of serving vulnerable women in the central California region with their free, life-giving services."
In a statement, the California Family Council called the settlement, a victory for "all Californians."
"This is a victory not only for the pro-life movement in California, but for the First Amendment rights of all Californians. SB 742 is a clear violation of constitutionally protected free speech. The government has no authority to determine where free speech, a God-given right, begins and ends," the statement said.
According to the ADF, Right to Life's primary means of outreach to women considering abortion is through its Outreach Center, which is located next to Planned Parenthood Mar Monte's main Fresno abortion facility. The pro-life group shares free resources, provides support services, and offers informational leaflets while standing on the public sidewalks in front of its Outreach Center and between the Outreach Center and Planned Parenthood's property.
The Outreach Center's parking lot is adjacent to Planned Parenthood's parking lot, and the two organizations share a sidewalk. Right to Life's staff and volunteers speak kindly and peacefully with others at a normal conversational distance to share their charitable support services.
After Right to Life filed its lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Dale Drozd, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, granted in part a temporary restraining order against enforcing the law, according to The Christian Post.
In light of the settlement of Right to Life of Central California v. Bonta, ADF attorneys have filed a stipulated dismissal of the case. Katie Short of Life Legal Defense Foundation served as local counsel in the case.
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