Pro-Life Coalition Asks Supreme Court to Restore Free Speech, Sidewalk Ministry to Women
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Pro-life advocates are urging the Supreme Court to restore the rights of sidewalk counselors so they can offer compassionate support for women outside of abortion clinics.
A coalition of states, legal experts, pregnancy resource centers, and sidewalk counselors filed friend-of-the-court briefs Sunday in support of Catholic sidewalk counselor Debra Vitagliano's case.
Last month, Vitagliano asked the Court to reconsider its heavily criticized decision in Hill v. Colorado, which allowed states and local governments to ban peaceful, life-affirming conversations on public sidewalks outside abortion clinics.
Two years ago, Vitagliano began participating in a prayer vigil at a Planned Parenthood in White Plains, New York.
As part of her vigil, Vitagliano took part in peaceful prayer and held signs about the impacts of abortion on both expecting mothers and fathers. During this time, she trained to volunteer as a counselor to abortion-vulnerable women.
"I want to offer abortion-vulnerable women a message of hope and compassion, letting them know that they are loved and can keep their babies," she said.
However, just before she started sidewalk counseling, Westchester County passed a law restricting free speech around abortion clinics.
The law established a 100-foot "buffer" zone around abortion clinics to prohibit anyone from approaching within eight feet of a person in that zone to offer counseling unless given express consent.
Motivated by her faith and ministry, Vitagliano challenged the county's new law with the help of a non-profit legal firm, Becket Law.
In July, a federal court ruled that Vitagliano could ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in Hill v. Colorado (2000).
Westchester County's law is modeled identically to Colorado's law and according to Becket, last year five Supreme Court Justices stated that Hill was a major departure from our nation's protections of free speech.
"No one should be arrested and put behind bars for having peaceful, face-to-face conversations on a public sidewalk," said Mark Rienzi, president and CEO at Becket. "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."
He added, "And they certainly shouldn't make it harder for women to get complete information."
As she takes her case before the Supreme Court, Vitagliano is joined by a coalition of pro-life advocates who want to offer women help.
"I am thankful for this outpouring of support for my ministry and sidewalk counselors across the country, and I pray that the Justices will take my case and vindicate my First Amendment rights," she said.
The Supreme Court could take up the case in the fall.
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